I feel like our racial and ethnic diversity progress is really slow. How many years should it take a large, established firm to see real progress? We have a small I&D team (4-5) people for 5,000 employees and ERG’s have been around for about 8 years. Top leadership is still mostly white men. Some incremental progress has been made with white women. We’ve been working to get our culture to be inclusive, since we know this should come before diversity, but when can we (and how do we) say that we need to see more?
Thanks for the question. You’re articulating something that’s on a lot of minds of many leaders and teams – when you know that D&I is important and urgent, it’s easy to look at the world around you and see allllll the ways you need to be better – frankly speaking, this can feel pretty stressful!
In my experience, the most effective D&I efforts can channel this energy into action and impact. But if the urgency can’t be appropriately harnessed, it leads to a lot of anxiety and frustration… and that doesn’t lend itself to impact very well, given the emotionally laborious nature of this work.
So, while I appreciate the sense of urgency (D&I is urgent and important!) I encourage you to also take a beat and have a conversation about what progress actually means to you and your team.
Progress means continually inching forward to make a difference. I’ve noticed that conversations about D&I often tend to be singularly focused on representation numbers – who’s got X percentage of women/POC, etc. – But sometimes, you can make more progress possible by focusing on inclusion, equity, and belonging, rather than just diversity. You seem aware of that already, now it’s just a matter of owning it / acting upon it!
Yes, it would be amazing to get a perfectly diverse representation at the top leadership. But that’s not going to happen overnight. So you can continue to work on leadership recruitment efforts, but maybe you can re-define progress by turning the focus on the experiences of your employees from marginalized backgrounds. This is harder to measure and far less visible, which is why it often gets overlooked – but at the end of the day, it’s a huge part of what D&I is about.
There’s a quote I really like from activist Emily Gorcenski: “We have turned social justice into a race, not a march. Rather than getting there together we are trying to get there first.” (Tweet) It’s not about getting there in the quickest way. And I would actually extend that metaphor one step further, and look at D&I work can also be a parade. Let’s not concern ourselves with winning medals or being uniform/doing it exactly “right” – we can have different starting points, and have all kinds of variety of floats - we just need to move in the same direction, and the overall group movement is what makes our progress significant.