Six Management Practices That Help Managers Keep The Lights On

Note: In this context, a double-blind is a situation in which an organization is confronted with two conflicting expectations or demands, and fulfilling one of these expectations makes it difficult or impossible to fulfill the other.

THE SITUATION…

Employers today face a workplace challenge that can threaten their success or fuel it: How to navigate a societal landscape in which diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are perceived by many as essential in creating productive workplaces but feared by others as a radical left-wing ideology that will replace merit-based people management with performative quotas that disenfranchise straight white people.

Fueled by a backlash against social movements that draw attention to the inequities marginalized groups face, DEI has become politicized. For many organizations, ignoring what is happening is not a viable option.

EXAMPLES…

1. A Mid-South internet services provider’s growth is stalled because of skilled labor shortages in its rural markets. Research suggests the company’s progressive stance on DEI is unpopular with many candidates who identify as white, rural, and “anti-woke.”

2. Board members of a 72% majority white male-run commercial contractor put pressure on the company’s management to hire more women and people of color managers to “modernize” the company. Execs in the company argue that doing so will create dissension in the ranks among existing employees that they fear will jeopardize margins and profitability.

3. A multi-hospital healthcare system supports employees organizing a Pride (pro LGBTQ+) Employee Resource Group, which caused a backlash from some

employees and a vocal segment of the community who accuse the organization’s management of abandoning the Christian values that were an important part of its history.

THE BIG PICTURE…
The U.S. is within two decades or less of becoming a ‘majority-minority” country – a multi-racial society where people of non-white racial and ethnic minorities will make up the largest demographic in the workplace. It’s our job to help the workforce wrap their heads around this reality. But we have to do it with compassion and patience.

Try not to be daunted by these double binds. They are not either-or situations. There are ways organizations can stick to their values and not repel new talent on either side of the political or ideological fence.

SOLUTIONS…

1. Talk about your company’s values without reference to any political ideology. Stay away from discussions about buzz terms like DEI or unconscious bias. Instead, talk about the strengths of your organization’s culture and how people are expected to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Talk about how hiring decisions are based on creating balanced teams and groups with lots of different work and personal experiences because the research shows that those sorts of teams produce better results. In other words, talk about the outcomes of DEI without using the term. After all, who cares what we call it?

2. Expect managers to be culture ambassadors, then show them how to do it. For example, most stories about how “the radical left” wants to replace millions of White workers with men, women, and non-binary folks who are people of color are just hogwash meant to prompt an emotional reaction. Sure, many organizations have set quotas as goals to diversify their workforce. Most of these stories are either made up or over-amplified. If you are a member of the majority group, it’s normal to have uncomfortable feelings as your organization tries to make a shift away from only hiring people who look like you.

3. Speak openly against supremacy in all of its forms. Refer to it not as a label people need to wear but as a mindset each of us needs to reject. Supremacy is the belief that some of us actually are better than others of us. According to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, white supremacist extremism, not white liberalism, is a top domestic terrorism threat. In spite of this, stay away from the term “white supremacy.” It’s just too triggering a term to use with most white audiences unless they have had a chance to really explore what it means. The backlash against DEI is fueled by the fears of White Americans who have been told they are not rich because they are not hard-working or smart enough. This group needs to hear that

in your organization, they will be treated with dignity and respect along with everyone else.

4. Notice and address DEI-Speak’s impact on people and use synonyms of those terms instead. A simple example of DEI speak is “white supremacy” in the previous paragraph. Most clients we work with don’t think they need to change their DEI practices, they need to change how they describe those practices. One client suspended unconscious bias training due to the backlash against the term, but they still needed to work on it in order to do a better job of screening and hiring people. We suggested keeping most of the unconscious bias curriculum while replacing the term “unconscious bias” with “data-based decision making” and “assumptions awareness” in training sessions.

5. Focus relentlessly on how DEI contributes to measurable success factors. Time and time again, it’s been proven that DEI as part of an organization’s strategy improves financial results, leads to more innovation and happier clients, creates a favorable reputation in the job market, and contributes to a workplace culture where people stay. Market and tell the stories of the organization’s success in these areas.

6. Shift the focus away from talking about merit and talk about equity instead. Saying that your organization is a meritocracy sends a signal to people from underrepresented groups that your organization doesn’t get it. Every organization has issues with bias in making promotion and hiring decisions. Sure, the organization can and should aspire to make decisions based on merit, but first it needs to help managers become more aware of their false assumptions and stereotypes.

The philosopher Eric Holler wrote, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” We live in an era when it takes significantly less energy to spread a falsehood than it does to explain the truth. In spite of the difficulty, the organizations that are overcoming the DEI double-bind are doing it not by skirting the issues but by addressing them.

Start your work to get out of the double bind today by picking a solution and work-it through your organization as best as you can before adopting a new or second solution. If you need help working through a solution, book a call with us.

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