As we launch into a new year, I thought I’d share considerations about work to advance Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice (‘IDEAS’) in organizations and communities that I’ve found helpful in my work. In the coming months through subsequent ‘Notes from the ED’ as part of the IDEAS Generation newsletter so sign up today (https://www.ideasgeneration.org/)! I’ll dive into each in more detail in upcoming posts, but for now, I hope they suffice to spark reflection and conversation as we prepare our organizations and communities to navigate an uncertain road ahead this election year.
10 IDEAS Insights for 2024:
IDEAS are both means and ends. Our job is to leverage these values in pursuit of creating cultures and systems that enable Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Social Justice to thrive sustainably. Collectively, IDEAS represents a values-based framework for change, a lens that must pervade everything if we are to reimagine how our organizations and communities work for everyone. They are both the tools that enable systems change and the goals towards which we strive.
Effective IDEAS leaders are systems illuminators and perpetual students. Not everyone necessarily sees the connections between an organization’s culture, people, processes, policies, and the broader world in which it operates. Therefore, we must make each component of these systems (and their relationships to one another) explicit so that others can identify, acknowledge, understand, and work to address them. To become effective change agents, IDEAS practitioners must become experts in and students of not just their organization’s culture, but also its business model, industry, stakeholder relationships, and governance structures. Cultivating this understanding will strengthen a systems theory-based approach to IDEAS.
Prioritize building the container - the rest will follow. Too often IDEAS efforts start in the wrong place, beginning with content-heavy topics like unconscious bias or systemic racism that few organizations are prepared to metabolize effectively. Starting with nuanced content is especially challenging if the organization has not built a foundation of relationships or trust that can hold those conversations in a workplace. Much like a sports team that requires disciplined preparation before a match (tryouts, pre-season training, daily practice, on-going conditioning, etc.), IDEAS work that first builds an organization's skills, capacity, and readiness for such conversations [an approach we refer to as ‘Building the Container’] is much more likely to create the conditions for the substantive content of IDEAS to be received successfully.
Blend internal and external IDEAS efforts for maximal impact. IDEAS work that only addresses the internal aspects of organizational life remains incomplete if it stops there. The most inclusive culture may not be sufficient to build a more equitable and just society if the very substance of the organization’s work has adverse effects on customer markets, populations served, or community partners. Similarly, a one-track focus on external IDEAS without internal due diligence to those same issues is likely to generate distrust borne out of the lack of alignment between external marketing and internal employee experiences. But when both internal and external efforts are coordinated and mutually reinforcing, that’s where the magic happens.
Hybrid work requires hybrid solutions. IDEAS initiatives in 2024 must continue to account for and evolve around workplaces that blend in-person, remote, and hybrid arrangements. Successful IDEAS initiatives will design with the opportunities and limitations inherent in these mixed models and keep their implications for access, inclusion, and equity in mind.
Intergenerationality remains salient. Today, there are five generations in the workplace. Millennials and Gen-Z are poised to comprise 75% of the American workforce within the next few years. Generational distinctions are important because they help shed light on instructive patterns of perspective and shared experience. Organizations, therefore, must negotiate understanding and leveraging each age cohorts’ unique perspectives and values without painting with too broad of a generational brushstroke lest one's age cohort become grounds for unsubstantiated assumptions.
Direct leadership engagement is essential. Beyond ensuring that those with the most positional power in an organization are committed to advancing IDEAS, working with senior leaders is critical to sustaining the impact of organizational change. Initiatives like 1-on-1 and group coaching and targeted learning build individual and collective leadership capacity to guide the organization through IDEAS efforts. They can also strengthen the relationship and trust needed (both amongst leaders and between leaders and IDEAS practitioners) to sustain such initiatives in the face of resistance and unforeseen obstacles.
IDEAS aren’t sustainable without intentional approaches to mental health. Facing systemic oppression and trying to change it can often be isolating, frustrating, and overwhelming - especially when those issues impact us directly. Attending to your own mental health and being mindful of that of your colleagues is the only way to mitigate burnout while effectively driving organizational change.
Focus internally for progress. While it can be enticing to measure your IDEAS efforts relative to peer institutions, external comparisons are a less helpful barometer of progress. No two organizations are the same, even if they exist in the same industry, geography, or share similar characteristics. Each organization's culture, people, history, and strategy will vary enough to mean that simply transposing one IDEAS initiative from one to the other will not yield the same results. All IDEAS work must address organizational context and evaluations of success should be similarly based on shifts in that context over time.
Don’t go it alone! Though it is common for organizations to rest the burden of IDEAS work on a single person (e.g. Chief DEI officer) or small group (e.g. DEI Committee) this work is everyone’s responsibility and needs all of us. Even though we may not all have the same role to play or resources available to us, we all exist (albeit from different positions) in the same systems that IDEAS work aims to address. We must take that understanding as a call to action to find our own place in collective efforts to bring IDEAS to life for everyone.