01 June 2021

Employees, Skills & DEIB: Insights & Takeaways

Priyanka Mehrotra
Research Lead

TL;DR

  • This readout presents the highlights from our second roundtable on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging and skills, including an explorable mindmap and key points from the discussion
  • Managers need more than “managerial skills” to drive DEIB
  • Senior leaders should enable big-picture thinking, instead of implementing piecemeal strategies
  • ERG leaders play a unique role in fostering DEIB
  • There is need for greater clarity around certain terms when it comes to skills identification for DEIB
  • Similar skills have different applications across job levels

Introduction

As part of our ongoing research in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), a few months ago we launched a new study to identify and look at the skills that can advance DEIB in orgs today. In our first roundtable on this topic, we focused on understanding which skills are critical for fostering DEIB and how orgs can effectively develop them.

We recently held our second roundtable on the topic of DEIB and skills and invited members from the following groups to participate:

  • Employees
  • Managers
  • Employee resource group (ERG) leaders
  • Senior leaders

We aimed to understand the roles of different organizational groups in fostering DEIB and the specific skills each group needs to embed DEIB into the org’s culture.

Our roundtable discussions focused on 2 main questions:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers, ERG leaders, and senior leaders in fostering a DEIB culture?
  • What skills do each of these groups need to drive DEIB at work?

Mindmap of Second DEIB & Skills Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations that transpired as part of this second roundtable.

Note: This is a live document. Click the window and use your cursor to explore it.

Key Takeaways

Highly engaging, the discussion produced different perspectives that helped us uncover several interesting insights. In general, the participants agreed that a lot of work needs to be done around identifying and intentionally developing skills for DEIB.

Participants agreed that a lot of work needs to be done around identifying and intentionally developing skills for DEIB.

A few key takeaways stand out from the discussion:

  1. Managers need more than “managerial skills” to drive DEIB
  2. Senior leaders should enable big-picture thinking
  3. ERG leaders play a unique role in fostering DEIB
  4. Clarity should be used for skills identification
  5. Similar skills have different applications across job levels

The following sections offer an overview of each takeaway.

Managers need more than “managerial skills” to drive DEIB

Talking about the roles managers play in fostering DEIB and the skills they need to do that, participants highlighted several crucial responsibilities at the interpersonal and team levels.

  • Managers should model appropriate behaviors, create psychological safety for their teams, set clear expectations, and take initiatives to seek out different perspectives. Some of the underpinning skills managers need to carry out these responsibilities include:
    • Self-awareness
    • Open-mindedness
    • Receptiveness
    • Willingness to learn
    • Active listening
  • A number of manager skills required to drive DEIB aren’t considered essential or associated with being a manager. For example, one participant pointed out: While on the one hand managers are typically expected to “have all the answers”—they also need to be able to show a willingness to learn from others, and be open to diverse thoughts and ideas. Clear expectations must be set for the manager role and the work that needs to be done when it comes to DEIB.
  • Additional training or continuing education programs for managers can help set the foundation for more nuanced DEIB skills. Participants pointed out that they see a lot of successful individual contributors promoted to the manager role because they’re able to produce effectively—but they may lack adequate people skills. As one participant explained:

“When it comes to DEIB, managers should get comfortable ‘writing with their nondominant hands’—as it forces them to think about the tendency to do things that are uncomfortable and helps reorient leaders to be able to improve DEIB.”

Senior leaders should enable big-picture thinking

Among all 4 groups, attendees listed the largest number of responsibilities for senior leaders. This long list (see the mindmap) indicates the crucial role senior leaders play in fostering DEIB across the org. At the core of it all, senior leaders are responsible for setting the tone, policies, and systems in place that foster a culture of DEIB. As one participant stated:

“Leaders are expected to lead DEIB efforts and model behaviors that reflect the org’s commitment to DEIB.”

For senior leaders, most of the necessary skills identified by participants focus on big-picture thinking, including:

  • Change management. Senior leaders should champion DEIB values by steering the org through large-scale culture change
  • The ability to influence people by effectively communicating the company’s DEIB goals with different audiences
  • Learning agility. As leaders encounter complex DEIB challenges, the ability to apply the learnings from one situation to another becomes crucial
  • Systems thinking.1 When senior leaders engage in systems thinking, they’re more likely to think about DEIB more holistically, rather than implementing piecemeal strategies

Senior leaders: Dare to dream, challenge organizational, systemic, and policy disparities, and periodically reflect on what’s working—versus what’s not—in order to initiate change.

The discussion also highlighted the importance of senior leaders’ ability to empower others by giving people the “safe” space to speak up and bring together the appropriate groups of people to carry forward the org’s DEIB mission.

ERG leaders play a unique role in fostering DEIB

The discussion around ERG leaders’ responsibilities and the skills needed for DEIB resulted in some of the most novel insights from the roundtable. ERG leaders play a crucial role because of their unique position to:

  • Represent the voices of the underrepresented groups in company conversations
  • Communicate the contents of those meetings back to the group

This intermediary role demands a specific set of skills to drive DEIB. As one participant said:

“The role of ERG leaders in fostering a DEIB culture is to create an environment where people can openly express themselves and share ideas that add value to the company. They are responsible for communication between their members and senior leaders to ensure ideas are heard.

Some of the important skills identified for ERG leaders involve:

  • Event planning
  • Group facilitation
  • The ability to translate the group's needs to business leaders
  • The flexibility to work with diverse groups

In addition to bridging the gap between underrepresented groups and org management, ERG leaders also need to be a coach—someone who holds up a mirror to help others look intrinsically within themselves.

Participants also highlighted the importance of other skills that can complement the ERG leader role in disrupting and pushing the envelope within orgs:

  • Persuasion
  • Influence
  • Persistence
  • Advocacy skills, including promise-keeping, and protecting the identities and feelings of ERG members

As one participant emphasized and stated, ERG leaders should act as protectors while advocating for underrepresented groups:

“ERG leaders should protect the names of their group members—for example, being mindful when a group member wants to remain anonymous or may not be ready to take on a responsibility.”

Clarity should be used for skills identification

When it comes to identifying skills for DEIB, we had general agreement among roundtable participants that certain terms need more clarity and clearer definitions.

For example, “growth mindset” came up frequently as something that’s essential for DEIB. However, we found a lack of clarity about what exactly growth mindset really means, and whether it’s a skill or not. In addition, a few participants also expressed general apprehension that this term has become a buzzword and is overused in the context of DEIB. One participant explained:

“I have seen growth mindset come up in many instances—it is such a leadership term. Not clear what we mean by that—whether it’s an individual attribute or relative to the org culture.”

As the discussion unfolded, a few other skills—such as caring, vulnerability, optimism, resiliency, and humility—were highlighted as being necessary for DEIB. However, we lacked consensus on whether these terms should be categorized as general skills or skills only within the context of DEIB.

For example: One participant mentioned that optimism—on its own—could lead people to believe that things are already in a good state for everyone. But, when optimism is paired with eagerness to learn and evolve, that’s when it can be most effective for DEIB purposes.

Similar skills have different applications across job levels

Many skills required for fostering a DEIB culture were highlighted as crucial skills for all groups, including:

  • Change management
  • Critical thinking
  • Self-awareness
  • Active listening
  • Emotional intelligence

While we observed similarities in DEIB skills across job levels, it was equally interesting to analyze and understand how these similarities were discussed during the roundtable in terms of their applications.

For example, change management applied to all 4 groups:

  • Employees: focusing on an individual’s ability to deal with change that comes with innovation, ambiguity, and complexity associated with DEIB
  • Managers: skills focusing on being receptive to new ways of thinking and modeling new behaviors to uphold the org’s DEIB values
  • Senior leaders: skills focusing of being more operational—mainly focusing on org culture change and implementing large-scale behavior change to foster DEIB
  • ERG leaders: focusing more on bottom-up change—being disruptive and pushing DEIB efforts up through the ranks to stick

By examining a similar skill across job levels, it became evident in our discussion that the relevance and application of a skill is dependent on contextual factors.

Defining DEIB skills in more granular terms could better inform an org’s skill training programs and improve diagnostic skills assessments.

A SPECIAL THANKS

We're extremely grateful to the attendees who enriched the conversation by sharing their thoughtful ideas and experiences. And, as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at hello@redthreadresearch.com.

Footnotes

  1. Simply put, systems thinking is a way of viewing a system from a broad (big-picture) perspective that includes seeing overall structures, patterns, and cycles in systems, rather than seeing only specific events in the system.

Written by

Priyanka Mehrotra

Priyanka Mehrotra is a Research Lead at RedThread Research. Before joining the company in 2018, she was part of the research team at Bersin by Deloitte where she worked on talent management, D&I, and people analytics as well as conducted research and contributed content for Bersin’s Mid-market study. Prior to Bersin by Deloitte, Priyanka worked at several non-profits, think-tanks, and international organizations where she published and co-authored several articles.

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