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  • Writer's pictureMartha Pena

5 Powerful Ways to Take REAL Action on DEI by the Center for Creative Leadership

Considering DEI training? Learn how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace — and why we actually recommend EDI over DEI, with a focus on equity first, before diversity & inclusion.


People need new ways to think about and talk about diversity. Leaders need new skills to enable equity and inclusion in the workplace. And organizations need scalable ways to ensure that their diversity and inclusion initiatives avoid common mistakes and are solid and sustainable.


At CCL, we use our proprietary REAL framework to help companies, communities, and schools understand the dynamics and definition of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the workplace, in their particular organization and context — and to identify specific actions they can take to help them drive desired progress around their DEI initiatives.


Steps to Take Toward Meaningful Action on DEI

Introducing Our REAL™ Framework

At CCL, we create leadership solutions using our REAL framework to help shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices toward more equitable and inclusive leadership for individuals, teams, and organizations. Specifically, the REAL framework is a 4-step process:


  1. Reveal relevant opportunities.

  2. Elevate equity.

  3. Activate diversity.

  4. Lead inclusively.

1. Reveal relevant opportunities.


The first step is about discovery — not setting an agenda or duplicating diversity initiatives that seemed effective in other organizations. It involves gaining awareness of the types of diversity within and across groups, and the context in which diversity, equity, and inclusion play out for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.

In order to set a direction, create alignment, and generate commitment to DEI initiatives in the workplace or in other types of organizations, top leaders should take the first steps: articulate their individual and collective perspective, identity, values, and culture; consider how experiences of power and privilege may affect their approach and effectiveness — and that of others; and evaluate how dynamics of DEI may affect their marketplace and their business strategy.

By exploring their specific context, senior leaders can engage others in the organization to identify the most relevant opportunities for change, and then select 2-3 strategic actions that will drive the desired results.


2. Elevate equity.


When discussing diversity initiatives in the workplace or in other organizations, many professionals reference the term DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. At CCL, we recognize this terminology, but we prefer to shift the order to EDI, placing equity before diversity and inclusion — for a reason.


You may see us use the terms interchangeably; however, our belief is that without equity, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are laudable, but not sustainable. So, what is equity? Equity is providing all people with fair and contextually appropriate opportunities and resources that are required to attain their full potential.

To make progress on DEI, senior leaders first need to acknowledge societal inequities and recognize that their organization isn’t a level playing field.


People enter the world of work and advance through their careers with unevenness of advantage, opportunity, privilege, and power — so what is “fair opportunity” is not the same for everyone. When organizational leaders express their motivation, as well as acknowledge any barriers, for countering inequity; set clear goals toward greater equity; and then take action, they signal a commitment that becomes the foundation of the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.


3. Activate diversity.


Diversity is the collective of differences and similarities that includes individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, and behaviors.

Activating that diversity is a process that involves recognizing and engaging differences within the employee and customer base. It equips managers and teams to explore the impact of diversity on perspectives, assumptions, and approaches, and identify ways to enhance the contribution of all.

And, it includes defining expectations or metrics and setting clear goals.


4. Lead inclusively.


Inclusion requires active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to promote the full participation and sense of belonging of every employee, customer, and strategic partner. It involves policies and practices, but also the ability to envision and enact new ways of leading.

Across levels and functions, leaders need to learn what is now required, interpreting inclusive leadership for their various groups or for different roles. They also need tools, resources, and support as they improve their ability to identify and mitigate bias, respect differences, build empathetic relationships, foster allyship, manage conflict, and bring out the best in others.

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