Alight’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Xan Daniels, has built a comprehensive DE&I program at Alight. She weighs in on her experiences and successes.
Q: What do we mean when we talk about workplace culture?
Broadly, it’s how an employer believes it functions and the principles by which it lives. A healthy culture (from the Latin cultura: growing, cultivation) is an environment that nurtures everyone’s performance, belonging, and personal growth.
Q: What outcomes should an organization expect from a DE&I program?
I prefer to say could. “‘Should” suggests there is a model to follow. There isn’t. There is a starting point but no end. Authentic DE&I investment doesn’t end but becomes an ongoing journey.
As it stands, most DE&I initiatives aren’t like this, and why many organizations miss the mark. The majority (of DE&I programs) still tend to be top-down strategies, project-managed to achieve tick box objectives, with an endpoint being the desired “cultural fit.”
This notion, however, of cultural fit entirely misses the point. We’re looking to achieve workplace cultures in which everyone can fit, not where one needs to feel disingenuous or to twist themselves to fit the preconceived mold, If this is the case, we’re simply care-washing the original issue.
Instead, the whole point of DE&I is to listen, invite change, and act to nurture an environment where everyone can be themselves on that day. On that day is pertinent. We all continually evolve, our circumstances change, our wellbeing falters, and our wallets flex and contract. One day, who we are is not always who we will be the following week. Most of us wish life could be as simple as this.
Q: In your experience, what is the hallmark of a successful DE&I program?
To achieve the best outcomes for all, everyone needs to have an ongoing voice. The opportunity to express exactly how working for the organization is for them. What challenges it creates for them, and which it solves. For some, coming to work is an escape; for others, the root cause of all their issues.
However, if you find that trust is low among your employee population, then this needs to be addressed by ensuring anonymous (truly anonymous) channels are open to all. It’s what you don’t want to hear that tends to need fixing.
What if there are 100,000 people in your organization, who gets heard? Your objective needs to be everyone. Some tools can be used to ensure everyone is heard. Automation and artificial intelligence are well established in digital HR processes. They can gather and report patterns on hundreds of data files in a millisecond and present these in easy-to-read formats. The initial listening is done. Now the actions.
Q: Creating a sustainable culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion requires a long-term focus. In your experience, what are the organizational commitments and channels required to create and then sustain a successful DE&I program?
I’ve already touched upon listening and open communication channels. This ensures that everyone who wants or feels confident is heard. However, the reality is so many people live in fear of losing their jobs that they won’t speak up. Living one or two paychecks away from financial disaster or relying on work provided benefits to care for their families, the best option is to endure in silence.
However, it’s these hidden voices that need to be heard. Without them, it’s impossible to create and sustain a workplace that provides the best outcomes for everyone. Often overlooked in DE&I initiatives is neurodiversity, yet “it is estimated that more than 1.2 billion individuals identify as being neurodivergent (having thinking styles that are different from the ‘typical’ population).”
One way of doing this is to set up employee resource groups – communities where groups of employees can come together based on shared identities, life experiences, aspirations, or anything that helps create a feeling of being “me.”