How To Embed DEI Into Your Corporate Culture


Are subtle acts of exclusion poisoning your workplace culture? This comprehensive guide for Canadian employers provides examples of common microaggressions at work, the impact they have on your people, and next steps for creating a more inclusive, psychologically safe workplace.

It’s encouraging to see that commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplaces is happening globally. More and more executive leaders are onboard and better performing teams often result, but DEI teams tasked with creating the programs and delivering the training are asking the same common questions. Sage Franch, founder and CEO of Crescendo DEI, is providing answers about how to successfully embed DEI into your corporate culture. The following article will help you to:

Key takeaways:  

  • Understand the single most important step in creating your DEI program
  • Learn what most impacts how well people receive DEI training
  • Gain insights into measuring the effectiveness of your program
  • Discover why a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work and what to do instead

Sage Franch is the founder and CEO of Crescendo DEI, a company on a mission to advance equity for all in all workplaces. It is a platform combining software and the human touch to deliver micro-learning opportunities and organizational analytics, for a personalized learning journey of diversity, equity and inclusion training unique to each individual.

Sage explains that the Crescendo training privately builds confidence, establishes the proper language and personal connections to the work so that employees can then take the next step and actually integrate the ideas into their working culture.

“In order to be truly effective,” says Sage, “you need to embed DEI practice into the daily workflow of employees across your organization. DEI isn’t just a people ops opportunity, it’s an opportunity to equip every individual with the soft skills of cultural competence and inclusion, resulting in stronger individual contributors and teams that perform better with diverse stakeholders.”

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She adds that one of the things a lot of DEI practitioners get wrong is to focus solely on one facet of DEI or one affected demographic such as women in tech. If you centre so deeply into one area, it’s easy to forget about intersectionality – that complex interweaving of demographics and identities, which really does impact how people receive DEI training.

So, how do you know you’re moving the needle on DEI within your corporation? Sage agrees that, historically, measuring inclusion has been a challenge. You can measure diversity by setting goals and tracking the numbers—for example, are we seeing balanced representation of different demographics across leadership levels? It’s similar with equity because you can look at measurable metrics such as pay equity and easily see if people are being paid equitably, if they have equitable access to opportunity and so on.

However, inclusion is much more difficult to measure because it's so subjective and often the measurement tools we use, like surveys, don't provide an objective view or measurement because we’re relying on what people want to tell us, via employee engagement surveys and focus groups. And that is so dependent on the psychological safety that exists within the organization, which hinges on inclusion, so it's really a circle.

“Every organization is at their own unique point in their DEI journey,” says Sage. “It’s really important to first understand where your company is at by looking at the many influencing factors: leadership readiness, historical engagement, where is the change coming from—grassroots, top down or somewhere in the middle?”

She suggests the best place to begin is to map out what’s been done so far for DEI – what worked and what failed? What are the goals for the next year, three years, five years, 10 years? Learning from other organizations of similar size, industry, and velocity can also help guide your goalposts for reasonable metrics. This shouldn’t be done in a vacuum.

“At Crescendo, we combine software and the human touch for a consultative approach that works over time. Because DEI strategy isn’t something you can just set and forget, Crescendo helps keep tabs on these very difficult-to-measure aspects,” she adds. “It’s work that happens month over month and year over year with goals being revisited each time you learn something new.”

Sage finds it interesting to look at the underlying motivations of DEI work versus current trends and social motivations. She says that going back five or six years, the focus was women and gender equity. Back then gender parity was a term that was used often, which we now realize is not even equitable because it's excluding a whole other component of the gender spectrum. Conversations happening in the social sphere are affecting workplace DEI initiatives more than ever, driving pressure on organizations to make meaningful commitments. And it’s working – according to McKinsey, $200 billion was committed to racial equity initiatives by 1,100 organizations in the year following George Floyd’s death (source).

She believes 2020 drove a lot of new conversations on social media and brought more people into the conversation and as a result awareness about the importance of intersectionality is growing. “You can't talk about gender without talking about race and you can't talk about accessibility without talking about invisible disability.” Donald Trump opened up conversations about immigration, and the pandemic added another layer of xenophobia, particularly towards Asian populations.

One of the biggest challenges Sage hears from DEI practitioners is that there is a lack of resources to address all of these matters at once. “We’re constantly being asked, how do I balance the need to support my incredibly diverse global workforce with a strategy that has to approach all of these incredibly detailed subjects on a personal level while at the same time addressing the foundational concepts?”

A clear example of this is the George Floyd murder and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement. Sage says they looked to some of their global partners to compare how people in the US and Canada were responding to Black Lives Matter versus Europe and Asia. “What we saw was that it (BLM) didn’t touch people in Germany and India as much because they were having a different conversation there about gender and sexual abuse. The BLM conversation didn't quite reach them in the same way.”

The point is that a North American senior leader could be very tempted to say BLM is the chief problem that everyone wants to talk about right now, and deploy a corporate strategy worldwide, but it won’t resonate the same way everywhere. The better approach might be to customize a strategy that addresses each of the regional or departmental conversations.

Sage explains that a redistribution of resources is needed. “Senior leaders need to resist the temptation to implement a blanket approach for their entire workforce. It’s much more effective to start thinking about what individuals need, what departments need and start to make a difference that way.”

When it comes to budgets, leadership needs to understand the effect that underfunding DEI strategies is having in our workplaces. “If we’re going to make a real difference to work cultures, businesses need to support DEI programs with meaningful dollars, not afterthought dollars.”

Sage recommends starting proactively with a meaningful budget. “You’ll have data on which to base decisions and actually understand what the current state of inclusion is within the company. Limitations come with small budgets and often in a reactionary situation, you're choosing who you’re going to help. Support the minoritized groups or educate the potential allies? When you have to choose between groups, you’re not going to completely solve the problem.”

The answer is support a program that allows the DEI team to uniquely craft an approach for each individual. Person A is going to respond to something that makes them a better salesperson, and person B is going to respond to something that reminds them of their grandmother. Crescendo was designed to deliver those individual, private learning moments and get the heart of what will motivate them to take inclusive action.

A lot has happened in the last few years to help start conversations that are moving the needle and helping business leaders to realize that DEI is good business. It is encouraging to see DEI is a priority with many corporations who are delving into the micro-learning and analytics opportunities available to them. Sage is confident that with the proper approach and adequate funding, more and more inclusive action goals will be realized.