Dr. Ella Washington, founder and chief executive officer of Ellavate Solutions and a professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, discusses the state of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace today.
Washington, author of the new book The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion, says DEI has become a higher priority among business executives in the last few years, “but I wouldn’t say it’s front and center, as it should be.” As companies’ fortunes rise and fall, so does their commitment to DEI, especially when they’re struggling to survive, or coping with a severe labor shortage.
Executives need to realize the value of DEI to the organization. “Many leaders don’t understand that when employees feel more included, you actually get more from your teams,” Washington says. “Sometimes they don’t make the tight connection.”
The advent of the hybrid work environment, which became common during the COVID-19 pandemic, presents both challenges and opportunities for DEI. Somewhat counter-intuitively, data shows that people working from home, especially those from under-represented groups, felt more included. That’s because they weren’t privy to incidents of discrimination in the office. “As soon as the meeting was over,” Washington says, “they can click off the link.”
But that lack of constant connection is also a downside of the hybrid work scenario, to the extent that remote workers feel more distanced from the organization, and aren’t part of the regular socializing and collaboration that typifies a traditional office environment.
To counter that disadvantage, companies need to encourage regular face-to-face contact between remote workers and the office. That’s especially the case with job roles that depend on collaboration and brainstorming, Washington says. In addition, companies need to closely measure their DEI performance, to ensure that they’re making good on their commitments.
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