Evolution of DEIB and DEI Initiatives

Evolution of DEIB and DEI Initiatives

Epoch and People+Culture hosted a Happy Hour for leaders and innovators in the Employee Experience space to mix and mingle in Austin. The event also featured a fireside chat where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO and co-founder, had conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.

In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our Fireside Chat featuring Vijay Pendakur, previously Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at Dropbox, VMware, and Zynga. Scroll on for notes! 👇

Meet Vijay 😊🎙️

Vijay's journey began as a student activist, actively engaged in the mission to help students from all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging at college. He came to understand that access alone does not equate to inclusivity. His passion for education and inclusivity led him to advocate for the development of psychological safety and the cultivation of a true sense of inclusion within an education setting, and later on in corporate environments. Throughout this journey, he came to the realization that when your purpose aligns with your paycheck, work no longer feels like a burden.

His transition from the education sector to a corporate environment started with his time as the Dean of Students and Presidential Advisor for Diversity at Cornell University, where his focus was on creating a culture of belonging for students, staff, and faculty. This endeavor paved the way for his venture into corporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging with a primary focus on answering the question of how to create a sense of belonging and equity in the workplace.

How the concept of DEIB evolved over time

During Vijay's time in the realm of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB), the landscape of this field has gone through a significant transformation. Corporate America began to shift its perspective as employees started to demand genuine inclusion and equity. In the past, there was a considerable amount of performativity in this space, but over time, true change started to take root. It became evident that the culture within organizations was intricately tied to the ability to succeed as a business, leading to increased clarity and more genuine DEIB efforts.

Vijay noted that this maturation, from performative DEI to business-focused DEI, may be in jeopardy in many organizations right now due to the overlapping headwinds of macroeconomic tightening, legislative attacks on DEI, and the rise of the “anti-woke” cultural movement.

Keys to successful DEI initiatives 

When it comes to effective DEIB programs, Vijay emphasizes the importance of considering the context. It’s difficult to copy and paste a successful program from one organization to another, as each organization has different needs. Key ideas from successful programs can be extracted and adapted to fit the specific context of an organization.

Vijay suggests taking a design-based learning approach. It’s important to think about what issues need solving and whether the suggested program is the right solution. What are the intended outcomes? For example, mentorship programs are a frequent program run in organizations. The objective should be on connecting mid-level talent with upper-level leadership to boost career capital and enhance talent retention.

The way to achieve this is through structured programs with specific arcs and themes within meetings that are key to fostering career mobility and talent retention. A key in designing an employee experience program successfully from the start is to think about how the program’s success will be measured as you’re designing the effort, and invest in the technology or solutions to capture this data effectively.

Ensuring culture building efforts are consistent 

Vijay acknowledges the challenge posed by the prevalence of remote and hybrid work arrangements in maintaining a consistent organizational culture. These arrangements are often less favorable for individuals who aren’t physically in office. Organizations have transitioned to new work paradigms, but many are still grappling with how to navigate this shift. People, in general, struggle to adjust to change, which is why Vijay emphasizes the need to place a strong emphasis on effective people management in these new work environments. If an organization is now hybrid or remote, Vijay often asks how they’ve re-skilled their people leaders to succeed in this new way of working.

Resources needed to implement this 

Vijay points out that training sessions are often the go-to reflexive move but often are ineffective. Many organizations rely on it without considering the nuances of how people learn. There is a lack of training for corporate Learning and Development professionals in understanding how people learn. 

Learning is a recursive and iterative process that requires a combination of both conceptual and experiential elements. While asynchronous point-in-time learning modules are commonly used, they rarely result in behavioral change. To address this, organizations should focus on training fewer behaviors, but invest in these heavily with repeated exposure to the concepts and behaviors that bring these skills to life..

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