Accountability: The Missing Link In Your DEI Program

When organizations begin their journey to greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), often times the starting point is education. Getting each employee on the same page often involves implementing a training or workshop to increase awareness and understanding about how to foster an environment built on DEI, although the evidence suggests that the effectiveness of DEI training is mixed. In addition to education, it is imperative for corporate leaders to be exploring accountability systems, what they look like, how they can be implemented, and how to ensure their effectiveness.   

Despite a company’s best-laid plans, without an accountability system in place, DEI efforts will continue to falter. Education is vital, mentorship and sponsorship programs are great, and employee feedback is crucial; but how are you actually holding people accountable for the environments they are creating and the ways they are treating people? An organization cannot grow and thrive if those in positions of power and privilege are not being held accountable for their actions. It has recently been reported that the world’s fifth largest company, Google, is facing accusations of misconduct by several Black women employees who allege that they experienced discrimination and harassment. Reports indicate these employees, who complained about work conditions and the marginalization they were experiencing, were pushed out of the company and their claims were not taken seriously. Google’s turnover data revealed that their employees who identify as “Black + female” had some of the highest turnover rates in the company in comparison to other groups. Human resource (HR) departments play a vital role, as HR data can reveal cracks within the organizational structure. All DEI programs should involve analyzing HR data including hiring, turnover, and promotion rates for different groups. Are there differences in the frequency at which certain groups are leaving the organization? If so, what does the exit interview data reveal? Creating an accountability system must start with understanding trends and patterns within the organization, and assessing HR data can be one way to do that.

When creating accountability systems, ask yourself what the process is to report misconduct and bad behavior within the organization. Are employees reporting to their managers or is HR the go-to? Is there an anonymous hotline or an ombudsman to support employees? If you’re unclear of what the answer is, then this signifies that a system must be put in place and must be understood by employees. There should be a neutral or objective party where employees can turn to to report any issues they are facing. If an organization lacks the financial resources to hire an outside entity like a consultant, utilizing an anonymous feedback tool for reporting may be a feasible option. In addition, there must be accountability for leaders who are often shielded by their power and privilege. Employees can be hesitant to report leaders who misbehave because a) they fear that the leader will get a slap on the wrist or no consequences at all, or b) they fear that their complaints will get back to the person they are reporting, thus retaliation will ensue. Despite the fact that retaliation is illegal, proving retaliation can be a challenging feat. There should be a clear system for reporting leadership that shields the employee from retaliation and additional harm.

When discussions are being had about what is truly needed to create an environment built on justice, equity, and inclusion, accountability is the link that is often missed from the conversation. A DEI program could be strong and may contain all the elements to help employees, especially those from marginalized identities grow, thrive, and advance, but if employees are not being held accountable for their words and actions then very little progress, if any at all, will be made. A true commitment to DEI involves the creation of systems designed to help employees thrive, while increasing their awareness and holding them accountable for their behavior.

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