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Women Lead DEI Efforts in the Workplace

In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly important in the workplace. More and more companies nationwide are recognizing the value of having a diverse workforce and the positive impact that it can have on employee morale, productivity, and the bottom line—productivity. Women are playing a critical role in leading work in DEI, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to the table, and helping to drive change in organizations and, ultimately, society as a whole.

One of the ways in which women are leading work in DEI is by being more attuned to the challenges faced by underrepresented groups in the workplace, including women themselves. Women, especially women of color, have historically faced discrimination and exclusion in the workplace, making them more aware of the need for diversity and inclusion. As such, they are more likely to advocate for and implement policies and practices that support DEI.

As women are increasingly occupying leadership positions in organizations, they are using their positions of power and influence to promote DEI initiatives and drive change from the top down. For example, women in leadership positions may create and enforce policies and practices that support diversity and inclusion, such as requiring diverse candidate slates for job openings or establishing employee resource groups for underrepresented groups. They may also be more likely to develop programs and initiatives that help employees from underrepresented groups succeed, such as mentoring programs or leadership development opportunities.

Women are also often more aware of how unconscious bias can impact hiring and promotion decisions. Therefore, women leaders utilize their position of power to create transformative change that will influence the organization for years to come. A perfect example is Cultural Connections by Design (CCBD) CCBD’s client, Dr. Consuella Askew, Vice President for University Libraries / University Librarian at Rutgers University. On July 18, 2022, Dr. Askew became Rutgers’ 15th University Librarian and the first person of color in the institution’s 256-year history to hold the position. After a rich set of professional experiences and a library career that spans nearly 30 years, Consuella had seen and, at times, personally experienced unconscious bias, particularly in hiring practices.

By leveraging her leadership role, Consuella championed initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring practices that thread throughout the Rutgers University Library system, composed of seven library facilities and approximately 180 full-time employees. She knew making systemic changes in hiring practices would help change the complete fabric of Rutgers University Libraries. As a result, she implemented the Libraries’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, led by chair Corisa Mobley and vice chair Geoffrey Wood. The expected outcomes in the committee’s charge were prioritized to focus on the Libraries’ recruitment and hiring process, and the group was asked to investigate and make recommendations for change to her and her senior leadership team.

Understanding the undertaking of this work would be challenging, Dr. Askew contacted Dr. Nicole R. Robinson, Founder & CEO of Cultural Connections by Design, to help guide this work. Dr. Robinson worked with the Library DEI committee, which yielded 21 change recommendations to the senior leadership team. Within one year, 15 change recommendations were implemented immediately, and three larger-scale change projects are in progress. Recommendations included creating DEI job boards, creating DEI-focused interview question bank, developing interview best practices, conducting a salary analysis among peer institutions nationwide, and reviewing the Human Resources (HR) website to recommend improved hiring practices across the system. Askew states, “The comprehensive and thorough review and revision of our recruitment and hiring process undertaken by our DEI Committee surfaced adjacent needs in this area. In particular, we needed to codify the step-by-step process we use for recruitment to ensure that all hiring managers and search committee members are providing the same experience for their colleagues and potential candidates. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished with our DEI Committee at the lead. Our organizational committee delivered on its assigned outcome and then some.”

Studies have shown that unconscious bias can lead to discrimination against women and other underrepresented groups. Women may be more likely to recognize and challenge these biases, as was Dr. Askew.

In addition to their unique perspectives and experiences, women in leadership positions are more likely to hold themselves and their organizations accountable for progress on DEI initiatives. Examples may include setting measurable goals, regularly reporting progress, and soliciting feedback from employees and stakeholders to ensure that DEI initiatives meet their intended purposes.

Women who lead DEI initiatives in the workplace also have strong DEI involvement outside the workplace through various organizations and initiatives, including participating in advocacy groups, serving on boards, and mentoring others to help create a more inclusive and equitable society. Additionally, women tend to mentor others, including women from underrepresented groups, to help them succeed in their careers. Mentoring may look like providing guidance and support, connecting them with opportunities for professional development, and advocating for their advancement within their organizations.

In conclusion, women are leading work in diversity, equity, and inclusion in various ways, from bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to the table to occupying leadership positions in organizations to participating in advocacy groups and mentoring others. By doing so, they are helping to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces and society as a whole. However, much work must be done to achieve true diversity, equity, and inclusion.