Breaking DEI Out of Silos

Business Silos

“a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of productive company culture.” 

The Situation

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a real surge in the number of companies and organizations that have embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as an important element in establishing an organizational culture and bolstering competitiveness in the marketplace. Some really make DEI an embedded priority encompassing cross-functional collaboration across all departments; while others simply rely on DEI teams to ensure compliance with certain policies and initiatives that do little more than “check a box.”  

Truth be told, the best way to address the evolving marketplace and increasingly diverse workforce is to break DEI out of a “silo” and adopt a more holistic approach that makes it more of an inculcated business driver. The business case for a more strategic approach to DEI is strong and the impact on the bottom line is undeniable.

It’s known in our industry that companies in the top percentile for diversity were more likely to have financial performance above industry averages, while those in the bottom percentiles were less likely to to achieve a higher level of profitability. To ignore the impact of DEI when it’s strategic rather than required as a box-checking exercise.

Getting DEI Out of a Silo

How do we make the shift from “checking boxes” to embedded strategic DEI that resonates in every part of an organization? It may not be easy but the impact justifies the effort. Here are three recommendations:

  • Increase Collaboration Across Functions & Teams 

This recommendation is critical to implementing an effective and sustainable DEI process that is embedded in a business’ DNA. When teams of diverse individuals with varying expertise, perspectives, and functions are aligned toward a shared goal and vision, it delivers more robust problem solving and better solutions and outcomes. 

  • Drive DE&I with Cohesive Messaging & Communications

To make a rapid shift to a more strategic DEI approach the vision needs to be clearly defined and articulated. And to really gain stakeholder buy-in, a strong business case has to be made so everyone understands that this strategy is not merely a “feel good” reaction to social or political issues; but a proven, and objectively powerful, way of gaining a greater edge on competitors; especially those that resist diversity, equity and inclusion. And when we consider messaging and communications it’s important to ensure they actually resonate with your internal and external stakeholders. Once messaging is crafted it has to be delivered in a consistent cadence not only by the DEI and Corporate Communications teams, but all leaders throughout the organization enthusiastically to create a culture that embraces rather than resists change. 

  • Incentivize employees & teams that demonstrate successful collaboration

Some employees don’t understand why DEI is important or “what’s in it for them.” So it’s very important to not only communicate that but demonstrate it. One of the most popular ways of addressing this obstacle is by leveraging the impact of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to stoke engagement and increase buy-in. 

According to a study by McKinsey, since 2020, about 35% of companies have added or expanded their support of these internal clusters. And when originated in the 1970s, primarily to attract and retain underrepresented groups like African Americans and Hispanics, at least in the U.S., these groups have been broadened to embrace more employees from diverse populations of stakeholders, including LGBTQ+ people, women, military veterans, people with disabilities.

One caveat applies in relation to ERGs, too often these groups compete for influence rather than collaborate. This defeats the purpose to a degree because the goal is collaboration across these groups for more robust problem solving, innovation, and realization of a shared goal. ERGs should not be in silos either, in many companies ERG leadership also participates in cross-functional ERG counsels to see how they can collaborate and work together on events, projects, and programs for increased engagement. And we know they help with employee morale, retention, and overall engagement. It’s important to consider how these clusters intersect more than how they operate individually. 

Summing it Up

In short, it’s clear that silos are a threat to collaboration, not just in terms of DEI, but in all aspects of a business or organization. There are many ways to tear down walls to create a truly inclusive culture that embraces the dynamic tapestry of diversity to move the business forward and address the realities of today’s complex business landscape.