DEI ‘a consistent, constant journey,’ not a box to check, summit speaker says

DEI ‘a consistent, constant journey,’ not a box to check, summit speaker says

To illustrate the difference between equality and equity, Julio Jordan used the example of going on a walk one snowy afternoon with of group of people who had no shoes.

Julio Jordan

Jordan said he would provide all the walkers with footwear; with the caveat that the shoes would all be the same size.

Even though the decision was equal — everyone was given the same shoes — it was not equitable because not everyone wore that size, he explained.

“The one size fits all approach doesn’t work,” said Jordan, director of Diversity, Equity, Justice and Inclusion for the Ibero-American Action League.

Jordan made the remarks as part of his keynote speech at the Rochester Business Journal’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Virtual Summit last week.

He spoke about DEI as a journey, rather than a destination, for companies; one that includes participation from all employees.

“It’s a consistent, constant journey that is always there,” he said.

Jordan cautioned companies against simply checking a box when it comes to DEI work.

Businesses, instead, must work on creating an inclusive culture, which he said is not complicated.

Such a culture incorporates steps such as using inclusive language, engaging everyone in the communication process, avoiding discriminatory terms, creating safe spaces for employees and being open to feedback.

Having a diverse group of employees with varied backgrounds and experiences can make a workplace stronger because people there are looking at things from different perspectives, he explained.

“Everyone should be involved and engaged to ensure all are treated with respect and dignity,” Jordan said.

Jordan gave a personal example about the benefits of a diverse group working collaboratively.

He spoke about growing up in the South Bronx in a rough neighborhood where he found solace at the local Salvation Army chapter.

When he was older and asked to join the Salvation Army’s advisory board, he immediately did so. Among the organization’s projects at that time was a transitional housing unit for young adults.

While the building had amenities that met young people’s needs, Jordan found it more institutional than homey.

Those leading the project genuinely cared and had good intentions, but they had never been in a similar situation; while Jordan had and was able to make suggestions that made the building more comfortable for those living there.

“That’s the difference between having good intentions and living it,” he said.

Jordan noted that having strong DEI policies correlates to a company’s return on investment.

“This work positively impacts a company’s bottom line,” he said.

It can also help with employee retention efforts, Jordan said, adding that employees often leave a job because are unhappy with the company’s culture.

“They don’t feel valued and accepted so they end up going someplace where they are,” he said.

While businesses are on the DEI journey, it is OK if they don’t know the next step, or have a misstep, as long as they keep going, Jordan said.

“It’s OK to not know what you’re doing; it’s not OK to not do anything,” he said.

Part of that journey is taking a hard look at a company’s operations and sometimes making tough decisions.

“Show up, engage everyone, invest and take responsibility,” Jordan said. “Just because something has always been done one way doesn’t mean that it’s right.”

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