From DEI to EDI, How Companies Can Rethink Diversity Strategies
For Heather Caruso, Ph.D., associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, the acronym for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) didn’t quite fit the bill. “We are very intentional about saying EDI at Anderson because it’s meant to be a reflection of how these things build up on one another,” Caruso said.“I start with equity because what we’re trying to do is address the fact that the world has, for most of its history, not been particularly welcoming of different perspectives. To get diversity, we have to acknowledge that there are going to be some inequities in people’s paths in our school.”At From Day One’s Los Angeles conference, Caruso sat with journalist Margot Roosevelt for a fireside chat, delving into the challenges and benefits of addressing diversity in educational and corporate settings, and how leaders can strategize for a more inclusive environment for all identities.Balancing CensorshipIn a study on self-censorship, researchers found only 16% of Americans were comfortable talking about politics with anybody. In contrast, 77% of Americans said they actively self-censor around certain people.In an increasingly divided country, companies and universities are being put in the spotlight on their choice to respond to political and social issues. The decision, in either case, would be a difficult one to make, Caruso says.“Wrestling with that frustration about the existence of different narratives is at the core of what EDI and DEI professionals have to help their organizations confront, because it’s a key barrier to achieving a thriving diverse community,” Caruso said. “If there’s some domain where we can’t tolerate the existence of different points of view, then that’s potentially a boundary on our commitment to welcome diversity.”Heather Caruso, Ph.D., (left) was the featured speaker, interviewed by journalist Margot Roosevelt (right).Censorship and free speech remain a delicate balance for U.S. college campuses as well. A recent study found students view free speech as important, yet feel unsafe to express their opinions because of fear of judgment or reprimand from their peers and campus.There is no right answer to this issue, Caruso says. “It’s a gamble either way, but I think organizations benefit from at least being intentional about the bet they’re making. We’re betting that some boundaries are necessary or we’re betting that we can create and innovate in this space and find a way to handle it,” Caruso said.By making intentional choices to engage or change work cultures, leaders can help foster a safer environment for their communities to participate in. Keeping an open mind and willingness to learn all play key roles in developing change, Caruso said.“Learn as much as you can as you go. If we encourage that kind of experimentation and learning as much as possible, then we will at least be able to update and refine and improve our efforts more quickly,” Caruso said.Work From the Bottom Up, Instead of Top DownRecent studies show that a diverse workforce has a strong business value, with diverse companies earning 2.5x higher cash flow per employee than less-diverse companies. However, leaders need to think beyond just the business value when approaching EDI strategies.“Top-down initiatives are largely the initiatives where some leader or organization comes out with a proclamation that diversity is the right thing to do because of the business value,” Caruso said. “My problem is that when the business value is centered around getting people to engage with diversity in a certain way, then it tends to focus people on a transactional thing.”Caruso suggests companies focus on bottom-up approaches that look to the root of diversity issues instead of looking for and hiring employees that fit diversity needs.“Try to figure out what you need and try to solve that problem with the people that are right there in the company. Why is it that we’re not seeing a certain race or ethnicity in the organization? Is there something that systematically excludes them from the process?” Caruso said. “I want to see employers give people more room to pick and choose where they want to be and how they want to show up.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.