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Inclusivity Isn’t Just a Buzzword!

DEI in the Workplace

September 15, 2023

The Greater Des Moines Partnership hosted their quarterly Multicultural Reception at Corteva Agriscience. While this event serves as an opportunity for community members across a variety of industries to develop relationships with each other, it also connects those who are passionate about building an inclusive community to learn how companies and individuals alike are driving the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion forward. I attended and found myself surrounded by a variety of diverse perspectives, experiences, and individuals who had common goals of wanting to see the community they live and work in represent the plethora of experiences they possess reflected back at them.

As a white male, I typically do see images and representations of my identity reflected back at me. From board meetings to hiring interviews to a variety of informal situations I have learned that I benefit from certain privileges that are many times not afforded to everyone. That said, I believe my privilege can be part of perpetuating problems that have plagued society for centuries or I can use that privilege to drive towards change. This doesn't mean I or others in my position are the enemy, but it does mean we have a responsibility.

I believe we are meant to use our position to be an ally, to amplify the voices of people who have been historically marginalized and to actively participate in making environments that are more equitable for everyone. Creating safe spaces for people to share their lived experiences and perspectives such as the Multicultural Reception, helps to drive meaningful change, but it doesn’t stop there

Enter the broader topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

DEI Significance for Young Professionals

DEI is not merely a trendy buzzword or a compliance checklist. It's a comprehensive framework for organizational excellence.

DEI represents an essential paradigm shift that focuses on creating environments where all individuals, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or disability status, feel valued, respected and empowered to reach their full potential. It's about acknowledging systemic disparities and actively striving to build a culture of collaboration and acceptance where diverse perspectives are not only included but celebrated.

McKinsey Co’s initial 2015 study analyzed more than 366 public companies with high levels of racial and ethnic diversity, and these were 35% more likely to outperform industry financial returns, and those with gender diversity were 15% more likely. Fast-forward to 2023, and a Global Parity Alliance report shows these figures have increased to 36% and 25%, respectively, underscoring that the financial benefits of prioritizing DEI have only strengthened over time. Diverse teams are proven to be more innovative, adaptable and better at problem-solving. Inclusion fosters a sense of belonging that can dramatically improve employee engagement, productivity and well-being. Equity ensures these opportunities for growth and success are accessible to everyone, providing a level playing field that enables talent to thrive across the board.

I got the chance to meet Michelle Sandbulte, Global Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (ID&E) Program Lead for Corteva Agriscience and later sat down with her for a follow up conversation. She explained they've found DEI among the top three values young professionals seek in their careers. The significance of DEI is growing, not only on a global scale but also in traditionally homogeneous industries like Midwest Iowa's agricultural sector. An industry which is experiencing increasing diversity. This trend reveals a broader shift in the cultural fabric of metropolitan areas and industries we might not typically associate with diversity.

I believe we're witnessing a profound cultural shift as diverse communities grow and t are projected to be the overall majority population by the year 2050, a change that's been years — perhaps even generations — in the making. This transformation isn't merely coincidental; it's been an inevitable evolution, shaped by global migration, the ability to travel, experiences with diverse cultures, advancements in technology and social media and increased access to opportunities for historically marginalized groups. Simply put, the push for DEI isn't just a 'nice-to-have' — it's a 'must-have' rooted in the inescapable realities of a diversifying world.

Ignoring this shift isn't just socially irresponsible; it's also a disservice to the untapped broader range of talents, perspectives and consumer markets businesses have continued to overlook.

Sandbulte highlights that this is particularly relevant in sectors like agriculture, which are undergoing significant generational and demographic shifts. Businesses like farms need to be prepared for a future where DEI is a non-negotiable component of their operational ethos. Conversations around this transformation, as Sandbulte explained, are complex. They often delve into deeply personal territories and require nuanced engagement. They require us to "read the room" to engage with others not just from a place of competence but with the humility and human decency that fosters genuine inclusion.

For DEI initiatives to be genuinely effective, there needs to be a safe and open forum where everyone, regardless of their background or status within the company, can express their thoughts, concerns and ideas. Creating a culture that mitigates this discomfort and encourages open dialogue is crucial. Employers can take proactive steps such as facilitating DEI training, encouraging mentorship programs focusing on inclusive practices, and creating channels for anonymous feedback.

DEI + Leadership

On one hand, organizational change must be driven from the top down. Executive leaders need to not only endorse DEI initiatives but also actively participate in them. When executives and managers are engaged in these efforts, it sets a precedent for the entire organization. On the other hand, in many cases, the front-line employees are the first to experience the shortcomings and opportunities in a company's DEI efforts.

However, for a bottom-up approach to be effective, the organizational culture must encourage and reward open dialogue and initiative. Leadership plays a role here, too —they must be willing to listen and act upon the feedback and ideas generated by their employees. The ideal scenario is a collaborative relationship between top-down and bottom-up approaches, with each informing and enriching the other to create a comprehensive and effective DEI strategy.

This is an opportunity for us all to dig deep. I believe understanding diverse perspectives is a critical starting point for fostering an inclusive and equitable environment. While I don't believe I or anyone else is expected to single-handedly "save the day," we do have a role to play. That often means stepping back and using my privileged position to amplify the voice of someone else rather than dominating the conversation myself. Other times it is advocating for others and the importance of DEI on a continual basis, not just when it is convenient.

DEI is not an end goal but a continual journey. It calls for courage, for uncomfortable conversations, and for a shared commitment to making the workplace—and, by extension, the world—a better, more equitable place for us all. As Sandbulte emphasized, "DEI isn't just a checkbox. DEI is being human."

So I wrap up with this — be human.

Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need, including connections through a Resource Compass and Business Counseling through the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s network.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Young Professionals Connection (YPC) aims to attract and retain young professionals in Greater Des Moines (DSM) by connecting emerging leaders to each other and to the community through social, civic, charitable and professional development endeavors. Learn how you can get involved.

Samuel Malkasian

Samuel Malkasian is a Marketing Consultant with DSM.Studio and Marketing Chair for the Young Professionals Connection (YPC), an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.