While 2020 brought the long-standing, ugly issues of exclusion and inequity to the forefront, 2021 has given us a wonderful opportunity to examine ways to integrate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into all aspects of our lives, particularly into our workspaces. Companies must all strive find ways to embed the issue of DEI in work culture and employee training programs.
There is reason to be optimistic, because last year’s social and cultural upheaval showed us the capacity that young adults have to work together to find solutions that address the various divides in our country. These young people demonstrated empathy, sensitivity, and a willingness to be educated about the concerns of their peers. They coalesced around the issues of the day and through informed activism, they built bridges, challenged society to do better, and organized to push for real policy changes, such as the reinstatement of the Summer Youth Employment Program across the country. They gave us a real life lesson in DEI. As adults, we need to empower these young people to take the skills they’ve gained in doing that work and help them to translate it into careers. We also need to look to them as an example of how we can do better. DEI encompasses norms that drive our everyday interactions.
According to the Ford Foundation, “Diversity is the representation of all our varied identities and differences (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, tribe, caste, socio-economic status, thinking and communication styles, etc.) collectively and as individuals. Equity seeks to ensure fair treatment, equality of opportunity, and fairness in access to information and resources for all. Inclusion builds a culture of belonging by actively inviting the contribution and participation of all people.”
It is now imperative that all businesses place meaningful focus on a structured plan of action for on-boarding new employees and creating a culture of awareness and sensitivity for all staff. In order for DEI to work it should be based on a trackable plan that emphasizes accountability. From new employees up to senior executives, everyone should be bound to the same DEI practices that represent all identities, ensure equal treatment and invite participation from all.
The issue of accountability plays heavily into the success of DEI programs. In an article titled How Nonprofit CEOs And Board Chairs Can Cultivate Justice, Equity, Diversity And Inclusion, Christopher Washington, a Forbes magazine council member writes that “Having a code of conduct makes it easier for leaders to address inappropriate and unhealthy conduct. For some organizations, term limits for board members can prompt a board chair to pay close attention to board member performance.”
Non-profits and workforce agencies who serve young people should be at the forefront of holding employers accountable for delivering on their diversity, equity, and inclusion promises, while pushing for federal and state aid to keep and expand programs that foster inclusion and diversity. We must continue to fight for funding of programs that champion mentorship and respect all gender, race, socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual identities.
As a field, we should challenge ourselves to prioritize engaging companies that provide internships and jobs that are inclusive and diverse. This means recommending that human resource managers, recruiters and mentors are held accountable for meaningful engagements and safe work environments. Young people thrive when they feel included in the process and interact with staff members of all backgrounds. The feedback that we have heard from many young adults is that they are oftentimes pushed into pursuing internships and career pathways that do not reflect their aspirations. Add to that, when they show up for work, they are not included in a meaningful way and their differences are not acknowledged or used in a positive manner. At a February 2021 JobsFirstNYC young adult forum, one of the main takeaways from young people was that they wanted, “Access to peer mentoring, as well as mentors who represent their own intersectional identities.”
The young adults that we serve in New York City and all across the country deserve a well-rounded start to their careers. The organizations that are working to ensure this start are also providing an invaluable service to employers, who are looking for talent that can be supported and retained. We should not be providing that service to employers who are not following through on their promises to create more equitable and inclusive work spaces, and who do not provide safe, high quality jobs.