Leaders at my employer, AvidXchange, are charting the course toward making our organization more diverse and inclusive. Liz Costa, senior director of teammate communications, has committed to help by describing AvidXchange’s journey as it unfolds. She describes herself as a “catalyst of change.” The first step for senior leadership interested in building a diversity and inclusion program is to create a specific business case for how it will improve your organization. This business case will be internal (recruiting, hiring, promoting, recognition, employee benefits, and so on) and external (customers, vendors, business partners, and others).
Once you have identified your business case for a diversity and inclusion strategy, the next step is to apply what you’ve learned to your processes. Liz explained that this can be difficult since you need to target change at three different levels: (1) Change how individual leaders behave. (2) Change how teams interact within the company. (3) Change at a systematic level.
Liz advised that you first identify where you can shift your focus. If the area your organization needs to focus on is your hiring and recruiting processes and you recruit at universities where, say, the majority of students are white, then you’re probably going to have a predominantly white workforce. Evaluate why you’re recruiting at those universities. Perhaps you need to partner with other universities or recruit with a variety of different organizations. This doesn’t mean your current recruitment sources are necessarily flawed; it means you need to approach recruitment differently to “cast a wider net.”
Ultimately, the purpose of a diversity and inclusion program is to create an environment where people feel invited to come and welcomed to stay. While a good strategy is to start training sessions, just holding them isn’t enough. “You want your employees to walk away from training sessions asking themselves, ‘What insight did I gain?’ and ‘What can I do differently?’” Liz said.
The intent isn’t to criticize past actions. Rather, it’s for leaders to work across the company to build a stronger workforce. If your employees feel welcome, they will stay with you for a longer period of time. They need to feel their ideas are being heard by management. The only way to effectively do this is to listen to your employees and create a culture where their input is valued.
EXPANDING THE CIRCLE
AvidXchange began this type of program in 2017 when we began holding diversity-related conversations called “Women at Avid.” Liz describes Women at Avid as a forum for men and women to discuss the issues women faced. The purpose was to understand a group that was feeling excluded. It started with watching the documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.
The Women at Avid participant list grew from 25 to more than 200 in a matter of six months. Over this time, the participants began to express the need to be more inclusive of more identity groups and learn more about their experiences.
Liz described how senior leadership determined it was time to step in and expand the circle, that a more intersectional approach was needed. Discussions were broadened to discuss various identity groups. Based on these discussions, executives and senior leadership created a tiered plan to change the organization one level at a time.
AvidXchange’s first tier, called “Learn and Practice,” was the focus of 2018. This involved building common knowledge around what is and isn’t diversity. We worked on awareness of behaviors that promote exclusion. “We want everyone to sing the same song and have the same meaning [when discussing diversity],” Liz said. Approximately 125 leaders participated in the initial diversity awareness sessions. Leaders must continually effect change and set the tone for inclusiveness at all levels.
Also in 2018, AvidXchange leaders conceptualized and implemented a development learning framework called “Better All the Time,” which provides training for all employees to build their skills. Interested employees participate in book clubs, discussions of TED talks, and other activities. In November, Women at Avid was renamed “RealXchanges” so that “dialogue across differences” could continue and AvidXchange could consistently offer support, regardless of the identity groups of employees.
In 2019, AvidXchange’s approach changed to “Learn and Lead.” More employees will be involved in the trainings. Leaders are continuing to set the tone and going through assessments to determine their own strengths and weaknesses. This stage is meant to help improve inclusion of employees within various teams at AvidXchange. Management’s goal is to have employees view ourselves as “one team, one dream,” meaning that we’re all one big team. The vision is for employees to act as members of the same team trying to achieve the same goals. All employees are invited and welcome to attend periodic RealXchange discussions.
In 2020, the theme will become “Leading and Owning.” This is where leaders will hold themselves and their leaders accountable for diversity and inclusion. They will enact performance measures to hold leaders formally accountable for making their teams inclusive.
AvidXchange is still early in this process. The plan may change as the company continues to transform. As AvidXchange grows and learns, we will continue to raise the bar of excellence so we do better as a company.
An effective diversity and inclusion strategy starts at the top and requires a significant investment of time, money, and other resources. Leaders must create a clear plan to address individuals, groups, and the organization as a whole. Management will inevitably have to confront unconscious bias within the organization because bias impacts every aspect of your business. The good news: Diversity and inclusion will strengthen business relationships and invite more innovation and productivity into the organization.
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