When it comes to implementing meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, many organizations come up short. Organizations fall along a spectrum between those who are either afraid to act, or those who fall victim to action bias (blindly choosing action over inaction), which produces DEI efforts that amount to nothing more than lip service.
How to go from talking the talk to walking the walk was the topic of conversation at the AFP FinNext Virtual session, "The How of Diversity: Walking Your JEDI Talk.” In this session, panelists discussed how financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals can leverage their skills and position to promote the values of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) across the organization and within their interpersonal relationships.
Utilize your current talents
Finance professionals are not going to magically become advocacy or human resource wizards, which is why they should align their DEI contributions with the skills they excel at. “What is one tactic that I can do to help promote this DE&I conversation from my vantage point and level of influence?” asked Eric Ellis, vice president of the National Restaurant Association. “When you're talking about the JEDI mindset, we need to utilize our influence, our enterprise knowledge and our status as the trusted advisor to be an extension to lead into the JEDI mindset.”
As strategic advisors to the business, FP&A professionals are in a unique role to help DEI initiatives succeed. Chris Ortega, director of Finance at Emarsys, discussed how FP&A apply their knowledge in performance management to DEI. “Treat this like us diagnosing anything wrong with our business and what we do,” said Ortega. “If sales are down, you're going to deep dive into the data, you're going to figure out what the root causes are, you're going to set the tactics, you're going to see how they perform, and you're going to track and see how sales goes up. It's the same methodology.”
Inclusivity begins with you
Diversity is about the presence of difference, whereas inclusion “promotes broad engagement, shared participation and advances an authentic sense of belonging through safe, positive, and nurturing environments.” At the macro, organization-wide level, employers must ensure their spaces are not only diverse but also inclusive, because inclusion is a key component to employee engagement and employees feeling empowered in their roles.
At the micro, one-to-one level, every finance professional can begin practicing inclusive behaviors. “It starts with the one-on-one meetings where you could go in with curiosity and be interested in what other people have to say and be listening for what was said as well as what's not said,” said Katharine Halpin, founder of Halpin Consultants.
Inclusion is about practicing behaviors rooted in JEDI values. Halpin identified three for finance professionals to begin practicing. First, do not just hear people – listen to them. When we listen more thoroughly, we can engage with more compassion, thoughtfulness and intent.
Second, celebrate your people and call out the specific impact they have made. Being intentional and thoughtful with your affirmations of others communicates an environment where one’s identity is supported, and their contributions are recognized as having a meaningful impact on the team or organization.
Lastly, replace judgement-laden phrases with rhetoric that encourages openness, curiosity and the continued exchange of ideas. “As accountants and finance people, we bring a lot of critical judgment to any situation. And that's really great, except that sometimes those can go too far and be negative and judgmental,” Halpin said. “What I encourage people to do is to say, ‘how fascinating’ about one thousand times a day, because when you say, ‘how fascinating’ it removes all the judgment.”
Remember failure is part of the process
The sensitivity that DEI demands creates a fear of messing up and saying the wrong thing. However, the reality is that organizations are already failing, which is why these conversations are happening in the first place. Leaders being able to acknowledge the shortcomings of the present moment is a big step toward generating honest conversations with employees.
“Having an overarching goal or mantra within the organization will help those conversations continue to flourish, but you have to acknowledge it,” Ellis said. “You have to provide that forum. That’s the key, the acknowledgement piece. What I found very impactful was the consistency of having the discussions and then trial and error.” Systemic issues do not disappear overnight, and as leaders open a dialogue with employees, it is crucial to keep those conversations consistent.
In other areas of business, having a growth mindset is encouraged, so why not apply that mindset to implementing JEDI values? “You must continue to take that learning and growth mindset that we have in all aspects of the business and say, ‘Okay, what do we learn from this so that they can be successful?’” said Ortega. “Go through that feedback loop. We learned; we took this away from it. We retooled the program to do this. Or we retooled the people that we have involved.”
A famous quote reads, “It is great to be loved, but it is profound to be understood.” This quote expresses the very human desire to be accepted and embraced for the authentic self. The compassion to see people as they are, celebrate their differences, and give them the resources and tools to thrive in a capacity that is best for them are at the heart of JEDI values.
“Everybody wants innovation today,” said Halpin. “They think it's some complex thing, but it's just engaging one another in meaningful ways.”
Visit AFP’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) page for more resources. Unsure of some of the language used in this article? Review AFP’s DEI Vocabulary Index for a breakdown of common DEI terminology.