Q&A with DEI strategist Jeff Waldman

Q&A with DEI strategist Jeff Waldman

In our continuing discussions on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we sat down with Jeff Waldman, who has a lot of firsthand experience on the subject.

DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is a subject that impacts all of us. We recently discussed this topic with HR, HR Tech & DEI strategist Jeff Waldman, who shared his thoughts on why some DEI programs fail, and how he sees DEI evolving in the next decade.

How long have you been working in HR?
I started my career in June 2000 with the Provincial Government of Alberta in Edmonton as an HR Consultant. 

What inspired your passion for DEI?
It started due to my personal circumstances being born with a severe hearing loss in both ears. I wear hearing aids and my hearing disability is a huge part of who I am as a person. I experienced a fair amount of discrimination during my childhood because of my hearing and the simple fact that I was different. Fast forward to starting my career in HR, a huge part of my work was workplace accommodation. This is when I really became interested in DEI because I learned that every single human being is different and unique simply because they’re a human. I realized huge success with the workplace accommodation work I was doing because it helped remove and eliminate barriers for employees that allowed them to thrive and flourish in their work. This was extremely powerful and was the starting point to my journey in DEI. 

Why do many DEI programs fail? What are they missing?
My personal belief is that programs fail because they are called “programs”. DEI is not intended to be a stand-alone program, strategy, or initiative. It needs to be baked into everything an organization does within its operations. Another reason is that we do a fairly good job of talking about what we stand for and are planning to do but fall short of truly delivering actionable results. DEI is hard work and is continuous. Launching something and then thinking it’s going to magically drive results is a recipe for failure, every single time. 

What is the best thing an organization can do to encourage DEI in the workplace?
The best thing an organization can do is integrate DEI into everything it does within its operations: recruitment, performance management, rewards and recognition, compensation, workforce development, succession planning, promotions, how communication happens, etc. The DEI lens, or filter, needs to be on 24/7. 

How can workplaces measure the success of their initiatives?
By integrating a culture of DEI you will see an improvement in employee engagement, employee productivity, and quality of hire. Every organization may measure these things differently, but the constant remains that by building a culture of DEI you will see obvious measurable business results. 

Launching something and then thinking it’s going to magically drive results is a recipe for failure, every single time. 

How do you think Canada ranks among other countries pursuing DEI initiatives?
This is a difficult question to answer. However, given that Canada is the most diverse country in the world I can confidently say that we are in the top five globally. While Canada is far from getting things truly right I believe we are well-positioned to realizing positive outcomes through DEI.

Do you have any examples or success stories of organizations that have done a good job in implementing DEI initiatives?
The first example is G Adventures who created the Guidance Mentorship Program that matched mentors and mentees based on mentee development goals and mentor coaching strengths. This avoided creating a matching process that focused on “like me biases”. This resulted in ensuring that certain groups of individuals who typically don’t receive the same opportunities were not being left out.

A second example is Eli Lilly’s “employee journeys” that outline the enablers and barriers to career progression of women and visible minorities. The program was designed to boost its competitive edge within the marketplace, unleash positive energy within underrepresented groups, and drastically improve equality. It’s important to note that Eli Lilly tackled DEI from a business perspective, which I think is a smart thing to do. The desired outcomes are rooted in business success, which demonstrates that there’s a positive correlation between DEI and business outcomes. 

What are some of the personal challenges relating to DEI that you have faced and how have you overcome them?
We already know that the business case for DEI is crystal clear and that the impact can be positively realized and felt across an organization. The biggest challenge is constructively navigating our personal bias so we can move forward together. There is no such thing as “eliminating bias”. It’s impossible. However, we can understand our biases and intentionally make decisions on how we behave, what actions we take, and how we conduct ourselves on a day-to-day basis to encourage and amplify DEI. This is really hard to do and is the biggest challenge. 

How do you see DEI evolving over the next decade?
I believe that DEI will be the top driving force behind organizational success. How diverse, inclusive, and equitable an organization is will be the primary factor behind a job candidate’s decisions to join an organization. DEI will be the driving force behind business productivity and success. It will be the driving force behind how effective organizations expand and grow into new markets. This perspective is extremely ambitious but given our increasingly global and multicultural workforces and organizations, it’s part of the evolution of business. 

DEI encompasses a lot—including gender, age, ability—can a one-size fits all approach work? Or do these elements need to be considered individually?
There are too many things that make people different to tackle DEI on an individual basis. While we may target certain groups (e.g. people with disabilities, women, etc…) from a diversity perspective, the real impact will be felt and realized by how organizations behave, act, operate and deal with our collective differences and uniqueness. 

Are you personally working on any specific DEI initiatives right now? If so can you tell us about it?
I am working on a couple of projects with my clients that incorporate DEI. The first project is redesigning an inclusive and equitable hiring practice. This work includes ensuring all job prospects and candidates are accommodated and do not run up against barriers to applying or expressing interest, building equitable screening practices through technology and process redesign, and training and working with hiring managers on how to facilitate an equitable hiring experience. The second project is redesigning an agile performance management practice that ensures managers are able to quickly and effectively adapt to employee differences and potential barriers. The key areas include giving constructive feedback, having 1-on-1 conversations, career development, and recognizing employees for good work. 

Are there any resources you recommend for companies looking to improve or implement DEI policies?
My go-to experts in DEI are Tidal Equality. They have created the “Equity Sequence”, which helps to create more equality and inclusion, reduce bias, and increase equity in organizations. They also believe that unconscious bias training doesn’t work, a perspective that I agree with wholeheartedly. Another interesting resource is Google’s re:Work section called “Unbiasing”. I don’t like the name but I think there’s some valuable and educational content to draw from. 

Interested in learning more about Jeff’s work? Visit his website at www.jeffwaldman.ca.

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November 4, 2020

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