As companies grapple with how to maintain their culture while supporting their employees (many of whom are now working remotely) during COVID-19, now may be the right time to consider establishing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Council.
DE&I Councils, like the one CO-OP recently formed, are tasked with guiding the company’s policies and practices in ways that ensure all employees are celebrated for who they are. Particularly now, as employees are physically isolated from one another, DE&I is more important than ever.
Comprised of employees from across the company, CO-OP’s new DE&I Council met for the first time in February to discuss the cultural successes and challenges at CO-OP today, establish goals for the future and set a timeline for Council initiatives going forward.
To help guide the discussion, CO-OP President and CEO Todd Clark gave his perspective on why inclusion is vitally important to CO-OP. Attendees also heard from guest speaker Angela Russell, CUNA Mutual’s VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who shared best practices that are enhancing the lives of employees at CUNA Mutual today.
“CO-OP’s DE&I Council is in place to help us continue to build a workplace where employees feel valued, respected and connected,” said Clark. “In doing so, we are also nurturing an internal culture that is poised for innovation and that aligns with the values of our credit union clients and their members. I am excited about the new Council and the opportunities ahead.”
According to Council Lead and CO-OP VP Division Executive Dorthy Mack, the Council will provide education, training, awareness and community support to employees to help them embrace “all things DE&I.”
“Our vision statement is to ‘understand, attract and engage a diverse workforce where every employee can live up to their value; ensuring that our employee base reflects the consumers we serve. The result of this effort is an inclusive environment where diverse talent thrives.’”
Initially, the Council will focus on reviewing company policies as outlined in the employee handbook and dress code. “We are taking on broader initiatives as well to ensure all cultures and expressions of self are recognized and welcomed at CO-OP,” said Jake Barnwell, Council member and Service Desk Specialist II for CO-OP.
Among the biggest challenges faced by organizations today, notes Mack, are understanding, accepting and respecting differences in ethnicity, age, cultural background and communication style.
“We are looking at introducing policy shifts and learning opportunities to help eliminate the subconscious biases that, as human beings, we all bring to work each day,” she said. “Ultimately, every employee needs to feel that it is O.K. to ask questions and that leaders are open to new ideas and innovative approaches. Employees also need to know that they have influence over their own job tasks. We are here to ensure that work outcomes, processes and communications are fair to all.”
Diversity Drives Success
While an inclusive work environment is good for employees, it also offers widespread benefits to the organizations they serve.
Research conducted by Boston Consulting Group shows that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue. Additional industry research reveals that inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. And, a recent Deloitte study shows that 83 percent of millennials are more actively engaged in their work when their employers provide an inclusive work environment.
“It makes a lot of sense,” said Barnwell. “When you feel comfortable at work, whether that’s working remotely or being completely comfortable identifying as yourself, you end up having the best, most productive days. When you’re feeling good about your job, you naturally offer better service to your clients.”
As with any company initiative, Mack emphasizes the importance of measuring DE&I success. “Metrics to track include diverse representation at key levels throughout the organization, promotion and turnover rates, equitable pay and employee engagement,” she said.
Barnwell advises credit unions that are considering a DE&I initiative to expect both successes and missteps initially. “That’s O.K.,” he said. “This can be a sensitive topic. The important thing is that you’re embracing DE&I principles. You’re taking the right steps to enact change, and you are moving forward.”
Mack adds, “A lot of our clients are down the path of their own DE&I initiatives, and they understand that we are going down a parallel path, marching right alongside them. We see our Council as another level of support for credit unions that is critical to their thought processes, hiring practices – and the retention of their own members.”
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