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This article was written by Kiva Wilson.
The murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked much-needed discussion and introspection about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—but despite rising awareness around social justice, the number of Black people killed by police has actually increased over the last two years. Managers in large organizations might be tempted to rest on their laurels after achieving traditional DE&I milestones such as increasing the number of Black or Latino employees or adding more women to the board. But for DE&I initiatives to be truly effective it’s important to look beyond the numbers. True DE&I work supports the whole person, recognizing the complexity of individual lived experiences and identities both in and outside the workplace.
DE&I is extremely important to us at Material, and we’re always thinking about how to ensure our employees feel valued, empowered to speak up, have access to the support they need, and take time for self-care. Of course, we also recognize the work to be done still. Our initiatives are always a work in progress, and we’ve learned a few valuable lessons this year on our journey towards establishing greater DE&I.
Manage for inclusion by empowering your employees
Every week we send out a confidential survey called Pulse. People answer questions about their workload, well-being, growth, support, and overall engagement. We also ask open-ended questions such as, “what’s on your mind right now that you’d like to tell us?” However, we learned via employee feedback that the survey wasn’t quite confidential enough.
When responding to earlier iterations of Pulse, respondents were worried that their managers would be able to identify them by their writing style or tone, which consequently limited their ability to be truly forthcoming. With that in mind, we changed the visibility threshold to strengthen confidentiality and psychological safety, so folks felt comfortable to freely tell us what they needed to tell us. And meanwhile, managers still receive valuable feedback.
Listen and learn to celebrate and support intersectionality
At Material, we’re proud to celebrate holidays that reflect the diversity of our organization, including Hispanic Heritage Month, Juneteenth, and Pride Month. But as inclusive as we’ve tried to be, we inadvertently neglected to highlight some anniversaries and events important to our employees. Material is headquartered in L.A., home to the largest number of Armenians outside of Armenia. In April 2017 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion declaring April Armenian Heritage Month, and in 2021 Joe Biden became the first US president to acknowledge the massacres of 1915 as genocide.
As Chief Culture Officer at Material, I was grateful that one of our employees felt empowered to submit a Pulse open-end comment to call us out for failing to acknowledge either the April anniversary of the massacre or celebrating Armenian culture that month. We thanked the individual for gifting us this valuable feedback. We’re grateful that this started a meaningful dialogue that resulted in an internal educational post for all to learn and will of course highlight Armenian history going forward.
Incentivize employee wellness, but make it inclusive
We also learned how to be more inclusive when employees spoke up about our well-intentioned but ableist Wellness program. With its focus on physical activities like workouts and counting steps per day, the program excluded people with disabilities, who practice wellness in a multitude of other ways.
We took the feedback and shared it with the Wellness team, who are reevaluating what we incentivize to achieve a more holistic Wellness program. We currently offer virtual experiences such as wellness seminars and chair yoga, and are considering other ways we can comprehensively support employee well-being going into 2023. In May, we observed Mental Health Awareness Month and launched a new advocacy group called ADVANCE (Advocates for Disability, Accessibility, Neurodiversity, and Caregiver Empowerment).
Be champions of humanity
It shouldn’t take the fear of being criticized by employees or customers to spur positive change toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future. Nor should the opinions and feedback of those with ‘Chief’ or ‘President’ in their job titles hold more weight than anyone else working for an organization.
At Material, we think it can be deeply meaningful when feedback starts with our employees first and works its way up; because when folks feel empowered, they’re not scared to call out omissions or mistakes—and that benefits everyone. I’ve certainly learned a lot that way, and I hope we all continue to build a culture that champions all that is human and creates a better kind of company, for a better kind of world.