5 Ways to Ensure Justice in the Workplace

During her December 2022 presentation, “Achieving Equity through Systemic Change,” Nadine Redd Blackburn, EVP for Culture, Equity & Inclusion - Behavior and Systemic Change at United Minds (part of The Weber Shandwick Collective), revealed why Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) strategies often fail to deliver on their larger promise and shared a framework for embedding equitable practices. Here, Nadine addresses one of the follow-up questions: How to develop justice in the workplace.

Does your leadership and DEI strategy advance equality … or deliver justice? 

The distinction matters. Justice means you have a system that is intentionally designed to yield—year in and year out—equitable access to all the fruits that the workplace offers. Rewarding careers. Competitive-paying jobs. Plum assignments. Growth and development opportunities. Inclusive leadership roles. Inclusive employee experiences.

Too often, however, leadership and DEI strategies deliver results that are less sweeping and more fleeting. Why? Because they’re focused on fixing the symptoms of injustice—low representation of BIPOC and women, for example—rather than the system that gives rise to them. This symptomatic approach results in serial programming, which over time corrodes engagement and breeds skepticism.

To achieve and sustain justice—equity in all workplace policies, procedures and ways of working—you need a systemic approach. Here’s what it looks like:

Listen to understand: What IS your employees’ experience?

It’s important to examine the lenses of different employee groups to learn how they navigate the workplace and the world, as their experiences will impact how they relate to customers—both existing and potential—as well as colleagues. Make time to get to know your employees as human beings. Understand what it’s like to walk in their shoes, in and outside of work. Tune into their voices on social media and set up two-way channels for open dialogue. Accept what they tell you, even if it doesn’t mirror your own experience. Soliciting feedback signals that you’re willing to look beyond the symptoms to confront the root cause. Acting on that feedback confirms your commitment to systemic change.

Audit for holistic integration: Examine every policy, practice, operation, and way of working for equity AND alignment to corporate values and DEI objectives.

Too often, there’s a troubling disconnect. For example, when a firm pledges to increase BIPOC representation among its engineers from 2 to 10%. Yet the firm relies on a talent-sourcing strategy that targeted engineering schools where BIPOC students account for less than 4% of all graduates. This strategic misalignment sets up hiring managers and recruiters for failure. We see similar disconnects in global DEI strategies, where US-centric initiatives simply cannot address stakeholder needs in LATAM, APAC, and EMEA regions. A thorough audit of business operations and practices will surface the contradictions that, like an undertow, invisibly halt progress on DEI objectives.

Say what you mean: Communicate clear expectations and equip everyone to fulfill them.

It’s crucial to provide employees, customers, community leaders, and investors with a narrative that clearly conveys the organization’s mission and values, codifies its expectations of inclusion,; and makes the business case for DEI. But don’t stop there. Train leadership in inclusive behaviors. Make inclusive leadership a key component for hiring and promoting managers. Show employees what constitutes inclusive leadership and enlist them in the creation and sustainment of an inclusive culture. Systemic change requires that everyone be aware of and involved in it.

Measure what matters: Prioritize culture and employee-experience metrics.  

Representation is an important metric. But in our experience, it is an outcome, not a driver, of inclusive and equitable cultures. Determine the metrics that make sense to measure cultural change. Incentivize and reward inclusive behaviors. Measure the impact of inclusive behaviors and systemic justice on the employee experience. By promoting inclusion and maintaining equity in all operations and interactions, you will create an environment where talent thrives, increasing and retaining diversity at every level throughout the organization.

Mean what you say: Hold everyone accountable for progress.

If you’re focused on just the representation numbers, then leaders and recruiters will be responsible for hitting them. But if you’re focused on the behaviors that shape workplace culture, then everyone becomes responsible for their adoption. Hold regular check-ins at every level, in every function, to monitor and discuss progress on the metrics you’ve chosen. Make sure there are consequences for failing to meet behavioral expectations so that everyone knows how much they matter. Because when employees know that desired outcomes depend on their input, they’ll continue to engage—powering and sustaining the system-wide change that delivers justice for all.

Infographic on the difference between equality, equity, and justice

(Image Source: Achieve Brown County)

United Minds, part of the Weber Shandwick Collective, makes business more human by leveraging a culture-forward, people first approach to DEI. Nadine Redd Blackburn leads United Minds’ Culture, Equity and Inclusion (CEI) specialty, which helps organizations move DEI from performative practice to transformative turbine. You can reach Nadine at Nadine.ReddBlackburn@UnitedMindsGlobal.com

If you missed our event with Nadine, a recording of her presentation is available in COE’s Members Only Digital Content Archive. Don’t have an account? Create an account.