The critical nature of DEI is a focus we aligned on when we met years ago at an American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) national conference. Since then, we have developed a mentor relationship that has driven connection and progress in our respective organizations around DEI. It has allowed us to expand our reach and raise our voices within the energy and power generation industries. DEI is something we are passionate about, and we embrace any opportunity to share ideas on moving forward.
We all bring different perspectives of DEI, and you may sometimes feel unprepared or awkward. That’s OK. Whether you are in an office, in the field, at a plant or in your community, we urge you to start from uncomfortable.
Historically, the workplace was not the place to talk about politics, race, gender, religion or anything that might rock the boat or cause discomfort among colleagues. Everyone was expected to keep their noses down and, in short, not express personal views that might make anyone feel uncomfortable. You were, essentially, expected to “leave yourself” at home.
With DEI, we must enter a new era. This is everyone’s responsibility. Of course, we expect professionalism and appropriate behavior at work, but the door is now truly open to embrace the authenticity and vulnerability of ourselves and others — whether colleagues or leaders.
It takes courage to acknowledge what you don’t know and what you’ve always assumed, as well as to embrace new perspectives and be open to change. Overcoming the fear of change starts with accepting what’s in front of you, taking a breath and moving forward with a sincere desire to make DEI part of who you are. These are some key questions to ask yourself and your organization:
- Diversity of thought comes from diversity in people and embraces the idea that our workforces must represent the communities we serve. How can your organization promote diversity among employees and better understand cultural backgrounds? What can you ask within meetings or among colleagues to reinforce the importance of diversity?
- Equity is used to confirm equal access in the workplace. What policies does your organization have in place to actively seek the involvement of women, minorities, veterans and other underrepresented groups in the workforce? Do you speak out about inequities in representation, or could you volunteer to be an equity advocate on search committees? Does your organization proactively pursue equitable access to services among the communities it serves?
- Inclusion makes sure that diverse thoughts and people are welcomed. Is your organization or department truly open to accepting better representation among staff? How can inclusion become part of the culture? How are you making sure everyone feels included?
Companies that embrace the importance of DEI reap its rewards. Setting the direction and committing to DEI will help an organization gain new perspectives, greater knowledge, better business results and a vastly richer culture. It is also a powerful catalyst to establish a broader and stronger platform for innovation.
Leadership casts a big shadow within any organization. Whether on the manufacturing floor or in the C-suite, leadership exists in many forms. You might be the “informal” leader others look to for direction. It is essential for the success of DEI initiatives that every leader take a visible stand in shaping what is important and what is expected. Promoting DEI throughout an organization requires commitment, and leadership drives culture and which values are emphasized.
Be part of the change and stand up for what is right.
It can be uncomfortable to be courageous, but — sometimes, even often — the only misstep is not trying.David M. Velazquez is executive vice president of utility operations at Exelon. Laron Evans is business diversity director in the Transmission & Distribution Group at Burns & McDonnell.