With updates involving technological advancements and remote work opportunities, among others, the modern workplace has undergone significant changes in the last several years. It’s also increasingly evident that businesses value diversity. Many continuously work toward developing strategic initiatives aimed at improving inclusivity. Leaders argue that with greater diversity comes a wider range of perspectives and ideas which can be harnessed to give organizations an innovative edge.
Unfortunately, while many business leaders claim to desire greater diversity, they largely continue to fall far short of this goal. In several fields, employees still primarily work with people of the same race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. It’s increasingly clear diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs matter. They must be present. And they must be appropriately tailored with the challenges of today’s workplace in mind.
The REAL Framework: What Is It—and How Can It Help with Diversity in the Workplace?
In an effort to improve how companies handle DEI measures, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has developed a solution known as the REAL framework. This system aims to adjust not only diversity in the workplace but, also, the mindsets and behaviors that influence how employees regard concepts such as equity and privilege.
How the REAL Process Works
The acronym REAL references a four-step process meant to spark positive change in the workplace. The long-term goal: to promote DEI. These ideals cannot be achieved as easily as many people assume, but with a willingness to closely examine the beliefs, actions, and patterns that hold organizations back, real change is possible. To that end, the REAL framework includes the following key elements:
R—Reveal Relevant Opportunities
Far too many organizations attempt to improve diversity simply by duplicating initiatives they see elsewhere. Even on the rare occasion that the copied programs are actually effective, this approach is problematic in that it fails to account for the unique challenges and opportunities that each business or nonprofit holds.
Rather than immediately setting an agenda, the REAL framework advises that participating organizations take time to determine the current status of diversity, delving into details about a variety of groups and their representation (or lack thereof).
While current areas of weakness regarding DEI may be cause for concern, this aspect of the REAL framework suggests that they can also be regarded as opportunities. Ultimately, it’s up to those in leadership positions to take a close look at the role that power and privilege play within their industry, as well as on a societal level. From there, they can examine the various dynamics of DEI and how these influence overarching business strategies.
Upon gaining an accurate sense for the most relevant DEI concerns and opportunities currently present within the workplace, leaders can look to others in their organization for valuable insight. This will further help them in their effort to highlight opportunities for change.
While there is a great deal of power in the acronym DEI, many leaders neglect the equity aspect of this term in favor of diversity and inclusiveness. The Center for Creative Leadership hopes to change this by actively encouraging organizations to build equity into their efforts. In fact, CCL has actually shifted the order of the letters in the acronym to arrive at EDI.
While the terms can be used interchangeably, the use of EDI instead of DEI can quickly change how organizations and individuals regard the concept of equity—and its importance in the modern workplace.
Of course, simply changing the acronym isn’t enough. Beyond this, leaders need to take a close look at inequity across society and acknowledge that, even if they aim to elevate it within their respective organizations, there is not yet a level playing field. Every individual enters the field at a different level of advantage. As such, what one person regards as a “fair opportunity” might seem a lot different to somebody else who lacks a similar head start.
A powerful but often misunderstood concept, diversity encompasses a wide range of characteristics, backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, and behaviors. Activating diversity means recognizing both the similarities and differences between employees and other key players. Teams should also explore how the current state of diversity in the workplace impacts their assumptions and approaches.
Opportunities exist for elevating the contributions of all team members—and for changing how these efforts are regarded. To be activated, however, clear goals and metrics need to be set. These should be accompanied by a commitment to achieving important EDI objectives.
Leaders often claim to value inclusivity but neglect to put this purported priority into action. Inclusive leadership means being active and intentional in efforts to ensure that all employees, clients, customers, and vendors feel that they belong. This feeling can be promoted not only by developing and implementing inclusivity-oriented policies for team members to follow, but also, by taking on a new approach to leadership.
To lead by example, key players need to understand where they show bias and why they exhibit such harmful attitudes or behaviors. Ideally, they will enjoy ample support as they seek not only to uproot such bias, but also, to build more empathetic relationships and act as an ally.
Creative Ways to Take REAL Action
It’s one thing to profess a commitment to the ideals that the REAL framework spells out and quite another to actually put this concept into action. Finding effective ways to promote equity, diversity, and inclusiveness can initially feel overwhelming, so we’ve provided a few helpful examples to get you started:
Gather Data to Reveal the True Nature of Organizational Interactions
Biased recollections of interactions within the workplace can make it difficult to assess the reality of your environment. In an age of big data, however, new opportunities are available for gathering important insights. Emails and web traffic, for example, can give you a better idea of where bias currently exists and how it can be addressed.
As you look to technological tools to map patterns, you may realize that certain people or groups are relied upon far more frequently than others. Furthermore, you can find opportunities for engaging with those you’ve yet to truly access. After you’ve used gathered data to spark meaningful change, continue to monitor the situation and determine whether you’ve made sufficient progress—and where your organization can seek improvements next.
Develop Mentorship Programs Across Departments
Employees can benefit greatly from mentors, but many prefer to go beyond their managers or fellow team members to seek inspiration in other departments. Instead of exclusively relying on managers, organizations should make full use of the concept of mentorship—actively connecting people who can educate, empower, and celebrate one another.
Improve Workplace Flexibility to Boost Both Equity and Productivity
Flexibility is increasingly prized in the workplace, but it’s obvious that inequities exist regarding when or how employees are able to take advantage of this quality.
Take a close look at where flexibility is or is not present—and seek new ways to promote it for all types of employees. This may mean providing greater access to technological solutions or taking on new approaches to scheduling. In the long run, this will improve not only equity, but also general productivity.
Workplace diversity may not be easy to achieve, but it’s possible for organizations to make significant progress upon implementing a strategic, action-oriented approach. Look to the REAL framework to spark the changes needed to achieve true equity in your workplace and industry.
Thinking about implementing DEI efforts in your workplace? Are you interested in building leadership skills for your business career? Contact Lewis University. Our degree programs, including a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, can help you explore leading diversity efforts in your organization as you develop team-building and strategic planning skills.