Innovating for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Less than 3 Days

The Forum on Workplace Inclusion is a program of Augsburg University located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. The 3-day conference hosted speakers and attendees from around the United States and numerous countries around the world. The theme of the 32nd annual flagship event, Facing Forward, was focused on Future Fluency, Global Citizenship, Universal Innovation, and New Perspectives.

We worked with Jennifer London and the Diversity Best Practices team to dedicate 3-hours of the Diversity Executive Forum (DEF) to focus on defining challenges for the DEI Invention Sprint with leaders across the United States. The DEF is an exclusive full-day event for knowledge sharing amongst industry leaders in the DEI space.

Through the challenge definition workshop, executives brainstormed, challenged, and collaborated with one another to identify and articulate critical problems in the DEI space. Through a series of exercises involving individual thinking, voting, prioritizing, and teamwork, the Invention Sprint challenges were created.

The Onova team reviewed all presentations, cleaned up the content, and repurposed all materials into three challenges. Click on the three tabs to read about the challenges.

Challenge Statement:
How might we talk about diversity in the same way we talk about financials and other business operations? How might we build cultural competency and education on DEI across the organization?

Diversity, equity and inclusion a reviewed as a separate thing and not integrated into everyday business. It’s viewed as optional, so it’s not prioritized and funded.

- Limited budget
- Think about how we follow through beyond “check the box” DEI trainings

Challenge Statement:
How might we identify and disrupt the bias in our organization’s systems?

Bias in our systems impact productivity, creativity and innovation. Systemic bias benefits some individuals while leaving others disadvantaged. Reducing systemic bias will lead to increased retention, engagement, morale, trust and inclusion across an organization.

- Expect resistance from various levels of management and leadership
- Must create psychological safety where people are comfortable to speak up and share
- Consider anonymous embedded feedback mechanisms
- Must be outcome-based and measurable to report back on results

Challenge Statement:
How might we hold all employees accountable for diversity, equity and inclusion work?

This challenge is critical because there is limited/vague leadership accountability for driving diversity and inclusion positive outcomes.

- Address fear/discomfort
- Think about reliance on relevant data
- How is the accountability/impact communicated to the rest of the org?

Day 2 started off with a panel discussion with a diverse group of global change-makers  (Tony Hunter, Raafi-Karim Alidina, Armida Ascano, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez). The panel addressed questions around the future of DEI, specifically on the impact of bias, lack of accountability at senior levels, data collection, and core business impact.

The Sprinters gathered together in their teams and went through a similar series of exercises as the DEF session (individual work, voting, prioritizing, and teamwork), except their task was focused on ideating and prototyping. The goal was to build a solution that was scalable, sector-agnostic, and impactful. The day involved several design sprint methodologies (Note-taking, Crazy 8, and 3-Step Panels), concepts from the Business Model Canvas, and fun mini challenges (seen in image below).

Although the official end time for Day 2 was 4:00PM, teams voluntarily worked late into the evening until their presentation the next morning. This was a pure reflection of the level of passion and dedication these incredible individuals had for DEI innovation. We, as facilitators, were in absolute awe over their spirit and commitment - they truly were a one of a kind group.

“If you want people to create great work, you need to consider who they are, where they come from, what makes them who they are, and how you can tap into their strength to create an amazing world.”
— Kabuika Kamunga, DEI Sprinter

Teams were judged by executive leaders with industry experience in the DEI, innovation, and not-for-profit space. The winning team (Team POP) was selected to refine their solution and pitch in front of the entire conference audience at the end of the event. All teams were given participation prizes, numerous mini challenge prizes, acknowledged on stage, and featured in a video. Additionally, the winning team was provided a cash prize by The Forum.

Team POP (People Optimizing Performance) - Winning Team
Andrena Seawood, AustinSnyder, Kabuika Kamunga, Thamara Subramanian
Solution Overview:
A human-centeric employee profile management tool that captures real-time DEI data for optimized workplace productivity.

Team No Bias
Anna Cox, Jennifer Grob, Neyaz Hasan, Nicole Devereaux
Solution Overview:
An application to identify and reduce bias in hiring by blinding the selection process.

Team Building Bridges
Andrea Hubbard, Berlynn Bitengo, Jeanne Rasmussen, Long Dao, Mark Wehde
Solution Overview: Consultants who provide a model and framework enabling bridge building between leadership and employees for organizations looking to address diversity and inclusion issues.

Team All In
Ben Batz, Joel Hodroff, Kjersten Mickesh, Kindra Ramaker
Solution Overview:
A gamified, DEI-based, employee incentive to drive workplace engagement and accountability, making new wealth available for employees/communities and increasing social impact.

The ones leading the charge on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are people you want to be around, all the time. They are some of the most compassionate, authentic, and well-rounded individuals you'll ever meet. It's not easy to fight for a cause so clearly necessary for long-term societal good but has an impact on short-term financial gains. Specifically, it's no easy feat to cut through the constant and persistent question of "...but what's the ROI on this?"

The individuals leading the charge on creating a better work environment are directly redefining the standards of equitable treatment for current and future generational workers, building safer and more inclusive workplaces for everyone to thrive in (not just the privileged ones), and promoting inclusivity to be at the forefront of diversity. These individuals are heroes who make communities better, opportunities fairer, and representation wider.

Thank you, DEI heroes.

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