Renu Dalessandro, Chief Marketing Officer at Jovia Financial Credit Union
I’m CMO at Jovia Financial Credit Union. We are in Long Island, New York, and we have been there for 80-plus years. We have approximately 500 employees. We have a diverse employee base. Who’ve been recently tasked with forming a D&I plan. We are really at the very beginning stages of laying the foundation on which we need to start building some of our initial framework.
The question that we keep asking ourselves is where do we start? What help do we need as leaders to start helping employees understand D&I? I think someone had mentioned it before.
If you ask the question, it’s different things to different people. You’re rarely going to get the same answer and it encompasses so many different facets. In doing some initial work, we found a few things worth considering. When you’re right at the very beginning, first things first, identify your business needs. They have to be aligned with the company objectives and be sure that you build that strong connection to how the organization achieves its business goals. Otherwise, the initiative is just not going to succeed. Ask who are we? What do we want to achieve? Who do we want to become? And get everyone to believe, truly believe in that mission. Identify the right stakeholders within the company, know who your sponsors are, know who your objectors are. Identify and really prepare for those who are not excited about this because not everyone is going to be right off the bat.Find your allies who will become your biggest advocates, because ultimately they’re the ones who are going to push the message for you. Push that organizational message forward.
Another thing also is just understanding the organization. I know we talk a lot about it, but really know your audience and get really good at listening. Understand what the appetite is, what the temperament is around you. Easy way to do that, and we’re just at the beginning stages of starting to do this is conduct focus groups. Listen, listen, listen. I can’t stress that enough. Send out surveys to employees. Get help from a third-party expert in that space, if you have to. Someone who could form the right questions. Another thing is just keep it simple. The D&I initiative must be communicated clearly and easily. It must be understood by all. Also something that you can execute easily.
It doesn’t have to be this massive in scope and it can be done in a reasonable budget. Perfect example is to start with a series of small programs. Such as online training courses, lunch and learns, bring in a speaker on diversity inclusion topics. Post informative videos and articles on your company intranet. Just to get the employees familiar with the subject matter. Because this is something new and not everyone is going to get it. Form committees. I know we’ve been doing a lot of that internally, just forming subcommittees for whatever it may be. It may be for social events. It may be for a certain project you want to get off the ground. Ask for volunteers. That in itself truly shows inclusiveness. Get everyone that you possibly can see at the table so that their voice is heard.
What is also really important is building accountability. Ask those managers to provide you with some sort of quarterly reports. Make sure they’re talking about this at their staff meetings. Make sure that they are able and ready to promote diversity inclusion within their own teams, weave it into the daily actions. If you feel, or if there is some sort of pushback or results that are not positive, as you first expect, pivot and change your course a little bit. Maybe focus on inclusion first and then diversity, especially for those companies that are new to this. Diversity training. Again, it’s not always as popular and effective. It has to be done right. We’re learning this as we go. There is a certain level of expertise and a mindset needed really to work in the D&I space.
I’ve learned that by even doing some of the research we’ve done already. Invest in the training, focus on learning about diversity, best practices, understand your organization. Establish partnerships with outside organizations. Because they could certainly help you. There’s so much out there that you can learn and integrate diversity into your workspace planning. Again, we at Jovia, we’re really at the beginning stages as I mentioned, but we’re doing our homework to understand what these first important steps will be and mistakes are going to happen. That’s okay. Right? You learn from that. Just to sum it up: Understand your organization well. Get buy-in. Start building those advocates and listen, listen, listen. That’s really the first place and the best place you can start.