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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Kayler

The lived experience as part of your DEI Program

Too often, our society thinks of Diversity only in terms of race. Rather, Diversity represents the individual differences with which members may identify as they relate to their social and professional identity. Consider the presence of “difference” within a given setting. Differences can arise in our appearances, thoughts, likes and dislikes, values, and identities. Diversity among identities may relate to gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, education, marital status, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and socioeconomic status, to name a few. Professional identity should also be considered. Factors include job type, departmental bias, tenure, worksite, location, employment status, responsibilities, education, training and more. A recent article in Harvard Business Review tackled this topic in a piece called Do Your DE&I Efforts Consider Age, Class, and Lived Experience? (July 1, 2021, by Noa Gafni). The premise is that, to truly make progress on DEI initiatives, leaders need to focus on both more traditional definitions of diversity (race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation) and expand their lens to consider other factors such as age, socioeconomic status and lived experience. This is a good recommendation. Too many organizations have tried traditional strategies to recruit excluded groups but have made little progress. The article highlights a few key suggestions related to broadening diversity efforts:

Age: Although age discrimination isn’t new, much hasn’t changed in tackling the challenge of either being thought of as too old or too young. An AARP survey found that 1 in 4 workers, age 45 and over, have been negatively singled out for their age by managers or supervisors. On the other end of the spectrum, young employees may also feel left out of leadership roles or opportunities because of their age. The solution? Recognition that older and younger workers have unique challenges, and conversations must occur about those impacts. The common thread is creating systems where people on either end of the age spectrum have clear access to decision-makers and the opportunity to be involved and offer their perspective.

Socioeconomic Status: To broaden the socioeconomic range of those who can apply to jobs and diversify workforces, it is important to look at your processes and systems to see if you are, in fact, making it possible for those from different socioeconomic backgrounds to apply and thrive. The hiring pool is destined to stay the same unless your organization reaches out beyond the same shortlist of schools, cities, experience, recruiters, etc. As researchers Joan C. Williams, Marina Multhaup and Sky Mihaylo note, the more diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds within a team, the more likely you are to expand the pool of perspectives, leading to more inclusive (and better) decision-making. We need teams that reflect the customers and communities we are trying to serve. Perspective from a single socioeconomic background cannot provide this.

Lived Experience: Looking at life experience is not traditionally part of a resume review process. However, consider the life experiences a single parent, someone who is food/housing insecure, a Veteran, an immigrant or an untraditional student would bring to your organization. Certainly, there are leadership experiences taught beyond textbooks. , According to social impact entrepreneur Amy Neumann, lived experience can even help a board better serve the organization and its stakeholders, particularly if board members are part of the community the company serves.

Getting Started

An HR audit will help pinpoint your organization’s recruitment as well as retention efforts. Remember that your DEI plan is a journey—not merely a committee—and adaptations need to occur in the plan to accommodate a host of new lessons and discoveries. For assistance with your marketing and HR audit related to DEI, contact AOE today!


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