Why DEI Begins & Ends With Learning

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DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is a business priority that has lasting impacts on the world around us β€” and it happens to be a current buzz acronym on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The truth is, the “buzz” surrounding DEI is inconsequential. DEI is a cultural shift that’s here to stay β€” and it must be woven into every thread of our modern workplace culture. While 76% of organizations agree that DEI is a business priority, few actually made good on their promises and pledges last year, with only 5% meeting their goals.

We all know that real change doesn’t happen overnight β€” pledges and commitments need to be substantiated with real and actionable plans. Companies need to play the long game by cultivating the talent that exists in unexpected and underserved places, drawing on a more diverse workforce’s collective strengths and perspectives, and bridging the diversity gaps in high-growth fields. 

Why We Are Talking About DEI

What does learning have to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion? And how can learning help organizations make inroads when there are clear obstacles in the way?

Learning levels the playing field by building key skills and, in turn, provides full access and opportunity. By partnering with businesses to reskill, upskill, and train people, we help break through obstacles and make real progress in diversity efforts β€” at every level.

Our internal/external “always learning” culture is incredibly unique. From our Inclusivity committee to our employee resource groups (ERGs) to our executive DEI department and officers, we are passionate about DEI and its primacy in our work culture. We are passionate about always doing better and always moving forward. While we may not always “get it right,” we are determined to make it right for all. And we want to impart our knowledge and experience β€” wins, stumbles, and falls β€” to help others establish their rightful course.

β€œAt the heart of learning is community,” says David Porcaro, VP of Learning and Innovation at GA. β€œStudents learn best when there is a culture of belonging.”

Read on to see how we break down the elements of DEI into actions β€” and how they pertain to our core.

How To Build a Healthy DEI Culture

Step 1: Transform Diversity Promises Into Actions

Leaders understand that diverse leadership correlates with better business performance, but they need help moving from making verbal promises to taking real actions. Whether on the job, online, or on-campus, we believe that learning environments flourish when every individual’s inherent value and unique gifts and perspectives get illuminated.

“I believe it is essential that businesses make meaningful investments in building diverse, inclusive workplace cultures,” said Lisa Lewin, CEO of General Assembly. “True social progress is not possible without the business community taking meaningful action to address the most intractable problems facing our world.”

But what is a “meaningful investment” in the business space? (And how do you make one?) A meaningful (DEI) investment is sustainable, authentic, and people-driven β€” it’s when you invest in employees’ skills, cultures, and happiness. By showing vs. telling about your commitment to your people, you are instilling a trust-driven culture that can allow for challenging and transformative conversations and shifts. 360-degree changes can shape workforce cultures and provide real opportunities for diverse individuals β€” and real global change.


Step 2: Really Commit to Equity & Inclusion

When workplace cultures build an inherent sense of mutual respect, trust, empathy, connectedness, and belonging within their shared communities, they allow the difficult work of continuous learning β€” and unlearning β€” to occur. So, how exactly is GA committed to an inclusive culture? And how can we help you build one yourself?

To start, since 2011, GA has been building a culture of belonging and an open door to tech careers. We have been advocates of DEI from the very beginning. We take it very seriously.

What this means for you: When we take our inclusive ethos of belonging β€” and the training of it β€”  to an organization, holistic changes inevitably and authentically happen. A good DEI culture is fully inclusive, authentic, and communicative.

How to be committed in your org:

  • Form groups, departments, and committees within your organization to start the conversation. We have a director of DEI who helms all DEI-driven initiatives and communications, along with an Inclusion Committee, numerous ERGs (employee resource groups), and a supportive senior leadership team that serve as honesty checkpoints β€” they, along with all of our employees, are our ultimate feedback loop.
  • Show the work. These said groups and individuals promote an array of awareness campaigns and communications for heritage months, holidays, and beyond β€” and make them visible. These comms air internally, publically on our social channel, and in evergreen downloadable resources. 
  • Build the culture β€” from top to bottom β€” with the right people. Our senior leadership team and human resources department fully advocate for diverse hires, promotions, and opportunities by utilizing diverse job-seeker sites, taking the necessary time to find the best, most diverse candidates. In order to create a DEI culture, an organization must “do the work” by hiring individuals who inherently support and adopt DEI practices β€” and provide learning opportunities at every turn. 
  • Be open β€” and open to change. DEI is not a set-in-stone process. There will be “oops” moments β€” DEI is a quick-pivoting effort that requires agility, empathy, and patience.

Step 3: Give Open Access to Skilling Opportunities

Reskilling existing employees is crucial to diversifying teams. That means opening up access to departments that are historically less diverse, such as software engineering, and to underserved people groups, such as women and PoC.

Some of our examples: 

  • We partnered with Disney to diversify their tech department by training a group of nontechnical women for roles as software engineers in the CODE: Rosie initiative
  • At Adobe, we helped to create a diversified talent pipeline for skilled engineers with Adobe Digital Academy. Instead of recruiting outside the organization, GA identified and upskilled entry-level talent into digital apprentices. 
  • Similarly, through CODE for Good, we developed a custom digital training curriculum for both Guardian & Humana that reskilled a diverse talent pool of nontechnical employees for careers as software engineers within the company. We brought these two businesses together and developed diverse curriculums for each, providing networking and learning opportunities. CfG is our enterprise coalition that reskills women and underrepresented groups into skilled and empowered software engineers.
  • We are also excited to work with OneTen as a training partner, joining their mission to upskill, hire, and advance one million Black individuals in America over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement.

How do we keep the momentum going?

We’ve identified crucial areas where DEI and learning intersect to largely impact culture in organizations. Fixing a systemic problem from the bottom up doesn’t lead to solving it at the top. Reskilling existing employees becomes crucial to fortifying teams, like offering existing employees career mobility by reskilling them into tech roles.

Ultimately, we must continuously invest in diverse employee bases and build a culture of lifelong learning by upskilling employees to accelerate careers β€” for every step of their career journeys. The truth is that digital skills are not static, and change is the only guaranteed constant. So, bottom line, all tech professionals, at every stage, need to be able to have the opportunity to skill up to meet the shifting demands of the industry β€” for a real chance to reach their full potential.

DEI is not a passing movement or one-and-done action. It must permeate every level of the org. DEI is our present and future.