For companies seeking to create a culture of DEI, few things could be more important than whether employees believe their organizations are making good on their promises.
One finding from Built In’s 2023 report on the State of DEI in Tech reveals an area of concern: Employees and companies disagree on whether and how much progress is being made.
In the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 tech employers and employees, companies rate themselves highly when asked if, in their workplace, people from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to succeed.
Workers see it differently. When asked to stack rank statements about their workplace experience, employees put this one in last place: “I have just as many opportunities to secure promotions and better pay in my organization as others in my company.”
Christy Pruitt-Haynes, global head of talent & performance at the NeuroLeadership Institute explains this misalignment in terms of an analogy she calls The Parade Effect.
Imagine you’re a parent at a parade with two small children, says Pruitt-Haynes. You can carry one child on your shoulders, giving them a clear, unobstructed view. Your other child stands next to you, close to the ground and surrounded by adults.
If you ask the child on your shoulders to describe the parade, they’ll give you a detailed play by play: the floats, the clowns, the baton twirlers. But if you ask the child standing next to you, you’ll get a very different story. That child saw the parade through adults’ legs, and even then, their view was likely further obscured by orange cones or barricades.
The two children were at the same parade, in other words, but their experiences couldn’t have been more different. This premise holds just as true in corporate corridors.
“People base their perspectives on their experience,” says Pruitt-Haynes, “and they forget that their experience is not universal. Often, leaders and managers will say, ‘Well, I ascended through the organization. So if I did it, clearly, everybody can.’ ”
In response, Pruitt-Haynes says: “All realities are real, but all realities are not universal.”
“If people tell you they don’t feel they have the same opportunities as their peers, believe them.”
-Christy Pruitt-Haynes, NeuroLeadership Institute
To extend the metaphor as far as it will go, every person will experience the parade of corporate advancement differently.
Professionals from different groups and intersections contend with more or less bias and discrimination — or, conversely, more or less privilege and power. Factoring in that reality, it becomes especially important for leaders to relinquish the misguided idea that, if people just followed their example, they could rise to the top, too.
That would represent the start of bringing employees and employers into better alignment on DEI. It would open up leaders to let go of assumptions and instead listen intently to people’s unique experience with advancement opportunities, or the lack thereof, at their organizations.
“And the important part is this,” says Pruitt-Haynes. “If people tell you they don’t feel they have the same opportunities as their peers, believe them. Believe them and enact habits and systems to help change those realities.”