Over the past 60 years and especially during the past five, many companies have taken a hard look at their diversity efforts. After the protests over the killing of George Floyd in 2020, many CEOs vowed to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, and by 2022, some had followed through. But while many businesses focused on DEI in the workplace, too many still don’t understand the difference between DEI programs and affirmative action compliance.
The difference is actually simple. Affirmative action compliance ensures that the organization is not violating workplace nondiscrimination laws. Compliance’s aim is that the door is open as wide as possible for everyone and that everyone is invited inside where they will succeed or fail on their merits — as it should be. DEI should then pick up the baton and help the diverse workforce that results naturally from compliance to learn to work and play well together in the sandbox. At no time should either function by implementing measures like hiring quotas to achieve their objectives.
Even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law almost six decades ago, people still struggle with what it means for today’s workplace. Compliance teams clear up this confusion and guide companies toward compliance success. For businesses to take meaningful steps forward, however, they need an actionable DEI framework to work with.
Distinguishing Between DEI and Compliance
The importance of DEI cannot be overstated, but people often confuse DEI and compliance. Even after all these years, people still ask, “What is DEI?” Oftentimes, people think compliance professionals and DEI initiatives are required to “move the needle.” They assume this involves determining the right mix of men and women as well as a certain number of people from minority communities to make up their workforce. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, makes it clear that this practice is illegal. Instead, the law is supposed to ensure that everyone has a fair shot at being hired or promoted.
If the law is being followed via compliance, then a company’s workforce should be naturally diverse. The law stops short of helping people get along, however, so this is where DEI comes into play. When implemented properly, DEI initiatives can change hearts and minds. Neither compliance nor DEI is meant to “move the needle.” Instead, both create a workplace where the needle can move organically. Think of compliance as a foundation for DEI efforts. Both concepts are distinct, but one depends upon the other.
Even with the events of the past few years, misconceptions surrounding affirmative action compliance and compliance training have hurt their application. Adequate compliance training, however, gives compliance professionals the tools to directly address these misconceptions to help companies steer clear of corrective action.
Using Straight Talk to Improve DEI in the Workplace and Ensure Compliance Success
Many companies still assume that compliance professionals have to attend law school and memorize compliance law verbatim to be effective in their roles. In reality, they need to understand the law so that they can follow it closely, but it’s the compliance team’s lawyers who work with the technical jargon.
Effective compliance training takes the fluff and legalese out of compliance work so that these professionals can implement policies that deal with issues directly. Here’s how to distinguish between affirmative action compliance and DEI initiatives:
1. Cut through the unnecessary jargon.
Compliance professionals don’t have to be able to recite the Civil Rights Act by heart or monitor company employees. Rather, they only need to understand how current policies apply in the workplace — not all the legal terms that come with them. Training prepares compliance professionals to be trusted resources who work with lawyers to highlight the company’s DEI initiatives.
2. Focus on the mission of affirmative action.
Now is the time to look at the bigger picture and determine the general mission of your affirmative action plan. Do you want your program to inspire empathy? Change the look and feel of your company? Foster more honest discussions? Move away from the text of the law and bring out the human element of your equal opportunity goals. Then, figure out the overall goal of your affirmative action program.
3. Remember that compliance begins with human beings.
In today’s environment, it’s easy to view compliance as a series of absolutes and assume that course correction is as simple as one training. This could not be further from the truth. At the center of compliance are human beings working to change their perspectives. Many problematic behaviors are learned, and it takes empathy and hard work to break the cycle.
For affirmative action compliance to really work, compliance professionals need training that enables them to help their companies succeed. Biddle Consulting Group offers exactly that. Get in touch today to learn more.