D&I Critical to Strong Organizations

In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber President and CEO Allan Zaremberg and Dr. Jessica Milam, Inclusion and Diversity Advisor to the U.S. Navy, discuss practical applications employers can glean from the U.S. Navy’s diversity and inclusion programs.

The U.S. Navy is an incredibly diverse organization that brings together people of diverse cultures and backgrounds from rural, urban and suburban environments around the world, Dr. Milam tells Zaremberg.

Diversity is important because it strengthens organizations by bringing in different perspectives and shining a light on an organization’s blind spots.

But diversity alone is not the answer—inclusion is critical, she says.

“Without inclusion, diverse perspectives can lead to friction and conflict of thoughts and opinions,” Dr. Milam explains. “We really need inclusion to actively engage all the perspectives to come up with creative solutions and problem solving.”

The actively inclusive team, she says, is able to leverage diversity “to reach our peak potential and maintain that advantage over our adversaries.”

Make It a Part of the Culture

Dr. Milam recommends that employers create a diversity and inclusion strategy tied to their organization’s mission, with clearly defined objectives and goals. Then, the organization must practice those objectives every day to make the new practices part of the workplace culture.

She emphasizes that it is not enough that an organization has one person or one department to handle inclusion efforts. Inclusion has to be something everyone practices every day.

In the Navy, Dr. Milam says, there is a “Culture of Excellence” program that helps solidify inclusion efforts. The program consists of both an individual piece and an organizational piece.

Because people join the Navy from such diverse backgrounds, some sailors simply don’t know the historical practices that have divided different people and created inequities and racism, Dr. Milam explains. The individual piece of the “Culture of Excellence” program focuses on helping people self-reflect and be self-critical. Then, sailors are given tools to disrupt bias, know when to stand up for others or when to step back and listen, and be mindful of the language they use.

This focus, Dr. Milam says, helps sailors use “their own perspective to advocate for change.”

In the organizational piece, sailors are taught to identify the frameworks in the Navy and understand policies to see if there are barriers, encourage positive behaviors and stand up against negative behaviors.

Learning Is Key

Diversity and inclusion thrive when there is trust within an organization. One way to foster that trust is by creating a safe space where employees can tell their personal stories, Dr. Milam says. Personal stories are very powerful and help people empathize with one another.

Lastly, there are many podcasts, videos and books that organization leaders can use to develop these difficult conversations and understand what is at hand.

The field is very collaborative, and a consistent, proactive approach can help organizations attract and keep the best talent.

For related resources, visit https://advocacy.calchamber.com/creating-diversity/.