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How Executive Leaders Can Cultivate DE&I

Marie Browne
IAEE Chairperson Marie Browne examines the impact and benefits of effective DE&I for organizations.

Editorial Note: Originally published in the February 2024 issue of Trade Show Executive magazine.

It has been encouraging to witness the advances our industry has made in recent years toward recognizing the need for increased diversity, equity and inclusivity (DE&I) as well as supporting these initiatives. However, there is still room for improvement in moving beyond mere representation and getting to the tangible benefits that holistic DE&I can bring to our organizations and, ultimately, our industry.

When organizations want to transcend higher levels of performance, they rely on executive leaders to lead the change needed to achieve the desired goals. There is no difference when it comes to creating a corporate culture that not only embraces, but embodies, DE&I. Top executives must lead by example and actively champion inclusive practices, which can be done in various ways.

But first, we must make sure we understand the subtleties to the values we are promoting. Diversity encompasses the appreciation of people with different backgrounds, perspectives and abilities. Equity ensures that everyone has equal opportunities, while inclusion promotes a sense of belonging and acceptance. Prioritizing these values results in elevating team loyalty, creativity and productivity, thereby leading to greater innovation for the entire organization – a win/win for all.

One way this can be done is by diversifying our executive teams so that they can establish realistic and on-point DE&I goals, and set measurable metrics. Another tactic is to involve employees in decision-making processes and actively seek their input to foster a sense of belonging. By encouraging distinct voices to be heard and valued at every level of the organization, leaders can drive positive change.

A critical, and often difficult, step is to acknowledge and address biases within the organization (possibly, even within ourselves). By recognizing our unconscious biases and actively working to challenge them, we can overcome the barriers that hinder diversity and inclusion.

Education and awareness-building initiatives for employees at every level are also essential in creating a culture that implements DE&I. By promoting events, webinars and workshops that focus on inclusivity, organizations can equip their employees with knowledge and strategies to dismantle biases.

Leaders can also collaborate with experts, speakers and thought leaders to leverage the organization’s DE&I efforts since they can provide valuable insights and stimulate constructive dialogue. Mentorship programs are also a great resource for nurturing diverse talent by providing guidance, support and networking opportunities for underrepresented individuals.

Another important aspect to genuinely advocating for DE&I is to create a safe space for all team members to feel respected and valued. Encouraging open dialogue, supporting employee resource groups and adopting a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discriminatory behavior are vital steps in creating an inclusive culture.

Finally, creating a culture that supports DE&I requires organizations to establish metrics and hold themselves accountable. By regularly measuring and reporting progress on these initiatives, leaders allow for the continuous evaluation and improvements which are imperative for success. These steps establish a transparency that instills a sense of corporate responsibility and demonstrates commitment to change.

It is no secret that DE&I best practices allow organizations to build a vibrant and well-rounded workforce that also reflects the diversity of their customers. And like all innovative processes, there is a ripple effect to this journey. As executive leaders take their organizations into the future of DE&I, the positive effects will flow throughout the industry.

I invite executive leaders to actively participate in shaping the progressive future that lies ahead by cultivating powerful DE&I in your organizations.

Marie Browne
2024 IAEE Chairperson
Group Vice President

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