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9 Ways to Promote Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Government Affairs Team

by Lydia Stowe, FiscalNote

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are crucial and ever-changing. Learn nine ways government affairs can help promote and champion DEI initiatives.

How to promote DEI in government affairs teams

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The State of Government Affairs: 2022 Industry Report

An in-depth snapshot of the top trends in the government affairs industry and what you need to be prepared for in 2022.

Greater employee trust and engagement, more room for innovation, and a wider talent pool are some of the benefits of having diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and initiatives in the workplace. But DEI tends to be cast aside in many government relations organizations in times of crisis, when pressing issues loom and demand resources.

When it comes to diversity within government affairs teams, there is ample room for improvement. According to FiscalNote’s 2022 State of Government Affairs Report, twice as many males occupy executive or C-suite government affairs roles compared with females surveyed. As for race, more than 80 percent identify as white, followed by 3 percent Latino or Hispanic, and just over 2 percent Black or African American.

To establish trust and credibility, DEI strategies are vital, and long-term implementation should be a focus. Here are nine ways to promote DEI values in your government affairs team for sustainable, impactful change — and staying compliant.

Why DEI in the Workplace Is Important Now More Than Ever

The “great resignation” over the last year (roughly 47.4 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, according to CNN), has created additional pressure on organizations to keep employees happy and create policies aligned with their values.

Diversity and inclusion are important values to many employees: a CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey found that nearly 80 percent of employees want to work for a company that values DEI issues, but only one-third said their companies are doing “a lot” of work in this area.

Additionally, the topic of DEI has become a focus point since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, which brought the issue of institutionalized racism to the forefront of national issues. In June 2021, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. This order stated that, as the nation’s largest employer, the federal government should be a model for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workplace. It mandated that the federal government must strengthen its ability to recruit, hire, develop, and retain talent and remove barriers to equal opportunity while providing resources and opportunities to strengthen diversity.

DEI work is never complete. As issues evolve and policies change, so will DEI in the workplace. Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is an ongoing process for every organization, as is assessing your organization’s role in corporate activism and how to improve.

9 Ways to Champion Diversity Within Your Government Affairs Team

Looking to promote and highlight diversity within your government affairs team? Here are nine ways to do so, with tips and examples from leaders in DEI.

1. Diversity and Inclusion Starts With Leadership

DEI isn’t just a set of policies and initiatives, it’s a mindset and culture that must be fostered from the top down. “If the leader of the organization doesn’t believe in it, whatever’s on paper isn’t going to stick,” says Jena Roscoe, senior vice president of government relations at Operation HOPE, a nonprofit organization working to disrupt poverty for low-income youth and adults. “Employees have to see that the leadership from the top is committed to that focus.”

As Bradley Gayton, former senior vice president and general counsel at The Coca-Cola company, notes in an interview with the FiscalNote Executive Institute, his personal involvement in DEI efforts had a big impact on Coca-Cola’s growth in this area over the past several decades. “I have personally traveled to firms, sat down with partners, worked through plans, and reviewed scorecards,” he says. “I have probably spent thousands of hours doing this in the last five years alone.”

DEI strategies should start by analyzing diversity and inclusion at the leadership level, what they are currently doing to achieve DEI, and how they reflect on your organization’s DEI goals. This honest analysis can help you determine where you’re doing well, what progress can be made, and get senior leadership on board with the active role they should take in advancing DEI efforts.

“Change does not come solely with diverse representation, rather, companies need to build inclusive leadership teams and create cultures where a robust exchange of ideas and viewpoints is welcomed — and this should start at the top,” says Julian Ha, partner at Heidrick & Struggles and leader of the global Government & Policy and Association practices. “When inclusivity is modeled in the highest levels of a company, it fosters innovation, creates an environment that honors risk-taking, and ensures that new or unique voices are incorporated.”

"Change does not come solely with diverse representation, rather, companies need to build inclusive leadership teams and create cultures where a robust exchange of ideas and viewpoints is welcomed — and this should start at the top."

Julian Ha, Partner
Heidrick & Struggles

2. Embrace & Promote Diverse Cultural Practices

Embracing cultural days, celebrations, and practices is an important staple to DEI in the workplace. Organizations may celebrate basic diverse holidays, but they should research a wide variety of cultural practices and showcase them. Create a calendar to keep track of holidays and events and find people within your organization or externally who can educate employees on these practices.

Celebrating cultural practices could mean a diverse array of holidays, planning initiatives that highlight them, or simply educating your employees. For instance, Patricia Villarreal Tamez, government relations advisor at Shell, says in this interview with the FiscalNote Executive Institute that movements like National Hispanic American Heritage Month are an important opportunity to create a culture of understanding and encourage unity.

“To me, that is what Hispanic Heritage Month is about,” Villarreal Tamez notes. “It is to recognize the contributions, honor the history, and learn about the diverse Hispanic community, which is often not represented in textbooks, in mainstream media, or in our leading cultural institutions.”

While highlighting cultural celebrations and awareness months is important, it’s even more vital to celebrate diversity all year. “It’s like what I say about Valentine’s Day … if you really love somebody, love them all year long, not just on one day,” says Omar Vargas, vice president and head of global public policy at 3M, in this interview with the FiscalNote Executive Institute. “If you really want to emphasize that you know diversity and inclusion, and elevate how we involve Hispanics and other minorities or other genders and gender types into the conversation, let’s do it all the time.”

3. Encourage Diversity Initiatives

Whether it’s hiring a diversity manager, implementing a DEI task force, or enlisting passionate volunteers within your government relations team, you should analyze current initiatives to see what may be missing and what is performing well. Then, brainstorm what diversity initiatives might be needed, see what other organizations are doing, and create goals and metrics for success. Evaluate the way diversity initiatives are promoted internally and if there is enough awareness around these events.

One diversity initiative could include creating a mentor/mentee program, Ha says. “We encourage all leaders to invest in mentorship and sponsorship as a means of advancing a more inclusive workplace,” he says. “Mentors can offer advice, but sponsors should be invested in their proteges’ success and dedicated to helping them achieve upward progress. Some markers of a great sponsor include the willingness to activate their personal network to help elevate the protégé’s profile and help them obtain high-profile assignments.”

Claude Robinson, executive vice president of external affairs and diversity at UCAN Chicago, encourages volunteer employee-led groups focused on specific issues, including for women, veterans, multiethnic employees, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and those interested in spiritual formation. This is a way for employees to educate others and learn more about aspects of diversity that are important to them.

Consider creating a survey to send to your team to learn what events they would like to participate in or volunteer to help with, what they feel your organization does well in regard to DEI, and how they want to see it improve. Gathering this feedback can help you evaluate how current DEI initiatives have been received and allow you to set clear goals.

The State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Public Affairs

With everything going on around social justice and organizations fighting for the causes they support the most, we took a deeper look at how the government affairs industry is prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion.

4. Tackle Unconscious Bias During Hiring & Evaluation

Your organization might need changes to evaluate and remove unconscious bias during the hiring process and internal evaluations. Since DEI is an ongoing process, trainings that focus on recruitment processes can ensure hiring within your government affairs team is equitable. Everyone responsible for hiring should focus on practices that reinforce diversity, address minorities, and train other staff on onboarding and retaining diverse employees.

Diversity training should also be an ongoing part of employee education. “I work in collaborating with our workforce learning program to evaluate what trainings we can offer, whether it’s around poverty, LGBTQ community, or creating a culture of inclusion,” Robinson says. Even if DEI training is not mandatory in your organization, it should be accessible and encouraged within your government affairs team.

5. Create Anonymous, Comfortable Options for Employee Feedback

Regular outlets for employees to share feedback show that your team is prioritizing DEI and allows them to be honest without any negative impact. In addition to providing ways for employees to share, leadership should ensure they address concerns and complaints in a timely manner so workers understand their opinion is valued. Employee surveys should be segmented by minority groups, when possible, to learn more about how they specifically feel and their unique experiences in the workplace.

Robinson sends employees an annual engagement survey that provides helpful metrics and opportunities for growth. This survey includes these questions:

  • Are you a member of an employee resource group?
  • Have you attended an event led by the diversity committee this year?
  • Do you believe our company is living up to what it says about addressing issues of DEI?

Robinson segments the data based on race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and uses the results to determine pain points and where to focus his attention in the coming year.

6. Review & Rebuild Current Policies

Organizations should review their current policy and ensure anti-discriminatory rules are included. Ensure your policies are compliant with the law and that anti-discrimination practices are clearly spelled out. Reviewing current policies, perhaps with the help of a lawyer or your DEI manager, not only ensures compliance with the law but also improves employee satisfaction and public perception. If your policies are not periodically evaluated, your organization could end up in hot water, either violating a law or in the court of public opinion.

A commitment to DEI goes beyond internal programming for Robinson: his organization focuses on economic equity in its policies as well. “Since 2009, UCAN has spent more than $45 million with diverse businesses,” he says. “We are extremely proud of how we’ve challenged the non-profit sector in Chicago to look at how they can build in business diversity programming.” Policies, practices, and partnerships should all reflect your organization’s DEI goals and values.

7. Evaluate Documentation and Language

Evaluating your organization’s documentation periodically is another necessary practice to ensure that language is inclusive and reiterates your goals for DEI. Whether onboarding materials, training, benefits, or other documentation, an organization should examine this language with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it’s aligned with company values.

8. Analyze Pay Equity & Transparency

One way organizations are tackling DEI in the workplace is by standardizing pay equity and making salaries and pay transparent to employees. This can go a long way with trust and retention among team members.

“Diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act,” Ha says. Moving the needle on diversity and inclusion is about more than increasing diversity numbers, though that’s a good start. “Success is going to come by creating an inclusive environment and culture where 100 percent of talent can thrive,” he says. Transparency in all aspects of an organization helps create that inclusive environment, and pay equity and transparency hit close to home for most employees.

9. Diversify Teams

Evaluate the demographics of your government affairs team and work to create more diverse teams across all employee levels, including leadership. This creates a transparent process of DEI and allows for more inclusive engagements, promoting trust and growth.

An aspect of Robinson’s DEI model that helps diversify teams is community engagement. ”How we show up in communities of color, the value we bring through the work that we do, is part of the strategy,” he says. UCAN Chicago partners with local, state, and national organizations to help advance policy issues around DEI. The organization joins with government, corporations, and philanthropic groups to build a coalition of leadership all committed to advancing equity.

"Any time you try to bring something new into an organization, you’re going to be met with some resistance."

Claude Robinson, executive vice president of external affairs and diversity
UCAN Chicago

Challenges to Implementing DEI

“Any time you try to bring something new into an organization, you’re going to be met with some resistance,” Robinson says. This is even more true with DEI, because it involves belief systems, attitudes, and behaviors. The newness of DEI and the way it confronts some employees’ ideologies and belief systems means it may be a challenge to implement.

Another challenge is funding for DEI staff and resources, Robinson says. “My company has committed to DEI initiatives regardless of fundraising as part of our annual operating budget,” he adds. Financial resources can be a challenge when leadership changes if the new leaders are not aligned with DEI policies. “As long as leadership is committed, you can minimize some of the resistance,” Robinson notes.

Ha advises clients to use ABC methodology in addressing challenges and implementing long-term DEI changes. This methodology is designed to “Accelerate DEI impact and results, by Building visible representation, and Creating an inclusive culture — all of these elements fit together and can’t stand on their own,” he says.

An Inclusive Workplace

As organizations look to champion diversity in the workplace, there are many policies to create and actions to be taken. It’s important that leadership pave the way for DEI initiatives and an inclusive workplace. For long-term change, it is imperative that organizations “directly link the company’s diversity and inclusion priorities to the core business strategies rather than treating diversity and inclusion as separate efforts or short-term initiatives,” Ha says.

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