By Leslie Norris, Chief Human Resources Officer at South Carolina Federal
South Carolina Federal Credit Union has had a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) council for many years. But in June of 2020, when the nation turned its focus on racial injustice and civil rights, dozens of employees reached out to our Human Resources department to ask how they could support our diversity and inclusion work. We quickly recognized the need to expand our council, re-energize our efforts and increase internal communication about the council's achievements.
Our first step was ensuring our DEI Council had a clear mission. We decided to focus on employee education and engagement as we believe that a strong foundation internally will help us enact meaningful change and make a difference in our communities.
When we were ready to expand the council, we opened applications to every employee in the credit union. In order to apply, employees needed to complete an online interest form and explain why they were passionate about diversity and inclusion, how they felt they could add value and if there were any facets of DEI that they felt particularly interested in.
South Carolina Federal's DEI council is now comprised of 25 passionate employees who meet at least once per month (virtually for now due to the pandemic). In these meetings, we brainstorm activities for employee education, discuss strategies to encourage increased employee participation, and ensure we are celebrating important dates and events such as Black History Month, Pride Month and National Inclusion Week.
These events and activities offer our employees a myriad of benefits, and we've received great feedback on them so far. As many of our employees are still working remotely, the virtual events give team members a chance to connect with each other. Employees have also shared that the activities have helped them learn new things and enabled them to build deeper relationships with our members and in the communities we serve.
We are so proud of the work our DEI Council has done since its inception and especially over the past year. In 2020, we were honored to receive the Excellence in Workplace Diversity award from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. This recognition is a testament to our DEI Council members and the passion, perspective and creativity they bring to work every day. We are so appreciative for their efforts and have high hopes for what we will accomplish in the future.
Every organization's DEI Council will likely look and function differently based on the number of employees in the company, where employees are located and the organization's goals and priorities. But there are a few best practices that we believe any company looking to establish or revamp a diversity council should keep in mind:
· Get your senior leaders on board. Every major initiative at an organization requires alignment with senior leadership, and a DEI Council is no exception. A company's senior leaders should understand the purpose of its DEI council, support its efforts and provide the resources the council needs to succeed.
· Clearly define your focus and priorities. Wanting to make a difference is a great first step, but knowing how to do so effectively is critical. It is important that any DEI Council has a written mission statement and a shared focus on a few key priorities, even if those priorities change every year. Your organization's council could focus on philanthropic efforts in the community, employee education, new employee training or even research and data analysis. If you aren't sure where your focus should be, start by asking your employees.
· Give employees opportunities to provide feedback. Asking employees for feedback is a basic function of any HR team, but when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, it's not always as easy as it sounds. If you want your employees to share honest thoughts and suggestions, your organization must give them the right channels and opportunities to do so. Some employees may prefer private, in-person conversations, while others may feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts through an anonymous online form. When employees do provide feedback, it's important to listen with an open mind and make sure the experience is a positive one for the employee.
· Don't wait for a return to normal. If your organization is waiting to launch a DEI council until "things get back to normal," you could be waiting a long time. Even if all or most of your team is working remotely, there are still plenty of opportunities for engagement and conversation. For example, South Carolina Federal hosted an online trivia competition to celebrate Women's History Month. Employees spent 15 minutes on a group video call every week in March to answer questions about women's accomplishments in history. It was a really fun activity for employees and a great opportunity for education and awareness on an important topic.
As a leader in HR, I understand that organizations can mandate diversity, but they can't always mandate inclusion. South Carolina Federal recognizes that ensuring our employees are diverse is only the first step. We must put in the work to make our employees feel accepted, valued and included, and that they are comfortable coming to work as their true selves each day. Our DEI Council has played an instrumental role in helping us sustain this type of culture, for which we're proud to have won a number of Best Place to Work awards.
Though our work in diversity, equity and inclusion will never be done, we are proud to be on this journey with our employees leading the way. If your organization is looking to build a more equitable future for its employees and community, establishing a DEI Council is a great place to start.
The DEI Council at South Carolina Federal Credit Union has made a world of difference in the experience of our employees, and we encourage other organizations to implement a council as part of their DEI efforts.