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Illustration by Eglė Plytnikaitė

Leveraging DE&I to Empower Organizational Competitive Advantage

o.pngrganizations are facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to globalization, risk management, and market volatility. This makes it of paramount importance that businesses and government entities pursue every competitive advantage, especially where public safety, law enforcement, and security are concerned.

The public and private sectors must remain constantly agile, able, and willing to recalibrate and realign mission goals and objectives to address ever-changing vulnerabilities and risks, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.



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One of the methods an organization can bolster its competitive advantage is through the application of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) principles designed to enhance leadership’s strategic thinking around complex problem solving. Many successful organizations recently made workforce DE&I initiatives a critical priority. Such campaigns strengthen teamwork, collaboration, and innovation throughout a workforce. The overall added value of continued operational growth and development from these initiatives has seeped into upper echelons as executive-level management positions have even been established to advance DE&I concepts within the workplace.

Embracing DE&I principles not only supports the workforce and strengthens ethical and strategic leadership—it is also a catalyst for constructive organizational change in the 21st century.

DE&I in a Nutshell

t.pnghe concept of diversity focuses on characteristics, similarities, and differences considerate of an individual’s national origin, culture, heritage, language, race, color, abilities, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures. It also considers an individual’s upbringing, unique life experiences, and way of thinking.

The concept of equity focuses on fundamental fairness and respect for all individuals, where the application of processes and programs are fair and impartial to provide the opportunity to achieve equal possible outcomes for all. It also ensures legal obligations are upheld related to civil rights laws, including reasonable accommodations and equal employment opportunities.

The concept of inclusion seeks to establish an organizational culture, which fosters a sense of belonging and collaboration within the workplace where thoughts and perspectives can be shared in a safe environment. It also mitigates groupthink, or the practice of making decisions in a group setting that discourages creativity and diversity.

There are various tangible benefits for advancing DE&I within organizations. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) identified three key examples in its Diversity and Inclusion FAQ as to how DE&I advances social responsibility within communities, cultivates innovation, and increases return on investment for organizations:

Serving our communities and being socially responsible. “Diversity and inclusion increase an agency’s capacity to serve and protect people who have different experiences or backgrounds and enhance its ability to be receptive to different traditions and ideas. Law enforcement officers present a good example of the critical need to have civil servants who look like the people and communities they serve.”

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Fostering innovation. “Increased creativity is another byproduct of capitalizing on differences. Research has shown that effective diversity management coupled with inclusive work environments improves organizational performance and innovation. Employees from varied backgrounds bring different perspectives, ideas, and solutions to the workplace that result in new products and services, challenge to the status quo, and new collaboration.”

Generating a return on investment. “Diversity and inclusion initiatives improve the quality of an agency’s workforce and are the catalyst for a better return on investment in human capital. One of the biggest budget items in any agency is the amount it spends on human resources in the form of salaries, benefits, training, development, and recruitment. In order to get a healthy return on investment in human capital and maximize competitive advantage, an agency must engage in recruitment and retention efforts that focus on acquiring the best and the brightest talent.”

While the OPM is a U.S. federal government entity, the benefits it identified resonate worldwide. As globalization continues to be a driving force impacting diplomatic, information, military, and economic elements of national power, organizations must successfully leverage and apply DE&I-related principles, concepts, and themes within their business strategies and operational frameworks. This is especially important where worldviews have an impact on negotiating agreements, managing expectations, understanding cultural norms, and forecasting business decisions in the open international market. Such practices should not only empower innovation, but they should help shepherd novel organizational changes that ensure more agile business enterprises are ready to address new challenges in a global environment.



Leveraging DE&I has proven to also increase strategic leadership capabilities by allowing decision makers to comprehensively assess issues from various frames of reference. This facilitates more informed evidence-based decisions, which consider second- and third-order effects of the available options. Many executive-level training programs, such as U.S. military war colleges, focus on strategic studies where students examine and assess the interrelationships between politics, economics, diplomacy, and the military from a global perspective. Such an analysis helps to ensure that senior-level decision-making processes apply a multifaceted analytical approach and that pivotal decisions are not made in a vacuum.

The application of DE&I can also play a key role in talent management initiatives. This not only focuses on recruitment and retention efforts, but also plays a role through succession planning to prepare the next generation of leaders within the organization.

 

Incorporating DE&I within a Business Strategy

m.pngany government and business entities have already established strategies incorporating a DE&I-focused framework. Some organizations have reimagined their vision and mission statements to incorporate DE&I concepts. Other entities have included these concepts in their annual and five-year strategic plan documents, which serve as roadmaps for how an organization will strive to meet its strategic mission goals.

Some forward-leaning organizations crafted and implemented leadership tenets and associated foundational talking points as part of their professional development programs. These are intended to enhance employee collaboration and dialogue, cultivating critical and strategic thinking throughout the workforce. Such deliverables have been calibrated to address and further explore DE&I principles, themes, and concepts in support of building new and strengthening existing coalitions. (See “An Investment in Employees,” Security Management, October 2018.)



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Substantial DE&I inroads are also being made at the interagency level, demonstrating a commitment toward advancing DE&I across U.S. government entities. In the second quarter of 2021, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group. It collaborates with more than 25 Offices of Inspectors General (OIG) to advance the Inspector General community’s commitment to promoting positive office cultures and oversight work while supporting DE&I principles. Some initiatives of focus include the enhancement of the “lifecycle” experience of OIG employees from an enterprise talent management perspective and how to bolster oversight work by weaving DE&I principles into its audits, investigations, and evaluations in a manner that ultimately benefits everyone in the United States.

 

Leveraging DE&I in Training and Development

w.pngith organizations implementing DE&I within the workplace, significant advancements have been made by government and business entities seeking tailored training opportunities. Several organizations and companies—such as OPM’s Center for Leadership Development and consultant and training firm FranklinCovey—have been integrating DE&I concepts into their programming to focus on increasing self-awareness and identifying and internally processing unconscious and implicit bias and microaggressions. Curricula can also focus on the positive impacts DE&I can bring to an organization, and how constructive and diplomatic dissent can usher in novel changes for the betterment of the organization and its stakeholders.

Professional associations have also played an integral role in broadcasting the need to embrace DE&I principles within organizations. ASIS International established its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Community on the ASIS Connects platform, allowing security management practitioners to share their thoughts and ideas on DE&I-related discussion boards and advance collaborative professional development.

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Affinity groups often host DE&I-focused regional and national seminars, workshops, and conferences. For instance, in May 2022, the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) is hosting its annual National Leadership Training Program (NLTP). May also marks Asian American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which this year is themed Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.

This year’s NLTP focuses on OPM’s Executive Core Qualifications, which provide a professional development framework for employees to build upon their leadership and managerial skill sets that will ultimately increase organizational competitive advantage.

Several academic institutions, such as Southern New Hampshire University, have also conducted noteworthy curricula reviews to ascertain whether undergraduate and graduate course content should be reimagined using a DE&I-focused perspective as it relates to artifacts and deliverables employed, and whether additional progress can be made to further diversify authors of such content.



For example, several educational institutions in the California State University System—including California State University, East Bay—promote the benefits of undergraduate and graduate internships. These opportunities provide the university’s students with significant professional experience, allowing them to develop cross-cultural skills while working in diverse settings.

Youth organizations have also been crucial in promoting DE&I to develop young people to become better global citizens. In support of such efforts, the Boy Scouts of America (Scouts BSA) announced in November 2021 the creation of the Citizenship in Society Merit Badge, enabling scouts to learn about DE&I and ethical leadership and understand why such tenets are not only important in scouting, but necessary in a global society.

 

Securing the Advantage

f.pngor organizations to successfully navigate challenges in a dynamic operational environment against the backdrop of increased globalization, it is essential their leadership leverage critical and strategic thinking, which is grounded upon DE&I concepts, principles, and themes.

The implementation of such a framework throughout the workplace will not only manifest increased agility and resilience to respond to rapidly changing priorities, but it will also cultivate innovation and bolster talent management initiatives within the organization. To truly pioneer and lead change, successful organizations must strive to be fully invested in including DE&I in business operations. Otherwise, such a pivot in branding can be perceived as a hollow sound bite that does not manifest any value added to the organization, its employees, and stakeholders.



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Employee salary, benefits, and training are essentially some of the largest line items for many organizational budgets. As such, it is imperative to enhance the lifecycle experience of employees by promoting DE&I principles within the workplace to assist in increasing employee satisfaction, self-worth, and personal involvement in the organization. If organizations can be successful in the endeavor of leveraging DE&I principles within the ethos of the workplace, not only will such application serve as the ultimate mutual return on investment for organizations and employees alike, but it will truly optimize and advance organizational competitive advantage in the 21st century’s volatile and uncertain environment.

Robert Baggett, CPP, PCI, PSP, JD, MPA, is the special agent-in-charge for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General’s Investigations Liaison and Special Operations Division, the business operations unit of the Office of Investigations. He has previously served as the founding chair of the ASIS Professional Development Community and past chair of the Investigations Community and Academic and Training Programs Council.

The views expressed in this article solely represent those of the author and do not represent the views of or otherwise constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General.

© Robert Baggett, CPP, PCI, PSP

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