Do Your DE&I Efforts Consider Age, Class, and Lived Experience?

Do Your DE&I Efforts Consider Age, Class, and Lived Experience?

Organizations often have a narrow view of who they want to hire and retain. To make progress on this issue, leaders need to focus on both more traditional definitions of diversity (race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation) and also expand their lens to consider age, socioeconomic status, and lived experience as well. When companies collectively decide to broaden the perspectives on what diversity can mean, it’s easier to understand how different experiences can be considered as an important counterpart to “traditional” — or university or work-earned — knowledge.

We are in the midst of a seismic shift when it comes to how companies address diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is, in part, due to the recognition that the strategies organizations have traditionally used to create more space at the table for historically excluded groups haven’t worked for some time. Getting this right has huge upsides, for employees, society, and the economy alike: According to McKinsey, narrowing the gender gap by 2025 would generate an additional $12 trillion in GDP and increasing financial inclusion for Black Americans would create approximately $2 billion in potential revenue.

But in addition to focusing on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, leaders need to include a wider range of people their organizations have been ignoring, consciously or subconsciously. By broadening their definition of diversity, leaders can better identify, engage, and integrate individuals into their organizations. And according to a recent initiative I led as the Executive Director at Rutgers Institute for Corporate Social Innovation (RICSI), tomorrow’s employees will increasingly value this approach, too.

At RICSI, we focus on the role of business in society, and specifically educating students to embrace and champion a business world that “practices what it preaches” when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our belief is that corporations have a better chance at achieving positive social impact when they hire leaders who believe in a marriage between profit and purpose — and that these leaders should have a breadth and depth of diverse experiences.

Our work is anchored in a commitment to equity and justice, as Rutgers is one of the country’s most diverse public universities. According to our most recent data, of the 7,975 undergraduate students on the Rutgers Newark campus (where RICSI is located), 28.9% identify as Hispanic, 18.4% as Black/African American, and 17.8% as Asian. The school has been ranked one of the nation’s most diverse campuses since 1997 and a top-three school for most first-generation college students in the U.S. These race and ethnicity statistics continuously make us one of the top three most diverse research institutions in the country.

Through our partnerships — both with students and companies that work with RICSI — we demonstrate how organizations might broaden their view of diversity. For example, in 2020, we surveyed 120 students who are part of our student advisory board following the murder of George Floyd. Through written responses and ongoing conversations, we discussed their thoughts as young, diverse leaders on how DEI efforts are packaged today in organizations.

Feedback ranged from encouraging leaders to hire Black executives for more C-suite roles — beyond a “Chief Diversity Officer” — to combining outreach into communities that are regularly ignored with implementing blind hiring processes. According to one of our students, “While companies are currently working on hiring more people of color as a whole, they are treated as a ‘check in the box.’”

For all they had to say on racial equity, however, their comments made it clear that a focus on traditional markers of diversity are not enough. Similar to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, our students expressed a need to expand the notion of diversity to include a number of additional factors — such as age, socioeconomic status, and lived experience.

We’ve used our own work at RICSI to pressure test how shifting the definition of diversity can bridge the gaps a traditional definition of diversity leaves behind. And we’ve seen success in looking at how our student body spans many diverse identifiers and how our hyperlocal solutions can help ensure they’re not left behind. For instance, we prioriti

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