02/25/2022 | by Sarah Borchersen-Keto

Committed leadership and statements backed up by substantive action are key to ensuring that organizations make progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), according to Kira Banks, co-founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity at Saint Louis University, where she is also an associate professor in the department of psychology.

Speaking on the REIT Report, Banks notes that since George Floyd's murder in 2020, more leaders in business are understanding that DEI is core. “They understand it is a part of the work of doing business nowadays.” However, the work won’t be sustainable unless leadership is fully committed, Banks says. “If leadership is not on board, it gives other people an opportunity to opt out.”

Banks also says that more organizations are understanding that symbolic statements are insufficient and must be backed up with action. “Those sorts of symbolic gestures in some ways can do more harm than good if they're disingenuous, if they're not followed up by anything substantive,” she notes.

As for whether the current environment marks a true shift in how the corporate world addresses DEI, Banks views it more as “doors being pushed open—perhaps we opened it wider than before.” She adds that the only way to know if things are different is “if we continue to do the work.”

Companies that are just beginning to address DEI issues, Banks says, “need to realize that this is a long game, that this isn't something that gets fixed overnight.” She stresses the need to consider whether external help is needed, as well as the importance of building a common language that explains what DEI actually means.

“Get really clear about why it's important to your organization, not just because someone said you should do it or because you feel pressured to do it. You need a clear why, not only individually, but institutionally, so that you shift from just a compliance framework to seeing it as a value-add,” Banks says.

Meanwhile, metrics to measure progress on DEI are essential, according to Banks. She adds, however, that they don't always have to be quantitative and should incorporate “people being able to bring their whole selves into the (work) space.”