When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) there is no magic formula. The act of building and executing on a meaningful, transformative strategy that genuinely improves the experiences of underrepresented and underserved groups in your organization is an ongoing process that is never fully complete. Inequality and disadvantage based on social identity are baked into the fabric of our collective culture.
The overall pervasiveness of exclusion and inequitable practices can lead some to fall into the categories of “hopelessness” and “helplessness.” The helpless see the world in front of them and respond with, “But what can I do?” The hopeless respond, “There’s nothing any of us can do.”
Both attitudes detract from the main goal – to improve working conditions for anyone in a marginalized social identity group. To reframe the sense of overwhelm around the sheer size of the problem, it’s helpful to remember the problem itself is far-reaching and multi-faceted, which means the solution should be holistic. We must use a framework that doesn’t just tackle one or two structure elements within an organizational culture, but several.
For this reason, in every DEIB and cultural assessment we do at my DEIB firm, Ethos, we apply a holistic framework: R2P2.
R2P2 stands for recruiting, retention, promotion and protection. These four categories are meant to name every major process an employee will go through from when they are applying for a role and onboarding into an organization to receiving a performance evaluation or filing a claim with human resources.
- Recruiting focuses on how an individual becomes part of an organization. This starts with the original design of a role and encompasses employer branding, community outreach and sourcing, the application and interviewing processes, candidate evaluation, offer delivery and the essential and massive subcategory of onboarding.
- Retention is made up of all the initiatives, practices, behaviors and actions that make an employee feel committed to an organization. Retention is what the organization does to ensure employees want to stay. It’s often the broadest of the four categories because employees are driven to stay within organizations for several reasons. A few of these reasons include strong peer and team relationships, connection to a company-mission and purpose, access to education and skills development and a feeling of ownership in the organization’s success.
- Promotion focuses on all the opportunities for professional and personal growth an employee experiences in their company. Traditionally, promotion refers to compensation increases, title changes, addition of new responsibilities and succession plans. In flatter organizations, and with employees not motivated by their pay and position alone, promotion can also refer to access to mentorship and sponsorship, lateral mobility, leadership development programs and more decision-making responsibilities.
- Protection is a series of practices focused on what makes an employee feel safe at work. Many teams see protection as tied to an employee handbook – the policies that allow for employees to request mediation, investigation and even leave time for social identity-related issues. Policy is a major part of protection, but it’s not the only part. Employees need to experience psychological safety, which might involve all your practices around open communication and team support. They may need access to anonymous reporting lines, outside healing circles formed around their identity type or even access to an employee assistance program.
Taken alone, these categories might seem like the foundation for any good people operations strategy rather than DEIB-specific. That’s why it’s vital to remember the outcome they are all meant to serve: creating equitable structures that maximize inclusion and belonging for as diverse an employee population as possible.
While every organization should assess themselves according to all four pillars, it’s important to remember that no environment is the same. One company may have mature, in-depth retention programs in place for its existing population while also noting a lack of racial diversity. That set of data might indicate a need for greater investments in recruiting and a review of how current retention practices would impact a more diverse employee population.
This reality can present a chicken or the egg type of scenario. A DEIB leader at an organization surveys employees and learns that 88 percent say they feel included. Only 10 percent of the employees who responded to the survey, though, identify as part of a marginalized social identity group. These folks were less likely to agree that they feel included in the company. So, what does the DEIB leader do? Make the organization more inclusive for the current group of underrepresented people feeling excluded? Invest all their time and resources into diversity recruiting?
The best answer is both, simultaneously. In fact, being able to name how the organization is investing in making folks from marginalized groups feel more included is a successful recruiting strategy. Yet, often, leaders push back, used to “either/or” thinking (as defined in depth by The Centre for Community Organizations) and scarce resources.
R2P2 is meant to challenge either/or thinking and suggest identifying strategies and interventions that crosscategories.
For example, launching an affinity group structure might improve recruiting by giving prospective candidates an opportunity to look forward to shaping DEIB change, retention by increasing employee commitment to that change in the company, promotion by supporting less experienced or skilled employees in learning new leadership skills and interfacing with those outside of their immediate teams, and protecting by creating a psychologically safe space for sharing experiences.
Not every type of intervention will lead to this kind of overlap, which is also why R2P2 is helpful used as an assessment tool. The goal is to identify key areas of opportunities and prioritize them over a set timeline, preferably three months (short-term), six months (mid-term) and twelve months (long-term).
To assess your organization now and start to develop multi-dimensional strategies for the future, engage in a simple exercise. Gather a group of eight to twelve members of your organization, preferably from a diversity of departments, tenures, levels and identities. Review the R2P2 model, then break them up into two groups.
Task one group with identifying all the current strengths according to R2P2 in the organization today. They may name specific initiatives such as generous leave policies and access to health insurance for part-time employees or more general principles such as a culture of open communication and work/life balance.
Task the other group with identifying all the areas of opportunity for R2P2 in the future. Emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers, and that as they brainstorm as a group, there is as much value in identifying areas of misalignment between team members as initiatives themselves.
For example, a single mom may identify an opportunity for greater flexibility in hours in the “retention” and “promotion” categories, while her non-caregiving, male-identified groupmate might suggest flexibility is a current strength in those areas. That data will help determine when equity versus equality may be a necessary consideration.
After these groups have developed their ideas, facilitate a discussion between them, focusing on how to lean into the current practices already working more, while also prioritizing which future state practices would have the most impact on underrepresented and underserved groups. While there are many more data-based modes of assessing R2P2, along with tools and metrics, hearing from employees themselves as a starting point will begin the process with a more full-picture view. The problem with data is that we select what we see; a larger group of people will help us understand what we might be missing.