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D&I is undeniably important for businesses. But are the employees that drive it fairly compensated?

At our August panel discussion Race, progress and lasting change at work, Bridge Arrow’s founder Karen Brown said that diversity, equity and inclusion work should be treated as any other essential business function.

Certainly, big corporates know the script. It’s easy to say that DEI is important to business. Plus, the UK and US are experiencing a swell in formal roles for D&I leaders or specialists: roles for diversity and inclusion specialists rose by 58% in the UK between 2015 and 2020 and by 113% across the pond in the US.

But on our #belonging-inclusion Slack channel at Hive Learning, we’ve been sharing a flurry of sources that suggests not all is as it seems.

This got us thinking.

Often, companies treat the important groundwork that needs to be done in D&I as little more than a hobby that employees — and particularly marginalized group members — should be happy to do for free.

💸 Unpaid labor can make inequities worse

Minda Harts, Sarah Lacy, and Eve Rodsky surveyed women involved in corporate ERGs for their blisteringly insightful Fast Company article Women are drowning in unpaid labor at home. Stop making them do it at work.

ERGs are key for belonging, developing diverse talent, amplifying their voices and advising other business units.

Yet fewer than 30% of survey participants said anyone was compensated for running ERGs.

D&I is often treated like housekeeping. In other words, it’s seen as something low skill that can happen in the background. And, like housekeeping, it’s often women that take this work on.

These women use their skills, time and energy to create business value off the side of their desks. This is a daring juggling act since they risk the penalty of unpaid labor: fewer resources to spend on their professional development and their personal goals.

GIF by @captionagency.

💔 The ‘goodness of hearts’ isn’t a self-replenishing resource

Duretti Hirpa is a Slack engineer. She co-founded and helped run Earth Tones, the Slack employee resource group (ERG) for people of color.

The Washington Post reported that she stepped down from the role after her boss said her work with Earth Tones was, “an extracurricular” and wouldn’t be factored into her performance review.

She told the publication:

The best thing I did there was making a whole group of people feel important and that somebody cared what happened to them… I don’t think I would organize one again myself. It’s a little too much of my heart.

Note: Slack’s ERGs Mahogany and Earth Tones (for Black employees and employees of color respectively) were named to represent their members’ shared characteristics without being defined by their relation to white people. Pretty cool, right?

Broken Hearted GIF by @mighty-oak.

💯 Businesses, get your priorities straight

A recent McKinsey report identified a further mismatch of logic.

The coronavirus pandemic means we need diversity, equity and inclusion more than ever. But there’s a danger that, in pursuit of cutting costs, these initiatives will slide down the company agenda.

A pulse survey taken in March 2020 revealed that 27% of inclusion and diversity leaders reported that, “All or most D&I initiatives [have been] put on hold”.

But McKinsey’s researchers point out that D&I presents timely opportunities for businesses to accelerate out of coronavirus and come out on top. These initiatives are not ‘nice to have’. They’re essential to thrive.

Color love by @yukaidu.

✅ Pro tip: track hours & agree on their worth

Do managers in your organization know how many hours their direct reports contribute to DEI work? Have you set expectations about how and when they can be recognized for these investments, such as in performance reviews?

We learned this tip from Cara Valentino, CDP, Racial Justice & Equity Program Manager at RTI International. You can check out a summary of her contributions to our BLM Pulse Report in the three-minute read RTI International, Black Lives Matter & Lasting Change.

After the death of George Floyd, RTI International introduced a charge code so employees could log and be compensated for their time spent on DEI activities such as contributing to forums about race and racism.

Perhaps you can’t bring in a formal charge code. But you can help managers begin to track where and how value is being created beyond someone’s job description through their contributions to DEI. And you can reach out to key contacts in the company — be it HR or senior leadership — to develop a clear picture of what the individual may get in return for their game-changing work.

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