2020 and 2021 brought greater awareness to the systemic racism, xenophobia, and inequity that plagues the United States. But awareness is only the first step toward creating change. To make change real, we need to help organizations shift to embrace the complex and critical action that this work requires. That means accountability. Accountability around diversity, equity, and inclusion is becoming more common across sectors and industries. Nike and Chipotle have recently made headlines for tying executive compensation to progress on diversity goals. The organization I work for, Arabella Advisors, has added diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) competency to its performance review process, meaning that achievement of tasks related to DEI serves as a major input into promotion and compensation decisions.
Accountability is also necessary to make organizational change work “stick.” As organization development practitioners know, without such work, change is unlikely to make a difference. But before establishing accountability mechanisms, organizations must first have the answers to these deceptively simple questions:
- Why is it important to commit to integrating DEI into our company? How does it connect to our larger purpose as a company and community member?
- What are the goals of our DEI work? How will we know if we’re making progress?
- Whose progress is essential to success in DEI? Does everyone need to play a role?
- What barriers might exist to progress on our DEI work?
Below are some ways in which organizations can begin to establish accountability once they have begun working through these questions:
1. Individual Level
Providing means for less-powerful staff to give feedback on leadership: Often the most senior people in an organization receive the least feedback. This is especially problematic in organizations where lived experience of inequity is concentrated at junior levels of the organization. Ensuring that senior people continue to receive consistent and honest feedback is crucial to modeling accountability for the rest of the organization and to the overall success of creating an inclusive organization.
Implementing performance plans for people not living up to standards: Companies should be prepared to implement performance support plans for those who fall short of their DEI goals. If there is no improvement after support has been provided—or if progress stalls or drops—companies must be prepared to move to more dire consequences, including termination.
2. Group or Team Level
Setting aside team meetings to consistently report progress on goals: Real accountability requires making time to discuss goals, decide on and implement any course corrections, and celebrate success. This kind of group accountability discussion can also re-energize people in achieving their goals.
Establishing groups or programs that allow for peer accountability: Peers can learn from each other without having to navigate some of the difficult power dynamics that exist in hierarchical relationships. Having affinity groups based on identity also creates room for support learning, and feedback, particularly as it relates to learning around identity and DEI-related concerns.
3. Organizational Level
Gathering data and transparently sharing the results: By collecting data on experiences, perceptions, and outcomes, and sharing the results, organizations bring transparency to where they are and what they're doing. Surveys should be conducted regularly and there should be opportunities for staff to review the results.
Sharing information about your DEI journey: Positive peer pressure can add motivation to achieve goals. Organizations should consider publicizing their DEI goals and progress with at least key partners—if not the broader public.
Joining coalitions that offer accountability: Organizations should look for coalitions that are jointly striving toward progress on DEI that can offer support, share lessons learned, and help do some standard-setting around DEI.
Aligning goals and time spent: Accountability is more than just setting a goal, it is making different decisions to achieve it. That means that organizations should be willing to shift resource allocations—time, money, expertise—to achieve these goals. Organizations should seek feedback from staff on what resources are needed.
Some view accountability negatively; it carries a connotation of monitoring and punishment. However, accountability done right—comprehensively, with clear purpose, and with supports in place to help people and organizations achieve success—is a sign of a company operating at its highest level. Accountability institutionalizes a commitment to learning and progress, brings authenticity, and, most importantly, it leads to results. Hopefully, that shared sense of purpose and progress carries forward into broader societal change.