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I recently spoke at the #MovetheDial diversity and inclusion (D&I) summit in Toronto where professionals from around the globe discussed what is and isn’t working in D&I. For many of us, there was that obvious truth: More diverse and inclusive organizations outperform their competitors in innovation and economic performance. However, there were some other sobering truths we spent time trying to tackle.

For example, why is it that across North America – with the most gender, ethnically and culturally diverse work force in the world – women still make up only 25 per cent of our technology sector? Why do over a third of Asian and Black job candidates still “whiten” their names to hide their racial/ethnic status when applying for a job? And why do three out of every five workers still report that they’ve either witnessed or been a target of discrimination at work, based on a variety of factors: age, sex, race or sexual orientation?

Many of us grew up being told never to discuss sticky subjects like the aforementioned at work. But the reality is that, given the ubiquitous nature of information – on our phones, watches and laptops – we no longer have the option to avoid talking about real life issues. In fact, I’d argue that the companies that will lead the future of work will be those that create cultures that run towards discussing these issues. Conversations are the human side of D&I and can be used as a tool to directly address world views, shift attitudes, and help learn (or unlearn) behaviours. As we’ve been having these conversations at eBay, there are a couple of insights we’ve learned along the way.

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No matter how cliché, it starts at the top

No matter what industry I’ve been a part of, one thing holds true – the tone is set at the top. Sure, there are many bottom-up cultures, but even that culture is empowered by the executives at the helm. With this as context at eBay, instead of building out plans in a vacuum, we’ve designed D&I strategies that reflect ideas developed by our leaders. When leaders see solutions that they’ve helped to design, they are more authentically engaged in championing their implementation.

We’ve also had many of our leaders go through extensive inclusive leadership education led by some of the world’s best experts. Getting beyond unconscious bias awareness, this education has pushed our leaders to look inward; at how they were raised, who and what influenced them and why they hold the world views they do today – and inward to assess whether those world views hinder or empower inclusive workplace cultures. While we still have a journey ahead of us, the uptick in “Aha!” moments and “I never looked at it that way!” take-aways are a hopeful signal that we’re making impact.

The nuance that can drive next-level inclusion

Meanwhile, pay attention to your affinity groups, employee resource groups or (what eBay calls) Communities of Inclusion (COIs). These employee-led organizations often comprise the passionate and driven people who are on the front lines bringing the D&I vision to life. While the creation of these groups is founded on positive intent, there sometimes are unintended consequences that can limit cultural change.

Far too often, the women’s group ends up comprising just women. While this helps with community-building and creating safe spaces for women, it can also translate into just the women inside of a company being solely responsible for “fixing” inequities that affect women.

At eBay, our approach is very nuanced. Instead of describing the COI as a group “for” the Black community, we describe it as a group that is “focused on” the Black community – unapologetically. We are intentional about consistently communicating that these groups are “open to everyone, regardless of background.” Equally important is ensuring that our COIs don’t dilute their focus on topics related to specific communities just because they have a more diverse membership base. We believe that education, collaboration and impact that can come from a more diverse group of people participating in our COIs will help to drive next-level inclusion.

Progress doesn’t happen on autopilot. Or as Jodi Kovitz, #MovetheDial summit founder and CEO, says, “The dial doesn’t just move.” We must be intentional in “going there.” Something as complex and nuanced as D&I needs an equally complex and nuanced approach: an intentional balance of efforts that impact policies and processes alongside those that impact perspectives and opinions.

Damien Hooper-Campbell is the chief diversity officer of eBay.

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This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

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