How to Build a DE&I Initiative from the Inside-Out: Caliber’s Story.

Posted on Apr. 04, 2022
Best Practices
Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I)

We hope you’ve landed on this post because you were asking yourself: how do you build a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative in the workplace? At Caliber, we’ve been quietly building a DE&I initiative from the inside-out for almost two years. After years of hard work and thinking carefully and critically about the responsibilities that come with implementing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) efforts in our company, we want to share our experiences. We are not experts in how to build a DE&I initiative or how to define diversity, equity and inclusion for your business, but by telling our story, we hope other companies (particularly in the PR and fintech worlds) will learn from our journey.

Look inward to build a DE&I initiative from the inside-out

  1. Listen Before You Speak
  2. Don’t Rush the Work
  3. Ask the Difficult Questions
  4. Reflect on Lessons Learned
  5. Do More Work

The business community experienced an awakening as a result of the social unrest during 2020 and expressed greater interest in addressing the needs of LGBTQ+, BIPOC and other underrepresented communities. Caliber received many questions from clients about potential responses to the traumatic events triggered by the murder of George Floyd. Our leadership team realized that in order to best serve our clients and to learn and grow as an organization, Caliber needed to take action.

In true Caliber fashion, we decided to take an organic approach to our efforts, by first looking inward at how to implement pillars of DE&I into our policies, programs, hiring practices and company culture. 

Contrary to what you might expect from a PR firm that works with financial services and fintech companies to raise their public profile, we wanted to pause and work on DE&I from the inside-out. Rather than simply adding another voice to the news cycle, we felt it was necessary to put our company’s thoughts, feelings and words into action and build internally – starting with our employees.

It’s hard work starting from scratch and we had to be careful and diligent about how to implement DE&I initiatives. The process required resources and strategic thinking, but most importantly, it required time as we learned how to build our platform.

Listen Before You Speak

Our first step was to form a team. We had three founding members of the new committee. After careful consideration of what we hoped to accomplish, we realized we needed to first learn more about the world of DE&I. Although our PR instincts told us to speak out during Black History Month and during other events on the calendar, we decided to listen instead. 

We turned to a friend and DE&I expert Keesa Schreane whose recently-published book Corporations Compassion Culture – Leading Your Business Toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was nominated for the FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2022. Each employee received a copy and we invited Keesa to speak with the team virtually about her experiences and key points from her book. It was a great success, as Caliber employees were engaged and took away many insights from Keesa’s personal story, including:

  • How antiquated corporate cultures can still negatively impact women and BIPOC women, particularly;
  • Why it is important to lead and build a compassionate culture within organization;
  • What benefits DE&I initiatives can bring businesses, including risk mitigation, sustainability and profitability;
  • How to empathize with others from different cultures and backgrounds to strengthen company culture.

Don’t Rush the Work

We began with a “full speed ahead” approach. But, we had to learn to balance time spent on a company culture initiative with meeting our clients’ needs during a period of company growth.

We were looking to build partnerships with organizations already doing great DE&I-focused work, but lacked a compelling narrative or definition of success for potential partners. We struggled with language. How do we define diversity, equity and inclusion? What do we mean by DE&I? What does it mean to Caliber? This is a common tale. The Wakeman Agency recently conducted a study that revealed more than half of PR agency respondents did not understand DE&I language and definitions.

We needed to pause to think differently about our goals and what we hoped to achieve through a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

Ask the Difficult Questions

The committee decided to survey employees about DE&I so that our efforts would be fact-finding, open, and inclusive. It was fascinating because the results were positive: the vast majority of employees reported they already believed Caliber has a culture focused on inclusion. However, many were unclear about the DE&I committee’s mission, how Caliber approaches DE&I and how this work will benefit the firm.

A net positive of the survey was that interest in our work skyrocketed. We tripled the size of the committee within a week after our survey as new hires became more involved. The survey responses helped us determine a path forward by informing our decisions and providing necessary information to build a clear platform.

Reflect on the Lessons Learned

The DE&I team and the whole Caliber staff has grown and stretched. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • How to lean into discomfort. We became more comfortable with what was once uncomfortable. We learned to have difficult conversations together.
  • What we stand for. We have defined what diversity, equity and inclusion mean for Caliber so that we are able to speak openly on the topic. We developed a DE&I commitment to guide our efforts and align with Caliber’s mission and values.
  • What we hope to achieve. We established DE&I goals to orient the committee and the company about what we hope to achieve through this work in the areas of talent recruitment, company culture and policies and marketing efforts.
  • How to operationalize DE&I for our PR firm. We’re officially embedding DE&I principles into hiring practices, onboarding and company policies, and we’re using our existing mentorship program to continue to involve the rest of the firm in the work. We have monthly all-staff updates on DE&I from the committee, which elevates this work to the same level as company-wide financial and managerial updates.

DE&I is now part of Caliber’s cultural fabric and a pillar of our internal and external communications.

Do More Work

Now that we have been building our DE&I work from the inside-out, Caliber’s DE&I committee has goals and strategies in place in three specific areas for 2022.

Recruitment and Hiring. We have implemented processes to ensure that we are focused on reaching diverse candidates through two strategies:

  • Post job openings on platforms that target women, BIPOC and the LGBTQ+ community
  • Partner with universities to provide PR career information sessions to educate and meet new, diverse talent

Retention. To retain talented communications professionals, we’re focused on ensuring Caliber’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is reflected throughout our company culture and policies with two strategies:

  • Implement additional DE&I-focused educational programming for all Caliber employees, such as topical training sessions and guest speakers
  • Review and revise Caliber onboarding tools, employee handbook and policies to better reflect our DE&I commitment

Marketing. We continue to look for ways to model our corporate DE&I commitment through two strategies:

  • Work with at least one new organization that aligns with our DE&I commitment to amplify and support their work (speaking or volunteer opportunities)
  • Communicate DE&I-focused initiatives through our blog Caliber Insights and/or social media

Expect to hear more from Caliber about our DE&I work in 2022, as we strive to engage the public relations industry and the financial services/fintech space in this important work of being more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive. We will continue to do the work, listen and learn. We hope you’ll join us.

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