THE DEEP DIVE with Aga and Shani: DEI Initiatives That Work

Welcome to our monthly rendezvous, where I, Aga Bajer, and my fellow culture enthusiast and Wonder co-founder, Shani Persson, delve into topics critical to cultivating thriving cultures at scale. Our aim is to share practical insights, empower you to make better decisions and help you achieve remarkable success in your culture work.

Today, we shine a spotlight on the “Diversity Equity and Inclusion Initiatives That Work.”

In the past few years, the importance of DEI has gained widespread recognition, and many organizations have started implementing initiatives to demonstrate their commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment.

This increasing recognition is a step in the right direction, but it’s crucial to acknowledge that there is still much work ahead to create truly inclusive and equitable environments in organizations and society.

Throughout this episode, we emphasize meaningful change in workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion requires more than surface-level actions. It calls for going beyond superficial gestures and tokenism. It requires us to commit to co-creating a culture where people belong.

In this chat, Shani and I cover transitioning from diversity to inclusion, tackling systemic inequalities, and approaching DEI with humility and curiosity.

Together, we explore the importance of critically examining existing processes, biases, and decision-making within organizations to foster a more equitable environment.

Episode highlights

What stands in the way of change: Change is difficult when there is a perception that certain people might lose what they have (power, influence, opportunities) and that diversity, equity, and inclusion are here to disrupt the prevailing status quo that serves them well.

Creating inclusive environments for everyone: Being an ally trumps merely advocating for inclusive environments. Advocacy talks, but allyship walks the talk. It’s not just about championing diversity; it’s about facilitating conversations and taking actions that empower everyone. Don’t mistake annual diversity celebrations as the be-all-end-all; real change is woven into the fabric of daily interactions. To make a true impact, shift from advocating to actively being an ally.

Diversity versus inclusion: Diversity is a shallow metric, a snapshot of surface-level differences. It tells you what the room looks like, but not how it feels to be in that room. Conversely, inclusion is the game-changer that shifts cultures from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance and growth. It’s not just about filling seats with diverse individuals; it’s about creating an environment where everyone is empowered to thrive.

Redefining equitable workplaces: acknowledging imperfections to foster change: It’s natural to have biases; they’re our way of navigating the world. However, that doesn’t mean they should dictate our work environments. We need processes that not only understand people’s true potential but also actively dismantle bias. This isn’t about lowering the bar—it’s about making the bar accessible to everyone. By fine-tuning our systems to filter out prejudice, we create a more equitable workplace where all can thrive.

Acts of daily inclusivity: Daily actions can make or break an inclusive culture. Here’s how to contribute:

  • Embed inclusivity in everyday conversations, not just on special occasions.
  • Be an active ally—call out insensitive comments as they happen.
  • Choose your approach: confront issues publicly or address the person privately, based on the situation.
  • Inspire colleagues to be positive forces within the team.
  • Create spaces for honest dialogue, experience-sharing, and genuine diversity celebration.

Co-creation of inclusive behaviours: Shifting from a top-down approach to one that values employee input is key. Encourage active participation in shaping inclusive practices by:

  • Advocating for employee-driven definitions of what inclusivity means.
  • Promoting hands-on involvement in creating inclusive behaviours.
  • Emphasizing the importance of grassroots contributions over top-down mandates.

Measuring inclusion and impact: Assessing the effectiveness of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives is challenging but crucial. Employ a dual approach using quantitative data like demographic statistics, pay equity audits, and qualitative insights. Practical applications of inclusive behaviours serve as real-world metrics, and these benchmarks should be customized to fit each organization’s unique context.

Reframing resistance and expanding understanding: Resistance to change often stems from a fear of loss. Counteract this by:

  • Demonstrating that change can add value, not just take it away.
  • Bridging gaps between groups to humanize experiences, fostering greater understanding.
  • Leading with empathy to create a collective drive for positive transformation.

Moving beyond polarization and blame: The journey toward inclusion can sometimes deepen divides. To avoid this, it’s essential to establish a shared vision for positive change. Encouraging collective action helps move the focus from blaming and polarization to co-creating a more inclusive future.

Recognizing the discomfort and intimidation around DEIB discussions: Navigating DEIB topics can be intimidating, but easing into these conversations doesn’t mean eliminating discomfort. Instead, the focus should be on supporting individuals as they grapple with these tough issues. Acknowledging that discomfort is a part of the learning process can pave the way for more authentic and impactful dialogues.

Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.

More about Shani Persson

Shani is one of the founders of an experience design lab, Wonder. It’s a company aimed to inspire and support companies, institutions, groups or individuals to help themselves and others thrive through more human experiences. She spent more than 10 years in corporate people functions – driving change, and building culture and experiences for co-workers.

A nerd for anything human development, learning, leadership, culture and experiences that enhance our wellbeing and contribution. Loves exploring – cold plunges, meditation and biohacking included – to learn how we can lead fulfilled lives with healthy minds and bodies, and of course – designing impactful human experiences.

More about Aga Bajer

Aga is the founder and CEO of CultureBrained® – a boutique consultancy on a mission to empower purpose-driven leaders to make work synonymous with fun, meaning and belonging. Aga is passionate about cultivating thriving cultures where people do their best work and solve wicked problems. Before establishing CultureBrained®, Aga led consulting teams in companies like Hay Group, Korn Ferry, and PwC.

In the past 20+ years, Aga helped hundreds of clients to attract, hire, develop and retain A+ talent, accelerate personal and business growth, drive impact and create legendary cultures that scale.

Aga is the founder and host of a one-of-a-kind, global community for Culture Leaders, the CultureBrained Community, where members connect with outstanding peers to discover new ways of cultivating thriving cultures at scale in the brave new world of remote and hybrid work. She is the author of Building and Sustaining a Coaching Culture and the creator and host of one of the most popular podcasts on culture, the CultureLab.

Aga has worked with senior leadership teams of many major organizations, startups, and scaleups. Her client portfolio includes Microsoft, AWS, Nordea, ANZ, Ideo, Toyota, Porsche, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Citibank, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Leo Pharma, Hellenic Bank, Eurolife, Bank of Cyprus, Eurobank, Wargaming, Sanofi, Amdocs, SAP, and many others.

People mentioned

Minda Harts

Additional resources

CultureBrained® Community – a one-of-a-kind virtual community for Heads of Culture, founders, and leaders who want to up their culture game.

The Culture Playbook Guide.

Discover Your Personal Values.


Interview with Minda Harts on the CultureLab podcast- Expanding the Table: Cultivating True Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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