May 25, 2021
There has never been a more critical time for employers to commit to building inclusive organizations. In the wake of the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial and the first anniversary of George Floyd's murder, employees need to see leadership and action on systemic bias. But to truly make meaningful change, organizations must move beyond the typical annual diversity training options.
Step Up: Equity Matters is a Madison-based group of consultants, coaches, and facilitators who support organizations of all sizes on their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey. Over the past year, they have developed and delivered solutions to address the needs of DEI training at multiple levels of organizations. One of those solutions is an online on-demand tool to help employers train and assess their readiness to embark on a transformative journey to become more equitable.
The Uprooting Bias Online Challenge (UBOC) measures employee readiness while also providing basic DEI training that gives the organizations a common language to explore their strengths and weaknesses in working towards a more equitable place of work. One-size-fits-all D&I training often does not address employee needs. UBOC provides results that help inform strategies for building an organization's capacity to advance DEI; they also successfully set employees to engage in their own DEI growth journey. Employees can complete the challenge individually at a time that works in their schedule over four to five hours. Step Up has beta-tested earlier versions of the tool with three organizations successfully. Four more have signed up to use the version that is now available for the first time to other employers seeking a better approach.
Slipstream, a Madison-based energy efficiency firm formed when two companies merged in 2019, began working with Step Up before the pandemic because it wanted to build a more inclusive culture.
"We were people with good intentions wandering around," says Marge Anderson, Slipstream's Executive Vice President, Education, and Training, Communications. "They were really helpful in getting us organized and focused, finding a sense of purpose, tailoring our approach to our organization, and getting real work done. I feel more optimistic and positive about lasting, persistent change because of this approach."
Slipstream, which has 164 employees, about 80% of who are white, launched its efforts prior to Floyd's death and the push for social justice that followed. But president and CEO Frank Greb says that work did not pick up momentum until partnering with Step Up — he calls the company "essential" to Slipstream's efforts.
"I don't see how you do this completely on your own unless you're 80% of the way there, and I don't know of any organization that's 80% of the way there," Greb says. "It's looking at all the different facets of your organization and what it does and how, in non-subtle ways, we have bad habits. We have biases, and we have practices which are counterproductive towards creating an equitable organization, culture, and society."
Step Up's solutions are informed by neuroscience and practical learning engagement principles that form the foundation of their training. The Uprooting Bias Online Challenge not only helps employers assess where team members are at in their DEI journey, but it also measures how capable and confident they feel in being able to do that work. The results guide companies in building an effective strategy for uprooting bias and making change within an organization.
The Uprooting Bias Online Challenge assesses how many employees:
Based on the more than 1,000 participants who took the Uprooting Bias Online Challenge, the lowest measurement is "Ownership," which focuses on people's readiness to engage in DEI work on cognitive and emotional levels. Tania Ibarra, Step Up: Equity Matters Co-Founder, Owner, Consultant & Lead Facilitator, describes this as "head work" and "heart work." People can cognitively understand they have biases or that biases exist in the workplace but still not be emotionally ready to accept and embrace the necessity for change. People who report emotions like joy, trust, and anticipation indicate forward-looking feelings. Even if they are not happy with their results on the assessment tool, they have the desire to change their biases to advance and be part of the solution.
The Uprooting Bias Online Challenge measures how committed employees are to making a change in their organizations and how capable they feel. In addition, employees can share what support they think they need to accomplish goals in uprooting bias, including accountability, peer support, more tools, more clarity in defining goals and help get organization buy-in.
"You need to close the gap between commitment and ability — without that, you can't get to the Disruption phase," Ibarra says.
D&I initiatives often fall short of the long-term goal of fostering equity across an entire organization because people "get stuck" — they feel too defensive or too guilty and thus cannot move forward. "Until every workplace member's baseline competency improves," Ibarra says, "organizations won't see desirable results that align with the commitment statements they made due to George Floyd's murder."
"DEI training is as much unlearning as it is learning," she says. "We can address all of these challenges head-on and commit to unlearning patterns that yield inequitable outcomes and build strategies to reprogram our organizations."
Lyra Trapp, Slipstream's Chief People Officer, says Step Up's virtual tools have allowed the company to measure where employees are in their journey on DEI work—from those ready to tackle the implications of their white privilege to those who did not know the definition of microaggressions.
"It's helped the team to become more targeted about the training and the activities that we're bringing forward," Trapp says. Before working with Step Up, Trapp says Slipstream's efforts felt a bit like "throwing spaghetti at the wall."
"Using some of the tools and measurement techniques that Step Up has given us has had a great impact on refocusing our DEI team because it's allowed us to see where we can make the most impact," Trapp says.
Trapp also appreciates Step Up's ability to meet Slipstream where they are. She recalls a conversation early on when Ibarra informed her they couldn't proceed with more specific learnings and activities for their executive team group based on its current competencies. "She said, 'You can't go to the next step. You have to do this first.'" Trapp says. "They didn't just take our money because we wanted them to do something that we weren't ready to do."