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Employee training about the value of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is an important first step. But if feedback, reflection, and accountability are left out of the equation, organizations become stuck and fall short of their goals, DEI experts told business leaders on Thursday.

At NJBIA’s online DEI summit, various speakers pointed to research showing that companies with diverse executive teams outperform in profitability and innovation because of the different cultural perspectives their leaders bring to the decision-making process. Companies that prioritize DEI are also more successful at recruiting, and just as important, retaining top talent.

Taft Communications CEO Ted Deutsch told business leaders their efforts must go beyond DEI training for employees. Leaders must take the next step of soliciting feedback and acting upon what they learn from employee surveys and forums.

“Training is important, but you really need to measure whether you are moving the needle on creating a safe and inclusive workplace,” Deutsch said. “Listening and creating a safe place for employees to express themselves are also important and that can be a combination of anonymous surveys where they give frank feedback and management can receive it and creating forums where … people are encouraged to come and talk about what is going on in the world or in the workplace.”

Yvette Donato, CEO of Diversity Inclusion Strategists LLC, said businesses often start with excellent intentions on DEI, but then they fall short in the follow-through.

“I don’t think organizations are deliberately not doing the work, but it’s easy not to pay attention because everyone in the business world also has other goals and objectives to meet,” Donato said. “They’re supposed to meet certain revenue targets, they’re supposed to do X, Y and Z.”

To keep DEI from falling to the periphery, Donato said organizations need to prioritize it as a key performance objective, crunch their DEI data and hold leaders accountable for what that data reveals.

“Numbers don’t lie. What are the numbers of promotions in my unit? Did I recommend people of color for a promotion?” Donato asked. “Why is it that more people of color are leaving my division? What does that tell me?”

CEOs also must hold company officers accountable for DEI progress by making it clear that bonuses, compensation, the ability to be promoted or have more of a portfolio are contingent upon DEI progress, Donato said.

“Accountability is the piece that’s missing; it’s the reason we are not seeing the progress that we need to see,” Donato said.

Employee survey results on DEI issues are important and companies must “make sure they are crafted in a way that asks the right questions to get underneath the hood,” Donato said.

Alethea Batts, chief diversity officer at Lakeland Bank, said when leaders do not listen to the feedback that they receive on DEI efforts and act more inclusively in the decision-making process for their organizations, they risk losing the diverse talent they have worked so hard to recruit.

“You’re bringing in all this great talent around diversity and what ends up happening is that talent will just go right back out the door,” Batts said. “You’re bringing in diversity, but if you don’t include them and they don’t feel a sense of belonging, they won’t stay.”

John Harmon, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, urged business leaders to stay “laser-focused on DEI as a transformational pathway” and expressed optimism that more programs will be made.

“We have to continue to drive this conversation and engage those who are receptive,” Harmon said. “We must engage those that are here and keep trying to move forward with them in a meaningful way.”