DALLAS — Sustainable change for improved diversity, equity and inclusion in a company is not possible without a mindset shift and inclusive infrastructure. During the American Bakers Association (ABA)’s NextGenBaker Leadership Forum, co-located with Nexus 2023, held Sept. 25-28, Chris Moreland, Moreland Accord, answered questions from Felisa Stockwell, Dawn Foods, about how to build a sustainable DEI program and strategy at baking and supplier companies. 

Mr. Moreland emphasized that mindset shifts, both about DEI and an individual’s own assumptions about others, is key to implementing successful inclusive change within an organization. 

“I like to rephrase the way we think about DEI to the ability to make meaningful connections. The core of this work is understanding the human connection and what creates the relationship between human beings,” he said. “It goes so far beyond race and gender, which is where the conversation often starts which also brings it to an abrupt stop. One way I have found to bring this into an organization and sustain it is by reintroducing it as something that is there to bring people together.”

Bringing people of different backgrounds, perspectives and belief systems together in an organization is what makes companies and teams stronger. But the growth that diversity brings can be uncomfortable. Mr. Moreland pointed out that people often associate with others who are similar to themselves because people seek comfort. Engaging with people who are different is challenging, but that’s where learning, growth and improvement can happen.  

“In order to grow, I have to associate with people who do not look like, sound like, pray like and vote like me. That’s where I gain my greatest insights because I gain a perspective I’ve never had, and that’s the essence of diversity,” he said. “The problem a lot of us run into is when we believe that our own perspective, beliefs and ideology is right. As soon as we fall victim to that mindset then by definition any perspective, belief or ideology that is different than ours is wrong. If you are open to engaging with difference, then you will be continuously learning from everyone. When my difference meets up with your difference, what we come up with together is going to be so much greater than just me by myself with my set of experiences.”

Engaging with difference, however, doesn’t come easily as the snap judgements people make are a natural evolutionary impulse. Being open to learning from others requires a suspension of the immediate judgments the human brain makes when encountering someone different and pivoting instead to curiosity about the other person’s experience. This requires intentionality. Mr. Moreland recommended a shift in mindset to being a lifelong learner and pausing the automatic judgments in favor of curious questions. 

“When I put myself in the position to learn from you because I believe there is value in your background and experience and belief systems, that’s where progress starts,” he said.

Shifting this mindset on the individual level is critical to building a sustainable DEI culture within a company. While KPIs around DEI can be helpful, focusing on results rather than changing the culture and infrastructure of a company to be more inclusive won’t lead to sustainable change. 

“It’s like pouring water into a bucket with a hole in it,” he said. 

But implementing change in a company can be painful because it requires growth, which means discomfort. Mr. Moreland pointed out that 20% of employees will be early adopters who are excited for the change. Seventy percent are on the fence and will need to be influenced to take the risk. The key to getting the majority of employees on board with a change is communicating that the pain associated with the change is less than the pain of the status quo. Ten percent of employees, however, will be completely resistant. The resistance, he said, is healthy. 

“Resistance forces the change to be validated through the system,” Mr. Moreland explained. “Sometimes we pay a hefty price if we’re too resistant to change, but some resistance is good. It’s only when I get stuck in that mindset — that my way is the only way — that I’m less open to innovation and new ways of thinking.” 

By shifting mindsets about both DEI and difference, addressing culture and infrastructure, and communicating change effectively, baking and supplier companies can create inclusive work environments that empower employees and strengthen their companies for the long haul.

ABA will be hosting a DEI Working Group conference in Washington, DC, Nov. 14-15. Register online.