Giving employees a platform to speak openly about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is important – and providing the tools to think and speak about DEI effectively with others in their organization is even more important. Defining DEI is the first step in unlocking its value. Achieving the skillset which allows one to truly understand the underlying concepts of DEI is the ultimate goal. In order to reach this ambition, organizations must prioritize developing a strategic infrastructure hand-in-hand with their employees.
At Schrödinger, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a priority. In a previous blog post, we outlined several different initiatives we have taken to elevate DEI internally. In this post, we will outline in more detail one of those initiatives: the DEI Starter Kit, a course designed in partnership with the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI) to equip our employees with the tools to engage with DEI at our company.
Our initial DEI Starter Kit pilot program consisted of 50 people and ran from March 2021 to May 2021. It not only included the entirety of our leadership team, but also our newly created DEI Council, our HR team and all of our Employee Resource Group leaders. Following the pilot, we received fantastic feedback about how the program crystalizes many challenging concepts such as bias and active inclusion.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect from the DEI Starter Kit, but after getting started, I found it to be engaging and incredibly useful. Putting some formality and common language around DEI concepts that may already have been intuitive has made me more aware of potential biases, thereby making it easier to avoid them,” said Ramy Farid, chief executive officer of Schrödinger.
The DEI Starter Kit includes three modules: GROW, INCLUDE and DECIDE.
The GROW module explores the concept of a growth mindset, teaching habits like valuing progress, learning from others and always improving. DEI is a constant journey of learning and growing, and finding opportunities to improve ourselves rather than prove ourselves. We decided to start with the GROW module because we wanted employees to approach DEI from a place of openness rather than defensiveness.
“The training around growth mindset has fundamentally changed the way I look at my own progression as well as that of my team’s. It is a profound concept that is motivating in both my professional and personal life,” said Michelle Byington, vice president, strategic growth, Schrödinger.
The INCLUDE module explores active inclusion. This module uses NLI’s SCARF model which identifies five different aspects of inclusion or exclusion – Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. It offers employees a way to consider the different strains they may feel in the workplace and to identify where they originate, such as a lack of autonomy or a feeling of unequal status. It further enables people to break down those feelings into something more concrete so that they can talk about them in a productive way.
The DECIDE module explores bias mitigation. This module uses NLI’s SEEDS model, which breaks down the 150 discrete biases that we know about into five categories: Similarity bias, Experience bias, Expedience bias, Distance bias and Safety bias. DECIDE introduces the concept that everyone has bias. While bias is not bad or good, it is something that helps us process and make decisions. It is critical for us to be aware of our own biases because they may be influenced by our experiences of the world, our own identities and their intersectionality.
“The course helped me examine much more deliberately and concretely the concept of bias, including the more subtle forms that may exist in any given discussion, decision-making process or other interaction that can impact a person’s work environment, career progression and well-being,” Yvonne Tran, executive vice president and chief legal officer, Schrödinger.
The DEI Starter Kit weekly learning modules include quick videos and a series of practice tools which participants work on together with their cohort groups. The courses are bite-sized and involve practical application, encouraging experiential learning through repetition. As the courses progress, they also include live webinars with an NLI facilitator, as well as a facilitated practice session with someone within the company who has already taken the course – a purposeful approach to encourage peer participation and modeling.
“As someone who is currently enrolled in the DEI Starter Kit program, I am incredibly encouraged by the level of engagement within the weekly cohort meetings and group forum(s). I have never seen quite this level of activity among participants in similar settings. Our colleagues are really speaking up, and often feel comfortable enough to share vulnerable anecdotes that are related to advancing the topic at hand,” said Alex Schuman, head of corporate sustainability, Schrödinger.
For Schrödinger, our goal is to establish a common understanding of DEI, so that when we speak upon and engage with DEI, we have access to the same understanding of the language and can actively incorporate our leanings into our actions each day.
Ultimately, as we move forward with our global roll-out of the DEI Starter Kit and other DEI initiatives, we hope this work continues to evolve our company culture. Considering the value of a cultural evolution around DEI is vital for organizations. As we continue upon our own journey, we hope to learn from and engage with other organizations walking the same path. DEI trainings are not something that should be completed over the course of a single afternoon. As the world continues to evolve, recognition of the deep complexities in understanding and advancing DEI will be critical to creating a highly impactful strategy and infrastructure benefiting those who depend on us most.