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How KM can support diversity, equity, and inclusion

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Build partnerships

Whether the aim is to make language more accessible, provide varied opportunities for knowledge sharing, or something else, it’s critical to get buy-in from the groups that will be directly impacted by your initiative. Fortunately, KM does not need to do this work on its own or reinvent the DEI wheel. Cross-functional collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders is, in fact, a critical success factor for KM-driven DEI initiatives.

When building partnerships in the business, it is especially important to find allies with influence who can help drive buy-in and support for the work. This might include learning and development, talent management, equal opportunity offices, or other groups that work to drive DEI across the organization more broadly. Finding partners and advocates with credibility and influence will help build traction for KM-driven DEI initiatives:

Engage the business

Building partnerships and collaborating with stakeholders is a critical first step, but KM teams also need to strategize effective ways to engage business leaders. Without this engagement, it’s easy for DEI initiatives to feel like yet another source of noise that busy employees can simply tune out.

To garner business support, it’s critical to align KM-DEI initiatives with broader organizational goals and strategy. One good way to start building this alignment is by thinking about the ways in which objectives like inclusion, belonging, and psychological safety relate to broader corporate objectives, values, or initiatives. Achieving this alignment raises KM-DEI to the level of enterprise strategy, where it can get far more buy-in than it would as a narrower, KM-owned initiative.

Explore diverse modalities of knowledge creation

Inviting employees to share knowledge in different modalities (e.g., documents, videos, infographics, audio) helps drive inclusion because it enables them to share in ways that feel safe, comfortable, and intuitive. For example, one KM leader told us that “people are starting to give more options for knowledge sharing. If someone requests information from me, I can send it in an email or record a voice memo. If someone asks me to write it down in a document, it’s probably going to take a month to get around to it. It’s important to give people those types of options for how to access and contribute knowledge.”

Relatedly, some KM teams are experimenting with a hybrid approach between storytelling and written documentation. In this approach, KM teams connect with employees who want to share an experience that either went well or did not go well. After interviewing the employee and others familiar with the situation, the KM team crafts the employee’s story into a narrative that teaches others an important lesson or insight. Knowledge is still distilled into a written document, but it is shared through narrative exposition that is clear and accessible to most recipients.

How Teach for America embeds DEI in KM

A great example of linking KM and DEI comes from Teach for America (TFA), which started exploring the relationship between these two initiatives in 2014. The organization defines concepts like diversity, equity, and inclusion in ways that reflect its work as a nonprofit that recruits recent college graduates and professionals to teach in public schools. Its DEI goals encompass both 64,000 alumni and corps members who work in more than 9,000 schools nationwide and around 1,500 non-corps employees who support the TFA program.

Over the past 8 years, TFA has been on a journey to develop KM practices that align with the organization’s commitments to DEI. Below are examples of embedded KM practices that help to support DEI.

Diversity: The KM team considers multiple perspectives, needs, and contributions when it designs KM products. Knowledge assets account for cultural dimensions, such as different storytelling methods, concepts of time, and linear versus nonlinear planning.

Equity: If an individual or team makes a significant contribution to another’s work, the recipient of that contribution offers a capacity trade. (For example, if someone from another team spends an hour reviewing a resource, the team that created the resource would offer to reciprocate.)

Inclusion: TFA uses human-centered design to understand what people’s needs are and to design knowledge products that meet those needs. As a result, knowledge assets are accessible for multiple users and offered in multiple modalities like slide decks, videos, infographics, and articles. The language used to share knowledge is free of dehumanizing terms or jargon.

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