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How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion In The Workplace

Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is important for recruitment, employee happiness, and innovation. Learn more.

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How to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion In The Workplace

Companies and company leaders increasingly recognize today the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace for a wide range of reasons. While diversity has, traditionally, been the focus of EEOC-related efforts like Affirmative Action in the U.S., that focus has broadened to recognize that both equity and inclusion are equally important.

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mean in the workplace?

The concept of DEI in the workplace is a symbiotic one, with each element needing to be present to have the desired impact.

  • Diversity, in the DEI context, refers to the extent to which a company employs people from different backgrounds, with different characteristics and with different experiences. Having a diverse workforce is foundational for equity and inclusion, but it cannot have an impact on its own.

  • Equity represents the idea that company policies and practices will be fair and result in positive and rewarding experiences for employees. Equity doesn’t imply that employees are treated equally, or the same. Instead, it ensures the way they’re treated takes into account their unique backgrounds, needs, and values and results in desired outcomes from their perspectives.

  • Inclusion means that all employees’ voices are heard and that their input is valued regardless of their personal characteristics. Diversity, without inclusion, is meaningless.

DEI in the workplace means that employment practices, leadership and management efforts are designed to leverage the unique and valuable inputs and insights that can be gained from a wide range of individuals and diverse backgrounds.

Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace important?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is important because it drives both higher revenue growth and greater readiness to innovate, as Great Place to Work points out. 

In addition, they note, it also leads to better retention. Their research indicates that employees in organizations with strong DEI are:

  • 9.8 times more likely to look forward to going to work.

  • 6.3 times more likely to have pride in their work.

  • 5.4 times more likely to want to stay with their companies for a long time.

These are all impacts that any company would value. So what steps can they take to effectively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and reap the rewards of doing so?

Steps to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace

There are seven key steps that companies should take to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. These include: 

  • Taking it from the top

  • Beginning to focus on DEI during the hiring process

  • Making DEI initiatives a priority

  • Mixing it up by moving employees regularly between teams

  • Focusing on internal transfers and promotions

  • Helping employee recognize their own hidden biases

  • Making it measurable 

Let’s dig into each step in more detail. 

1. Take it from the top.

DEI promotion begins at the senior-most levels of the organization—from the board on down. That’s not consistently happening, says Gena Cox, PhD, an organizational psychologist, executive coach, and author of the upcoming book Leading Inclusion

“Although corporate leaders are talking more about the benefits and need for diversity and inclusion, significant improvements are not yet visible, especially regarding inclusion,” she says. In fact, she says, many corporate executives are “stepping back” from what they view as social justice issues. And, she adds, this is happening as Americans want them to become more involved

Executives, says Cox, need to “articulate the vision, the ‘why,’ and the measures of success, and hold leaders accountable for delivering the change so employees can see and feel the difference.” 

2. Begin your focus on DEI during the hiring process.

Make sure your hiring process is as broad and inclusive as possible. Evaluate current candidate sources to identify gaps that may not be reaching diverse employee segments. Consider ways to more proactively reach out to underserved communities where your workforce demographics are low.

Consider also the language used in job postings and other communication materials to ensure it is inclusive and non-biased. 

Emphasizing your company’s commitment to DEI and its strong DEI culture through both recruitment and general company communications is a good way to attract—and retain—employees. 

Another powerful tactic companies can use during the talent acquisition process is the Rooney Rule, a concept originally implemented by the NFL and named after Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney. The Rooney Rule requires that at least one woman and one underrepresented minority be considered when hiring. 

3. Make DEI initiatives a priority.

There are a couple of ways to do this in a transparent and open way.

One, that many companies have adopted over the past few years, is to establish a role for a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) to make the company’s commitment to DEI highly visible. This doesn’t mean that the CDO is solely responsible for DEI; that is everyone’s responsibility. It does, though, provide a visible focus and a “home” for the creation of strategy and coordination of the company’s DEI efforts. 

4. Mix it up—move employees regularly between teams.

Employees can often get into a rut where they’re continually interacting with the same people, hearing the same ideas and inputs, and failing to recognize and receive the broader perspectives that may exist in their organizations.

Creating opportunities for internal mobility helps to diversify teams and workgroups on a regular basis and exposes employees to new ideas and inputs that the organization can benefit from.

5. Focus on internal transfers and promotions.

It may seem counterintuitive, but internal transfers and promotions can be one of the best ways to drive diversity at the senior-most levels of the organization. 

John Ricco, co-founder of Atlantic Group, a recruitment organization, supports this notion. “This might sound counterintuitive for a recruiter to be saying but it really is one of the best ways to ensure that your employee pool is diverse and an inviting place for people to work,” Ricco says. 

“By doing this, you’ll also be making good use of all that time and effort spent hiring a diverse set of employees at the lower levels of the company and productivity won’t take that much of a hit because candidates will already know how the company operates.”

6. Help employees recognize their own hidden biases.

Humans are biased beings. We all have biases, whether we recognize them or not. Taking steps to help employees understand the impact of what is commonly called unconscious bias and pointing to ways to minimize or overcome those biases is something that should be done on an ongoing basis.

As DEI consultant Kay Fabella, a Filipina American woman based in Spain, shared with Visier, we all innately see things differently based on our own unique cultural lenses. “The way that I see it is, you have these goggles that are soldered onto your eyes and no matter which way you turn, no matter how skilled you are at empathy, or compassion, or even just trying to understand how another person’s perspective is, you’re only seeing a snapshot moment of that person based off of their physicality, or their accent, or how many limbs they have.”

7. Make it measurable.

Jasmyn Farris is Chief People Operations Officer at iSeatz, a loyalty technology company, where she leads the DEI practice. iSeatz, says Farris, wants to meet the tech industry benchmark of 34.4% women by the end of 2022—they’re currently at 38%, and to exceed the benchmark by achieving 40% by the end of 2023. That’s the kind of measurable outcomes that can help keep your DEI efforts on track—and visible. 

Farris says that iSeatz uses a number of tools to ensure equitable team management—from an index of average industry tenure for each role to flag potential advancement or burnout for managers, to weekly anonymous pulse surveys, to DEI, Unconscious Bias, and Crucial Conversations training for all team members. 

“For us, it’s not enough to say we have a transparent and consistent performance management process,” she says, “We want to make sure that process is measurable and that we are tracking our efforts against internal and external benchmarks.”

Their diversity goals are lofty. Ultimately, says Farris, “iSeatz strives to be a community leader to further support and diversify the tech community at large.” 

Measurability is an important step in moving beyond good intentions, and something that Visier supports. The use of reliable people analytics can help organizations ensure they’re on the right track while also giving them compelling evidence to share with employees and other key stakeholders.

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