Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: What It Is and How To Do It Right
The last decade has been a whirlwind for social justice and inclusion movements, but what have all the hashtags, corporate apologies, and diversity initiatives actually done to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace?
A 2021 report showed that up to 76% of employers have no diversity or inclusion goals at all, based on responses from 804 global HR professionals. On the other hand, many well-intentioned companies have been scrambling to improve their workplace diversity by launching marketing campaigns, internal investigations, and more. Despite this, most companies are still failing to make a meaningful difference when it comes to diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI). In the rush to achieve kudos and fawning social media attention, these companies have started prematurely launching diversity initiatives without putting in any research to ensure their programs are effective beyond optics.
So, how do we fix this? Well first, we have to stop thinking of diversity as a “problem” that needs to be “fixed” and start viewing diversity initiatives as an opportunity to rectify discriminatory practices and identify ways to bring diverse perspectives to the table.
Read on to learn more about diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives and how to effectively implement and advocate for them in your workplace.
What is a DEI Initiative?
DEI stands for “diversity, equity & inclusion” and is often a catch-all for corporate diversity initiatives, strategies, and practices to support a diverse workplace. DEI programs strive to create inclusive working environments that value the individual differences of employees and provide equal access to opportunities. It's not only an attitude of welcoming and accepting people with different backgrounds, opinions, and abilities but giving them the resources to succeed.
Diversity, equity & inclusion prioritizes:
Equal access to opportunity
Teamwork, innovation, and creativity
Accountability, and adaptability
Collaborative conflict resolution
Evidential leadership commitment to equity
Representation at all levels of the organization (ie, leadership, employees, stakeholders)
Cultural, social, and intersectional education and training
To be successful, DEI has to be a top-to-bottom business strategy and not just an HR program. It’s up to professionals, the public, and altruistic leaders to advocate for DEI within their workplaces and personal life. Executives must take accountability and implement these programs to create more fair, accessible, conscious, and welcoming workplaces.
Benefits of DEI Initiatives:
Creating diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace is not just the right or “trendy” thing to do—it’s business savvy. Organizations with effective DEI programs benefit from:
Better Decisions: Diverse groups of employees pull from a wider range of sources and experiences, leading to more well-informed decisions. According to a study, diverse teams make better decisions than non-diverse teams up to 87% of the time.
Competitive Advantage & Profitability: Companies in the top quartile for racial diversity and gender diversity are 35% and 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry medians, respectively.
Increased Creativity: A diverse workforce brings a wide variety of people with different experiences, skills, and perspectives that increases innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking to spark new, innovative ideas.
Employee Engagement & Retention: Employees are more likely to stay longer at companies where their unique contributions are recognized and respected. Inclusive teams often have higher morale and are more productive, innovative, and loyal employees.
Diversity vs. Inclusion vs. Equity
Diverse talent recruitment has become a popular method companies use within their DEI programs, however, this is usually ineffective at creating real change because most organizations fail to take into account the barriers of entry created by intersectionality. The common misconception that there aren’t enough talented minority candidates has been debunked time and time again. Evidence shows that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Our society is ingrained with systemic inequalities and recognizing those inequalities is the first step to achieving successful DEI.
Diversity is only one part of the equation, and prioritizing a candidate solely based on their background is not an effective long-term approach. Diversity efforts, without equitable practices and intentional inclusion, will always fall short, so it’s important to understand the difference between the three terms and how to implement them in your organization.
“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”
In a workplace context, diversity is ensuring a company's leadership, employees and stakeholders are diverse in demographics and identity like gender, age, ethnicity, personality, ability, sexual orientation, etc.
Diversity refers to the nature of a group. A candidate can not be diverse — they’re a unique, individual. They may bring diversity to a team, but they themselves are not diverse. They’re a woman, a person of color, a part of the LGBTQ+ community; a person.
Inclusion focuses on making sure people with different identities feel valued, respected, and welcomed within a given setting.
Inclusion is not a natural consequence of diversity. Inclusion requires us to foster a workplace environment where everyone feels welcome, safe and supported (i,e. avoiding microaggressions, supporting career growth, offering resources). It requires educating ourselves and our organization on the nuances of the intersectional experiences of marginalized groups.
Equity is an approach that ensures everyone has the necessary resources to access the same opportunities based on each person’s specific identity and the obstacles that accompany that identity. Equity recognizes that advantages and barriers exist, and that, as a result, we all don’t all start from the same place. Equity is a process that begins by acknowledging that unequal starting place and makes a commitment to correct and address the imbalance.
Tips for Implementing an Effective DEI Program
Although we’ve seen a rise in public and corporate interest in social justice, most companies are still failing to make a meaningful difference when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In fact, a new report shows the pay gap between black and white technology workers has widened by more than $5,000 this year alone.
In the rush to achieve recognition for being inclusive, some companies have started launching diversity initiatives without putting in the required research to ensure their programs are actually effective. Many companies have engaged in “woke washing”, the process in which companies capitalize on social justice movements to make sales and gain public favor.
What these companies are doing wrong is they are approaching diversity as a problem to be fixed rather than an opportunity to learn and make meaningful change. If a company genuinely wants to increase equity and inclusion, there are a few things it needs to do:
As an Employee/Individual
DEI starts on an individual level by listening, learning, and speaking up. Addressing systemic discrimination and unconscious biases is uncomfortable, but it’s more uncomfortable for those of us experiencing those things. By working through your own relationship with diversity, equity, and inclusion, you can help bring further clarity, sensitivity, and growth to your daily interactions.
Get to know co-workers from different backgrounds and listen to their experiences. Practice self-accountability and correct discriminatory and biased behavior when you see it and use your voice to combat non-inclusive company policies.
As a Leader/Organization
Organizational DEI efforts can look like:
Strengthening anti-discriminatory policies
Establishing goals, measuring progress, reevaluating and adapting based on feedback
Strategy at the CEO/COO/CHRO level
Assigning executive leadership to DEI roles
Creating behavioral standards and accountability programs
Training people at all levels on social, cultural, and intersectional topics
Integrating diversity and inclusion strategies in recruitment, performance management, leadership assessment, and training
Creating employee networks and outreach programs
Honoring and understanding multiple religious and cultural practices
Engaging in organizational cultural celebrations to promote education & awareness
Offering publicly visible progress metrics for recruiting, promotion rates, compensation levels, turnover, and supplier diversity
As an organization its important to engage in deeper and more meaningful conversations that encourage a fresh perspective helps us ask and answer hard questions like:
Why is diversity a part of our values?
Who are we creating inclusive environments for and how can I practice inclusion on an individual level? (ie, avoiding microaggressions, educating myself, recognizing intersectionality etc.)
How can we approach this work using equity as our guiding principle and what changes would that require?
Time to Get to Work!
DEI programs should be more than a marketing campaign. Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be cornerstone values of each organization and implemented from the top-down to be truly effective and impactful.
It’s time to stop thinking of diversity as a problem that needs to be fixed and instead view diversity initiatives as an opportunity to rectify injustices in the workforce, close the wealth gap, and bring diverse perspectives to the table.
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