How to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are more than just buzzwords—they are critical components of your business.

When diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI or DE&I) are incorporated into your business, you can expect a more inviting, positive workplace where employees feel like they belong, are safe, and can do their best work. With DEI, your company will experience higher productivity, improved employee retention, and a healthier workforce. Let’s start by defining each term.

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What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Diversity is about acceptance and respect. It encompasses the understanding that individuals are unique and their differences are recognized and appreciated. These differences may include race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, age, physical abilities, socio-economic status, beliefs, or other ideologies. 

Equity refers to fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people. In the workplace, this translates to the fair, impartial treatment of every employee.

Inclusion is creating an environment where everyone is welcome, respected, supported, and valued. This environment must demonstrate that it accepts differences and respects all people. Inclusion generates a feeling of belonging for everyone.

The benefits of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment

Strong DEI delivers real, tangible benefits to organizations. Here are just a few examples:

Larger talent pool

Pre-pandemic, businesses often limited hiring to the proximity to their office locations. But with remote working becoming the norm for many businesses, hiring managers should also look for talent beyond their physical office locations. For example, 2020 data from Gartner shows there to be a higher proportion of information security analysts within the Black community in Atlanta and Philadelphia. 

Increased employee engagement

DEI efforts matter to employees, and demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility may be the key to employee satisfaction. According to the CNBC and SurveyMonkey Workforce Happiness Index of April 2021, a full 78% of employees said it’s important to work for an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion.

More opportunities for innovation

Innovation occurs when employees don’t feel pushed to fit into a company mold. When we can challenge ourselves and others, incredible things can happen because we are thinking outside the box, literally. FastCompany’s executive board of innovators gave many examples of how diversity leads to better innovations because people with diverse views and different lived experiences are designing for others like them. “With a diverse team, companies can take advantage of unique viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences to push their business forward,” according to the article.

Improve decision-making

A diverse group of individuals brings unique perspectives to the table. The saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” is very relevant here. The people making the decisions will appreciate the wealth of knowledge available to aid in better decision-making in a company with a culture that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

So, how do you promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace?

Although there has been a lot of progress in workplace DEI, there’s still work to be done. The last few years—with social, cultural, and health events—have made diversity, equity, and inclusion more important than ever.

Make DEI a strategic priority

You can only make a difference if you make DEI an organizational strategic priority with defined goals and performance measures in place. This needs to be top-of-mind for upper management and should be reviewed and discussed on a regular basis.

Be aware of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is the mental process that causes us to act in ways that reinforce stereotypes, even when our conscious mind would reject that behavior. This concept is related to affinity bias, in which people gravitate toward others who look, act, speak, and think the same way they do.

In research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, they explored the preferences of large, prestigious companies—many of which have DEI initiatives that suggest they might favor diverse candidates or avoid bias. Recruiters from large companies reviewed and rated hypothetical resumes. These are some of the key results:

  • Hiring representatives gave higher scores to students who held internships rather than summer jobs, indicating the firms did not value on-the-job earned skills or recognize their socio-economic bias against students who may not have been able to afford unpaid internships. 
  • Similarly, to match scores with white males with a 3.75 GPA, minority or female candidates needed a 4.0.
  • A prestigious internship on a white male resume boosted their ratings by 50% more than that same internship on a female or minority resume.

Take an in-depth look at your hiring process. Quantify applicants from different demographic backgrounds and examine the segments that are invited to interview and are offered jobs. If your data suggests a lack of diversity, it’s time to examine the gap between your company’s diversity objectives and actual hiring decisions and start making your theoretical love of a diverse company culture a reality.

Develop a training program

DEI learning experiences are becoming standard practice at many companies. In a 2018 study, sociology professor Frank Dobbin found that mandatory participation in diversity training makes participants feel like the company is trying to control their behavior. The study goes on to suggest that the key to improving the effects of such learning is to make it a part of a wider program of change.

In isolation, diversity training programs may not be effective. Boost the effects of learning experiences with an increase in leadership diversity, mentoring/sponsorship programs, task forces—all with C-suite buy-in and support. And then work on developing that holistic program of change in your organization.

Acknowledge holidays of all cultures

Respectfully acknowledge holidays beyond Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s Eve. Here are some of the diverse celebrations you should be recognizing:

  • Juneteenth (African American) - Celebrated on June 19, this day commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and celebrates African American culture.
  • MLK Day (Global) - The third January of the month, MLK Day honors the life and contributions of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
  • International Women’s Day (Global) - On March 8, the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
  • Equal Pay Day (Global) - The day isn’t celebrated the same day every year because it’s meant to symbolize how far into the year a woman has to work in order to earn what men earned the following year, therefore changing year to year and country to country.
  • Diwali (Hindu) - This holiday is a five-day holiday of lights celebrated in the fall. It is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness or good over evil. 
  • Bodhi Day (Buddhist) -  Commemorates the moment of Buddha’s awakening. It is a celebration of enlightenment, remembrance, meditation, and chanting. 
  • Rosh Hashanah (Jewish) - Marks the start of a new year in the Hebrew calendar.
  • Hanukkah (Jewish) -  Commemorates the rededication and purification of the Temple by Maccabees after the Jewish victory over the Greek Syrians in 165 BC. 
  • Kwanzaa (African) - A celebration of African heritage and culture. It is a seven-day event that begins every year on December 26.
  • Ramadan (Islamic) - A month of fasting during daylight hours. Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the 12-month Islamic calendar, a lunar calendar that’s based on the phases of the moon.
  • Lunar New Year (Asian American/Pacific Islander) - This is a length of time that marks the end of winter. It is based on the lunar calendar on the first day of a new moon and ends on the full moon 15 days later.

These are just a few examples, for a more comprehensive calendar, consult Diversity Resources

Create employee resource groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups whose goal is to foster a diverse, inclusive, equitable workplace aligned with the organization they work in. These groups are usually comprised of employees who share a characteristic (gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, etc.). An ERG provides a safe space for discussions about situations from home or work. Allies may be invited to the groups to support their colleagues.

Executive leadership support increases visibility, innovation, awareness, and alignment with company goals. Senior leader support demonstrates its commitment to DEI to the entire organization.

Facilitate employee feedback

Provide periodic pulse surveys to keep your team engaged in improving DEI at your company. Acknowledge and share results and take action whenever possible. Start with one of our diversity and inclusion survey templates.

Track progress over time

Your DEI efforts won’t be successful overnight. Making structural changes to your organization, strategies, and hiring processes takes time. Set benchmarks to track progress toward your cultural shift. Note what’s working, tweak what’s not, and hold your company accountable for staying true to your initiatives. Your pulse survey data will help you track your progress.

Review employee acquisition and retention strategies

Make a concerted effort to attract and hire diverse talent in your organization. Retain those employees by creating a culture of inclusion, opportunities for promotion, and a sense of safety and security. 

Does your company make clear to all its employees the criteria for advancement and promotions, and provide these opportunities to all employees? That’s what you’re striving for.

Ensure representation across all employee levels

Provide professional development opportunities to all levels of employees (including middle and upper management individuals) of diverse backgrounds to help them acquire the skills and knowledge to advance.

Set key performance indicators (KPIs)

Setting your KPIs holds people accountable for achieving their objectives with DEI. Some examples of goals you might set for your organization include:

  • Representation: Set KPIs to improve representation from historically marginalized groups and market demographics.
  • Talent acquisition: Implement sourcing goals or quotas for hiring more people from marginalized groups.
  • Retention: Compare average employee tenure by demographics. Identify trends and set goals for key areas that should lead to improved retention.
  • Promotions: Examine your representation by job level, promotion rate, and time to promotion by demographics. Set KPIs to ensure employees from marginalized communities are considered for promotion.

Analyze pay equity

According to the US Department of Labor, in 2020, women earned 82 cents for every dollar a man earned. The gap is even wider for many women of color. Women earn less across nearly all occupations. There are multiple levels of wage gaps for race, gender, and age.

Analyze your current compensation program and ensure equity across the board.

Tip: Don’t ask for salary history during hiring. This can perpetuate wage gaps.

Review employee benefits

Does your employee benefits program only include Christian holidays? Do your healthcare benefits accommodate non-traditional families ? It might be time to reevaluate and make them more inclusive. You can:

  • Provide floating holidays that can be used for holidays of the employees’ choice
  • Choose healthcare plans that include benefits that support mental wellness and support the LGBTQ+ community
  • Offer flex schedules for improved work-life balance
  • Include benefits for fertility treatments and adoption
  • Offer parental leave for both parents

Support open communication

Employees should feel safe to voice concerns and opinions without fear of victimization. This freedom of expression empowers your company to listen and embrace diverse viewpoints. Use a communication platform (such as a company intranet) to connect with employees and find out what you can do to help them thrive.

Address microaggressions

According to Merriam-Webster, microaggression is a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority). 

For example, the following are microaggressions:

  • An older man addresses a younger female colleague, “Now, young lady…”
  • A person with a hearing disability is told he is “making communication difficult for coworkers.”
  • A manager tells a Black co-worker that they are “very articulate,” but they never say this to white colleagues, implying that it was unexpected.

The negative impact of microaggressions can accumulate over time and even affect the recipient’s health. Address microaggressions by raising awareness with training, investigating complaints, and responding appropriately to employees who do commit microaggressions, or are subject to this type of behaviors.

Create a mentorship program

Counter the subtle bias that leads some employees to have less equitable access to leaders who can help them gain valuable experience and support with a coaching or mentoring program. Mentors provide guidance, support, and feedback around specific needs or for ongoing development.

Foster an inclusive company culture

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, the number one reason people leave their jobs, especially during the Great Resignation, is toxic work culture. In fact, toxic work culture is 10 times more important than pay in predicting turnover. Toxic work culture includes lack of DEI, workers feeling disrespected, unethical behavior of management, abusive managers, and an atmosphere of undermining instead of supporting each other.

Ensure that your company culture is one that fosters feelings of belonging. Employees want to feel valued for their authentic selves and their contributions. They want to feel connected to the company. 

Strengthen anti-discriminatory policies

According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 75% of respondents found that superficial policies and language were insufficient to institute real change. 

Get back to basics and root out bias in evaluation and promotion consideration. Create a robust anti-discrimination policy and make sure it is followed rigorously.

Personalize one-on-one conversations

If managers have an open-door policy, employees must feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly. Ensure that your leaders are ready to have authentic conversations that will make employees feel comfortable speaking up.

Create a DEI committee

Turn what you’ve learned into actionable goals. Start by hiring a chief diversity officer to improve workplace culture, support employee resource groups, build strategies to attract and retain diverse talent, and ultimately create a more inclusive workplace for employees.

Create a task force or committee to work with leadership as change-makers—moving the company forward toward your DEI goals.

Practice empathetic leadership

Remember, DEI is not just an HR initiative. For real change, leaders across the organization must commit to changing the company culture both emotionally and mentally.

It’s time to promote DEI in your organization

We’ve given you the knowledge and tools to begin promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization. Learn more about how to measure DEI in your organization in our DEI guide, which includes links to our free survey templates. 

For guided help from our team of experts, learn more about our Guided Employee Experience solution from Momentive, the maker of SurveyMonkey.

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