Workhuman Editorial Team
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Whose job is it to tackle the social and racial injustice still present in our society? Though we all play a role, organizations have a special responsibility for creating a more just world.
As DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) facilitator Brittany J. Harris notes, "[It's] more apparent than ever that organizations don't exist within a vacuum. They are part of a much broader solution change, an ecosystem.
And for leaders to rise to the occasion takes capacity building, skill building, and disrupting the systems we've become so accustomed to. And a lot of that starts with engaging folks. And learning."
In this article, we take a closer look at what DE&I initiatives are and how companies implement them to be active proponents of change.
Because of HR departments' comprehensive DE&I initiatives, many people conflate the words diversity, equity, and inclusion. While these terms all have to do with creating a more equal and just workplace (and therefore a more equal and just society), they have differences worth analyzing.
Let's start by defining workplace diversity, which is the act of welcoming people from different backgrounds. A diverse workplace should have a diverse talent pool, with employees of various ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, and sexual orientations.
Workplace diversity also encompasses characteristics that might not be as obvious upon looking at someone. For instance, a company might promote diversity efforts by considering candidates who have learning differences just as they would any other candidate.
An extension of diversity is equity, or the practice of ensuring all people within an organization have equal opportunities. It also focuses on preventing all forms of discrimination, bias, and harassment.
You can better understand what equity means by considering the common fence analogy. Imagine three people trying to watch a baseball game, but there's a fence in the way.
The first person is tall and can see over the fence. The second person is shorter and can't see over the fence, and the third person is even shorter.
Equality, which many people confuse with equity, would be giving each person one box of the same height to stand on. Despite each person getting a box, it's not a fair distribution of resources. The first person doesn't need the box because they're already tall enough to see over the fence.
The second person can now see over the fence thanks to their box, but the third person is still too short. Therefore, it would be equitable to give two boxes to the third person. Thanks to this approach, everyone gets the resources they need to enjoy the baseball game.
Finally, the last term to know when discussing DE&I initiatives is inclusion. An inclusive culture ensures that employees feel like they belong. Organizational leaders can achieve inclusivity through an inclusion strategy that focuses on creating a company culture of acceptance, civility, and respect.
Inclusivity also stems from an organization's ability to provide employees with the support they need for career development and to reach their full potential. When business leaders prioritize initiatives around inclusion, all current employees can authentically contribute to team projects and the overall workplace culture.
Though we've already provided an analogy to clarify the meaning of equity, Dr. Robert Sellers takes it a step further. This chief diversity officer at the University of Michigan uses an analogy to effectively link diversity, equity, and inclusion.
He sets the scene for a DEI initiative with a party and likens diversity to the act of inviting everyone. Instead of sending exclusive invitations to people of a certain status, a diverse party host might post an open invite online. Diversity would also entail letting people in the door regardless of traits like their race or sexual orientation.
As for equity, Sellers says that an equitable party would let everyone contribute to the playlist. The host would take suggestions from all attendees, actually add them to the playlist, and shuffle the songs all night.
Rather than songs that only the host and their friends like, a collaborative playlist ensures the party has songs everyone is comfortable with.
Even when the playlist is diverse, the host still has to make sure everyone has the opportunity to dance. This is where inclusion comes into play. Ensuring there is enough space on the dance floor and making it safe for all will increase the chances of everyone having a good time.
Additionally, the host might consider creating an environment where it's acceptable for people not to dance. Those who don't like dancing might prefer karaoke, games, or other alternative activities that they find more enjoyable.
As we discuss later in this post, creating and implementing a DEI initiative can be an intensive process. So, what makes it worth the effort? Plenty of hiring managers, senior leaders, and HR departments put in the work to reap the benefits, such as:
DE&I initiatives require funding to expand talent acquisition and hiring campaigns to bring in diverse candidates, implement inclusivity training, purchase the resources necessary for employees to succeed, and more. However, the initial and ongoing costs are often well worth the increased profitability an organization experiences.
According to a 2019 McKinsey analysis, "Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile."
This 25% estimation is up from 15% in 2014 and 21% in 2017. Though one might not associate a diversity and inclusion initiative with increased profits, the rest of the benefits will provide insight as to why this correlation occurs.
Attracting talented employees is one of an organization's greatest challenges, as it has to compete with other companies in its industry. Many organizations strive to entice qualified professionals by offering benefits that appeal to them.
Consider one survey from CNBC in which almost 80% of workers say that they want to work for a company that values workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Organizations can attract this relatively large pool of candidates through DE&I initiatives.
Prospective employees are likely to be more willing to work for a company culture that is made up of diverse backgrounds, inclusion programs, and company leaders that support underrepresented groups, especially if they've faced exclusion and discrimination in other workplaces.
In addition to improving recruitment, a DEI initiative can result in better retention. Keeping turnover rates low improves employee morale and helps the organization develop a reputation as a good place to work.
The sense of belonging that comes from DE&I initiatives encourages all employees to authentically contribute. Their inspiration, hard work, and dedication result in the implementation of more productive procedures and better products for customers.
Additionally, improved productivity helps cut down on operational costs and ensures all departments receive the funding they need for success.
Because DE&I initiatives can help employees better understand each other, they often improve workplace relationships. Employees learn how to embrace differences and effectively deal with conflict, whether it be with a fellow team member or a manager.
A DEI initiative also helps employees learn to trust their teams and feel comfortable addressing concerns with supervisors. Additionally, managers can use their newfound compassion and empathy to resolve disputes and ensure they meet the needs of their team.
While recognizing the benefits of a DEI initiative is easy, the creation and implementation process might be difficult. Here are some questions to consider as you strive to promote inclusive efforts and a diverse workforce:
Every company has a unique strategy for DEI, as the most effective initiatives tend to consider an organization's specific characteristics. For instance, a company within an industry that has a history of exclusive hiring practices might make a special effort to diversify its recruitment process.
Aside from being specific to your organization and industry, good DEI programs can share other characteristics. For instance, know that a good DEI program is usually nonperformative. While the improved diversity, equity, and inclusion can help the company improve its reputation among customers and potential employees, this should only be a side effect. Another key characteristic of a good DEI program is its ability to evolve as the organization and society shift.
Forbes notes that you can start making a DEI strategy by setting aspirational goals. Try to establish objectives that are measurable and align with the DE&I goals of your organization. You might aim to hire a certain number of employees in a historically underrepresented ethnic group or strive to have a certain number of employees participate in outcome-driven DEI training sessions.
Here's more information on developing and implementing effective DE&I initiatives:
While DE&I initiatives can have many goals, their main purpose is to create a more inclusive workplace. A diverse team allows organizations to experience benefits ranging from improved productivity and morale to better recruitment and retention.
Here is a list of steps for creating a DEI initiative:
HR professionals can contribute to DEI initiatives by:
Implementing a DEI initiative can be even more challenging than creating a plan, so try to be proactive about the start date. Set deadlines for new policies and training requirements to become effective. You can also communicate your expectations with various departments to get more people on board and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Examples of good diversity initiatives include:
Here are some FAQs about DEI initiatives in the workplace:
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is as simple as creating a sense of belonging in the workplace. By inviting all professionals, soliciting their input, and ensuring they have the resources they need for success, you help your organization overcome social and racial injustices.
One of the most important steps to implementing a diversity and inclusion initiative is securing the necessary funding. Without money, you can't enforce new policies and ensure the initiative lasts for the long haul. Other tips for implementation include holding managers responsible for policy enforcement and tracking measurable goals.
Some examples of top DE&I initiatives for the workplace include:
We hope this guide on DE&I initiatives inspires you to advocate for serious change in your workplace. If your HR department needs a little help, consider Workhuman's Inclusion Advisor. This powerful AI tool helps build cultures of belonging based on your organization's unique needs.
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