What is a DEI initiative?
DEI (or diversity, equity, and inclusion) is currently top of mind for much of America’s business leadership.
Initiatives aimed at improving diversity, equity, and inclusion are fast becoming a popular part of many modern organizations’ business strategies at every level. When done correctly, the value of DEI has a tremendous positive impact on the community and the bottom line.
How do you know if your DEI initiatives are effective?
With something as new and untested as DEI initiatives, it can sometimes feel like throwing darts at a dartboard with a blindfold on when it comes to choosing which DEI initiatives are most effective and which are just a complete waste of time.
Current research suggests that many DEI initiatives are not making an impact.
75% of employees feel that the current diversity programs at their workplace don’t deliver any personal benefits for them. You read that right: 75% think those diversity efforts are pointless.
Further, many team members agree that their organization touts an inclusive workplace. Still, one in five employees can’t point to anyone in their organization who DEMONSTRATES its importance through their actions.
While overall sentiment on diversity at companies is generally positive (52%), inclusion is worse at only 29% positive.
Are the terms “diverse workforce” and “inclusive leadership” just lip service?
According to the statistics above, many DEI efforts are falling far short of their desired marks.
In fact, many organizations are struggling with the flawed application of well-intentioned but vague and ineffective diversity initiatives.
Inclusion initiatives are only as good as the people responsible for carrying them out. If leadership doesn’t fully understand how to support diversity, they won’t understand their role in bringing a successful DEI strategy to life.
From hiring processes to employee resource groups to raising awareness about topics like sexual orientation, psychological safety, and underrepresented groups, the task of creating tangible DEI initiatives that work falls not just to senior leaders, but the entire organization.
So how do you get everyone on the same page when it comes to creating a truly inclusive environment with concrete, working DEI initiatives?
10 tips for implementing DEI initiatives that succeed
Living into DEI as a value for both individuals and organizations will feel like hard work at first. You will stumble and make “mistakes” as you try to break some deep-seated habits. Even for those who have the greatest intentions (and we believe most people do), when the mirror is held up, DEI is often less present than we’d care to admit. These tips are only helpful if answered transparently and honestly.
1. Assess your company culture
Do you have regular cultural practices where you demonstrate care for employee concerns regarding inclusion and diversity? Do employees believe you??
Or do you have a company culture that leans more into token events and hyperbole based on the month of the year without implementing any consistent, actionable, and effective DEI programs that hold the company and its leaders accountable to those efforts 365 days a year?
2. Examine any invisible factors
The ability to measure, visualize, and optimize intangible factors that promote a more inclusive workplace is a key foundation to creating an environment where diverse groups can feel free to be their authentic selves.
Things like employee experience and sustainable change can be difficult to assess objectively. By its very definition, unconscious bias can be an insidious detractor to your DEI efforts but can’t be ignored if you’re going to truly improve your organization’s culture. Establish a culture where people feel comfortable to help build awareness of their unconscious biases (everyone has them). You will find that people begin to choose a different way of operating.
3. Stop with the lip service
To truly promote diversity, you will need much more than just a social media post or press release. Tangible DEI initiatives and measurable action steps are out there. If you need an outside perspective, that’s ok. In fact, it’s recommended.
4. Align DEI initiatives with company goals
The company must have DEI as a goal to make meaningful progress towards it, but that isn’t enough. You must also consider both short-term and long-term objectives that are guided by a clear business strategy to drive your DEI initiatives forward. Don’t forget to celebrate with EVERYONE the progress you do make at key milestones along the way!
5. Get rid of the blanket strategy
What works for one organization’s culture may not be relevant to another’s. By defining diversity and what it looks like inside your walls, you’ll then be able to create meaningful action that leads to truly inclusive teams.
6. Create ironclad practices and standards
Good leadership means holding yourself and groups accountable for implementing systemic change. To do this, you must identify ways to measure results to ensure that the commitment to DEI initiatives is being taken seriously. A rewards/consequence system with easy-to-understand expectations will be at the heart of this.
7. Commit to transparency
Why this is still even an issue is beyond our comprehension. We talk a lot about being authentic leaders, and transparency regarding demographics and salary goes hand in hand with that concept.
Having a team that keeps track of certain demographic parameters during the hiring process, publishing salary bands for all teams in your organization, and disclosing previously highly guarded points of contention within your industry are all ways to show that your company wants to mitigate bias. Not only that, but give this team the authority to make changes or overrule decisions from the most senior leaders (including the CEO) when those decisions undermine the DEI goals. You will go a long way to establishing true transparency. This last point will make many senior leaders very uncomfortable and may seem a bit extreme. This is ok. Discomfort is the place where you learn and grow.
8. Create a DEI action committee
This action committee will ensure the proper implementation of your overall DEI strategy, initiatives, and programs. It will be responsible for honing, shaping, and reshaping those initiatives as results prove beneficial, negligible, or worse, detrimental. They are your checks and balances system that drives success.
9. Embrace your DEI inclusion initiatives as good business strategy
Diverse employees create a more diverse think tank that brings a fresh perspective to tired and old or outdated procedures and policies. A diverse workforce truly speaks for the masses, not just one socioeconomic status or group. This will have an organic effect on improving your company’s relevance and reach within any community.
10. Make sure the buck stops with you
As the leader, it’s ultimately up to you to embrace your DEI strategy and monitor its progress and success. Be ready and open to receiving coaching on this matter from outside sources and being the coach or your team. Your employees follow your lead and can sense when you are fully invested in creating equity within your organization.
5 effective ways to take REAL action on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace
1. Lead the conversation.
As the leader, you not only need to steer the conversation of DEI initiatives, but you need to also focus that conversation on the why behind the need for change. You can speak to people in a forced 2-3 hour seminar, OR you can spark genuine engagement and interest by gleaning ideas and strategies put forth by your team through a series of regular conversations where you ask and listen to the feedback (in case you are wondering…we recommend the latter). )
Change is hard, but when everyone is involved and feels heard, the chances of your new DEI strategy being a success increase exponentially. Employees who have a sense of ownership and involvement in developing that change are inspired to help move it along quickly and smoothly.
2. Map network connections across boundaries.
Cross-boundary collaboration and interaction is key to implementing an all-inclusive sense of camaraderie that spans your entire company. In-depth network analysis is a powerful way to help your teams see how their roles affect others. It’s also a great tool to find out where some teams may be falling short when it comes to being properly included.
You may be able to reveal what areas of your company still experience unintentional bias and thus, alter your inclusion training to mitigate that more efficiently.
3. Promote coaching and mentoring.
Because one of the toughest sticking points when promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is the unconscious biases within people or procedures, it can be tough to ensure the successful implementation of action steps.
Your company can counter this by promoting a mentoring and coaching culture that empowers employees by giving them the skills necessary to authentically and insightfully champion each other to become a truly inclusive workplace.
4. Assess your talent practices.
Do your recruiting, hiring, and implementing talent procedures promote diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Are different groups held to different standards or expectations?
Are you making subtle (or not so subtle) assumptions about individuals or teams when it comes to potential and ability?
Who has access to continued learning experiences, coaching programs, or possible advancement opportunities?
Your talent practices need to reflect fair access for all groups.
5. Acknowledge social identity.
Social Identities are the labels we use to identify or categorize ourselves as members of certain groups. These can be based on ethnicity, race, religion, generation, gender, and many other factors, and they are evolving at a fairly rapid pace. This can create tension and discomfort as people learn a new way of speaking. Don’t shy away from this; acknowledge it.
These labels don’t have to be something that creates division. Rather, help people in your company understand their similarities. Discuss how these similarities can positively impact the workplace and your corporate culture. This fuels a sense of inclusion and camaraderie that can naturally squelch many biases or hang-ups surrounding different groups.
Since many of the roadblocks to inclusion are driven by antiquated and long-established assumptions, ideas, or ignorance surrounding social identity, highlighting our similarities helps break down those barriers that many DEI initiatives face.
Pros and cons of implementing DEI initiatives
With all this talk about promoting inclusivity in the workplace, why would we need to discuss the pros and cons? There may be several pros that have not yet been highlighted. What could be the cons??
Improved bottom line
Many proponents of DEI strategies cite an improvement in the company’s bottom line as a major selling point to creating a positive workplace. This is accomplished by promoting a sense of commonality that then parlays into an improved synergy within your company.
Improved socioeconomic relevance
By having a company workforce that includes a diverse group of employees from different backgrounds, generations, countries, religions, genders, etc., your company will naturally have a better reach into all these groups by being able to pick the brains of the people who are actually in them.
You will no longer need to guess about outreach strategies or hire third-party consultants that help you expand your relevancy. Your employees will be able to do that for you. Just be careful of the “token representative speaking for all” approach.
Improved corporate reputation.
If your company is seen as inclusive, open, and welcoming, you will become more sought after by a larger range of talent.
One of the biggest arguments against promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace is that it’s a drum that gets beaten to death to the detriment of employee engagement. Being continually reminded of the need for diversity can backfire. Reminders can create a disconnect, thus furthering biases and discrimination among various groups.
When diversity is overly emphasized, it can lead to some employees feeling neglected or that preferential treatment is now being doled out only to certain groups.
The concept of diversity becomes confused with affirmative action.
If not implemented properly, it’s easy for the idea of diversity to become muddied in the same waters as affirmative action. Mandated affirmative action implements quotas and contractual obligations to reach out to certain minority groups.
Diversity is not about meeting quotas.
At its simplest, diversity is about acknowledging and recognizing the changing face of not just our workplace but our world.
Mandatory diversity training can lead to resentment among certain employees. Mandatory training does not guarantee that everyone in your organization will suddenly become unbiased or all-inclusive. This resentment can, in some cases, lead to a roadblock to your intended DEI strategy outcomes.
In any business, but especially smaller businesses and start-ups, developing a diversity management program may require hiring outside expertise. In any business with a tight profit margin, this added cost to implement a program that may or may not be effective can be a concern.
So, how do you create a DEI initiative?
To ensure your goals and efforts have the desired impact, company leaders must make sure DEI initiatives are developed and implemented properly. An inauthentic approach may be viewed as lip service instead of real change to better serve employees of all backgrounds and promote a truly equitable and inclusive culture.
Become a metrics expert
Delving deeper into your numbers when it comes to diversity will give you a good idea of where you fall short. Look at your distribution of employees against the distribution of the population for groups like gender, race, and ethnicity.
Not just on a broad company-wide spectrum but look at each department and level within the organization individually. You may see that you have a diverse employee population as a whole but a very one-sided executive team.
What other characteristics are notable outside of race, gender, and nationalities? How many of your employees identify as LGBTQ+? How many are single parents or have a non-traditional education background?
Empower your employees to speak up
For a DEI program to be successful, you must give your team the resources they need to act upon and implement the strategies and empower them to speak authentically about their experiences within this changing corporate culture.
Embrace the fact that sometimes there may be conflict. As long as that conflict is discussed and resolved respectfully and calmly, it can be a valuable tool toward moving you forward in an inclusive workplace.
Survey, survey, survey
Measuring employee sentiment regarding the feelings around your chosen DEI strategies, their effectiveness, relevance, and pitfalls is key to gauging whether your initiatives are working. Allowing people to speak freely in a safe and, if necessary, an anonymous way will give you genuine and valuable insights that you might not get in a face-to-face meeting. Just be sure not to create survey overload. Take micro surveys that allow easy answering but can give valuable insight over time and help you identify trends rather than specific answers.
Ask for help
We partner with several DEI experts that can offer you insight into where your organizational gaps lie. We can help you develop the structure and practices that will allow your organization to live in inclusion instead of just talking about it. Our commitment is to provide you and your organization with the tools you need to become the inclusive workplace you were meant to be. Reach out to find out how we can help.