Most modern organizations are now beginning to recognize the critical need for actionable diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Historically, people from marginalized backgrounds, especially black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC), have had their access to professional and educational opportunities blocked by systemic barriers. This lack of access has led to a striking disparity in representation across all levels in the modern workplace.
Just 36 percent of entry-level jobs are held by people of color and that number continues to shrink as you look up the ladder. In managerial roles, a meager 24 percent of positions are held by people of color, while only 14 percent of executive positions are occupied by non-white employees.
But 64 percent of people globally expect CEOs to lead social change, and corporate leaders are being called to take action and improve DEI within their organizations. With this reality in mind, it’s on executives to ask the question: how do you take action to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace? Let’s get started.
The difference between diversity, equity and inclusion
Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion within the context of the workplace.
Diversity refers to the different characteristics among a group of people. This includes race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomics. It can also refer to differences in physical ability, veteran status, or whether or not someone has kids.When it comes to diversity in the workplace, or lack thereof, the issue is deep-rooted in many years of poor and biased recruitment practices that led the state of workplace diversity to where it is today — with 78% of employees reporting that their organization lacks diversity in leadership.
Put simply, if diversity isn’t at the forefront of your recruitment strategy, it’s very difficult to build a diverse talent pipeline for leadership positions.
Equity is the process of ensuring that workplace systems and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. This means leveling the playing field and meeting the needs of each employee and their unique circumstances.
When there is true equity in the workplace, every employee feels they are being treated fairly. For your business, this can be a big needle mover when it comes to employee engagement and retention.
Read more: You know now what it means to have an equitable work environment, but what does it actually look like in practice? Discover these exceptional examples of equity in the workplace to see the full picture.
Inclusion can be summed up as providing every employee with a sense of belonging. This means they feel comfortable and supported by the organization when it comes to being their most authentic selves. It’s important to recruit a diverse workforce, but how do you make those individuals feel heard and valued once they actually join the team?
Similarly to equity, the business case for inclusion in the workplace is centered around engagement and retention. Companies with inclusive cultures get 2.3 times more cash flow per employee. Simply put, the more included your employees feel, the more likely they are to stick around and want to grow with your organization.
Why diversity, equity and inclusion is important in the workplace
The business case for DEI can be made by tangible benefits which are seen throughout the entire organization. Here are a few primary examples of the advantages enjoyed by companies with strong diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
- DEI helps to grow your talent pool. As discussed earlier, lack of diversity within an organization starts with poor recruitment practices. One survey found that 67 percent of job seekers today list diversity as an important factor in choosing a potential workplace.Companies with stellar DEI initiatives are able to build a positive employer brand reputation and get a major leg-up over the competition when it comes to attracting top talent.
- DEI supports innovation and organizational acceleration. Great ideas happen when a diverse group of minds come together on a project or initiative. Inclusive, expansive company cultures facilitate innovation by encouraging input from a wide variety of perspectives. According to a study from BCG, organizations with diverse leadership enjoy profits up to 45 percent higher than those with more homogenous cultures.
- DEI saves money. A lack of DEI can be costly. Between turnover and the price tag associated with mitigating instances of discrimination, the Center for American Progress states businesses pay 64 billion dollars annually as a result of workplace bias. Not only does DEI make your organization more profitable, but it can also save your bottom line from major expenses.
How to promote diversity in the workplace
Diversity means a wide range of people of different backgrounds and identities filling roles at every level within your organization — from the frontline to the C-suite. Here are a few ways you can make it happen.
- Use diverse job boards. If you want to hire top talent that represents marginalized communities, you can start your search on job boards specifically designed to uplift underrepresented workers. These include sites such as Hire Autism, Recruit Disability and 70 Million Jobs, a job board for people with criminal records.
- Ensure representation at every level. Diversity starts in the C-suite. Important DEI factors will be overlooked if your executives all look and sound the same, and it’s crucial that your organization’s top decision-makers represent a wide variety of perspectives.
- Address biased hiring and recruiting practices. Your hiring team should be given training on how to understand, recognize and avoid bias during the recruitment process. Even if a diverse pool of people are applying to your openings, discriminatory recruiting can undo your DEI efforts and uphold a homogenous workforce.
How to promote equity in the workplace
Equity means recognizing that all of your employees come from different backgrounds and that each of them will need different access to tools and resources in order to succeed. As you can imagine, this is easier said than done. Here are a few ways to get started.
- Have transparency around wages. Both individual contributors and management should have a concrete understanding of how salary ties to job performance and responsibility in order to avoid biased pay gaps. To take things a step further, consider including a wage range on job descriptions.
- Implement a workforce education program. Systemic barriers make it difficult for people from underrepresented groups to attain degrees and other forms of education required for jobs by many employers. Offering educational benefits at your organization can provide employees with life-changing learning opportunities that help them grow with your business.
- Make equity a job. Well-meaning companies can sometimes give their already exhausted marginalized employees even more work to do by going to them with questions around building equity. Consider creating an equity management position so that the burden doesn’t fall on your underrepresented employees.
How to promote inclusion in the workplace
Inclusion means facilitating an office culture where everyone feels valued, welcomed and seen. Here are a few ways to make that happen.
- Accommodate all holidays. Some of the most widely celebrated global holidays are barely acknowledged within American offices. And it can be alienating to see one religious tradition recognized while your own cultural beliefs are not accommodated. Support inclusion in your workspace by allowing flexible time off so your employees can observe the customs that are most important to them.
- Be pronoun-friendly. It’s important to respect the identities of your employees. But it can also feel unsafe identifying as a trans or non-binary person in the workplace. You can help make your work culture inclusive of gender-variant employees by normalizing the sharing of preferred pronouns and avoiding binary language. Consider replacing “his/hers” with “theirs” in your internal communications, for example.
- Support open communication. A major part of feeling included means knowing that your voice will be heard if you speak up. As an organizational leader, your inclusion efforts should be communicated openly and your employees should feel safe communicating concerns and feedback to management (even if it’s about management or the company.)
Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives all have a common goal: to create a working culture where employees know their value and are able to thrive. Corporate organizations are in a unique position to drive change through these simple, yet critical actions. Promoting diversity equity inclusion in the workplace is just the beginning of a much larger strategy.
Ready to take action on DEI? Download this free DEI measurement & strategy template, complete with everything you need to develop a DEI plan that gets instant buy-in from your executive team.