The case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace has never been stronger. Recent global events have highlighted the social barriers which prevent historically underserved populations from gaining access to critical resources like education and equitable employment opportunities. And business leaders are now being challenged to take action within their companies to break down some of these barriers.
But the definition of diversity has shifted dramatically in recent years, extending far beyond a one-time initiative that human resources teams can cross off their to-do list. Well-intentioned leaders committed to advancing DEI continue to try and get a grasp of what a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce actually looks like.
At its most basic, workplace diversity means hiring employees of various gender identities, races, ages, ethnicities, sexualities, disabilities and educational and economic backgrounds. And at a higher level, workplace diversity means not only hiring but also including, uplifting and valuing all employees in a way that is tangible to them. The idea of diversity in the workplace is to get a variety of perspectives and ideas which will ultimately allow your organization to perform better.
Let’s explore how you can analyze and improve workplace diversity at your company.
Benefits of diversity in the workplace
Workplace diversity has a number of benefits that affect your company both at the individual and organizational levels.
- Employees perform better when they feel seen and respected. According to one study from Forbes, associates who feel valued at their jobs are 3.5 times more likely to be engaged at work.
- Companies with high diversity are more profitable. In a recent report, McKinsey stated that organizations with higher diversity in management are 35 percent more likely to have higher financial returns than companies without.
- Diversity feeds diversity. A study from Deloitte showed that job seekers today list diversity as one of the top things they look for in a potential workplace. Hiring for diversity attracts a wider talent pool and gives you better access to high-performing employees from all walks of life.
How do you know if you lack diversity in the workplace?
From where you sit, it might be difficult to tell whether or not you have strong diversity in your organization. Here are some tell-tale signs to look for that indicate your diversity efforts need work.
- Everyone looks the same or has the same background. Leaders not taking conscious steps towards diverse hiring practices tend to hire themselves. It may feel natural to want to work alongside people who look and act like you, but if everyone on your team belongs to the same gender, race, or ethnicity, it’s time to overhaul your hiring practices and opt for a more diverse approach to recruitment.
- Lack of innovation. A diverse workforce is one that’s ripe for innovation — novel ideas emerge when a variety of minds come together. Stagnation or an unchanging status quo at your organization demonstrates a lack of thought diversity and a pressing need to include new and different perspectives on your team.
- Not all voices are heard. If you rarely hear from your marginalized employees, it might be a sign that they feel uncomfortable speaking up in group settings. This shows that your organization either prioritizes the ideas and opinions of the dominant culture or actively silences the underrepresented members on your team.
How to improve diversity in the workplace
Recognizing a lack of diversity in your organization is just the first step. Here are a few ways you, as a leader, can work to improve it.
- Call it out. Addressing the issue always begins with acknowledgment and accountability. If your organization has a homogenous culture and non-diverse hiring practices, call it out and follow up with actionable steps towards change.
- Create internal positions devoted to DEI. Having one or multiple positions that are solely dedicated to advancing diversity promotes accountability at the organizational and individual levels. According to the Harvard Business Review, companies with diversity managers on staff see a 7 to 18 percent increase in diversity across managerial roles within 5 years.
- Implement a workforce education program. Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have extremely limited access to higher education. Business leaders can help to promote equity for underserved employees by providing access to learning and development initiatives through a dedicated workforce education program.
Explore more: Advancing diversity in the workplace starts from the top down. Learn what you need to make the business case for your strategy to your company leadership.
Examples of diversity in the workplace
Big names across a variety of industries are already taking steps towards furthering diversity — and they’re getting recognized for it.
Technology giant Adobe is “built on the foundation that our people and how we treat one another are what make us a great company,” according to CEO Shantanu Narayen. And the company puts the work in to make that statement true. “Adobe for All” is its latest diversity initiative which empowers current and future employees through educational benefits, and a commitment to creating positive social change.
Another example is Aramark, the global leader in food services and facilities management. Despite already having a corporate tuition assistance program, Aramark was looking to expand its workforce education offering to better serve its diverse frontline employees, a majority of whom identify as people of color and/or women. The company launched its “Frontline Education Program” in October 2019 as a way to provide further access to education and meaningful career paths to all of its employees.
How to contribute to diversity in the workplace
Here are some steps you should take to help advance diversity at your company.
- Implement diversity initiatives from the top down. A more diverse C-suite helps to drive diversity throughout the entire organization. The hiring, training and/or development programs you create around DEI should start with your executive leadership team.
- Integrate DEI into everyday life. Fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive company culture doesn’t happen overnight, but taking steps towards this should be a top priority. Be transparent and communicate openly with your employees about your plans for change.
- Align the business case with the human case. Don’t lose sight of why diversity matters in the first place. Empowering all of your employees and boosting engagement through a safe, supportive and inclusive work environment should be the primary objective of your efforts. Increasing your bottom line can come later.
How to measure diversity in the workplace
Once you have your diversity initiatives set in motion, you have to have a plan for measuring their success. Here are some key high-level metrics that will help you keep track.
- Retention. Are your marginalized employees remaining on staff after you’ve hired them? Are they engaged and actively contributing to your organization?
- Internal mobility. Who is moving up in your company? Which team members are submitting themselves for promotion? Are pay raises happening equitably across all demographics at your company?
- Talent development. Do your employees feel adequately skilled for their current position? Do they feel they’re being given access to learning opportunities that will help them advance? Are your workforce education programs being utilized to their full potential?
A diverse, equitable and inclusive working environment has the power to change the lives of your employees and benefit every facet of your organization. And while it may be true that promoting diversity is a collective responsibility, corporations are in a uniquely capable position to drive change at scale and create a better future for their employees.
To learn more about how your organization can better support its underrepresented employees, download our e-book, How to advance DEI with skill-building.