Diversity, equity, and inclusion have increasingly become a business priority over the past several years. However, the racial and political unrest of the previous year marked a turning point where organizations had to stop merely talking about it and start taking action.
Building a strategy around such a sensitive topic can be daunting for leaders at all levels. Fortunately, even small steps to diversify workforces and improve workplace culture for marginalized communities can make a measurable impact.
The approach is relatively simple: 1) listen to your employees by proactively soliciting feedback about their experience at work, and 2) intentionally act on that feedback with science-backed approaches to employee development and behavior.
But how do you incorporate that into your existing people practices? In this article, we’ll share five actionable steps to help you start building a successful DEI approach into your people strategy and make a meaningful impact.
1. Ensure leadership understands the value of DEI
In the wake of current events, it shouldn’t be hard to convince your leaders that DEI is a priority. But to secure support, leaders must be consistently reminded that DEI practices shape every part of an organization with a proven business impact. Organizations have consistently seen that an effort to ‘do the right thing,’ proves to benefit their bottom line.
Research shows demographically diverse workplaces perform better than their counterparts on a range of metrics from innovation to market expansion to productivity to problem-solving. The McKinsey ‘Diversity Wins’ study reports “companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36% in profitability.” There’s no shortage of proof points, and it’s important to get your entire organization bought in from the top down if you want to ensure your initiatives are successful.
Consider hosting leadership meetings specifically designed to foster discussion about DEI. This will help them to feel more comfortable talking about an uncomfortable topic and serves as a foundation for further discussions around progress, metrics, and strategy.
There’s often a lot of discomfort in acknowledging our weaknesses and sharing them with the organization. But encouraging leaders to name that discomfort and acknowledge that discomfort is growth is a necessary part of the process.
2. Collect meaningful demographic data
Before a company can create a viable DEI strategy, it’s critical to understand the makeup of your workforce. According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations that collect in-depth workplace demographic data are able to craft more inclusive cultures.
There are many ways to glean this information, in fact, companies keep demographic datasets without even realizing it – like information from job applications. DEI surveys also provide critical insights at the company and department levels across various demographic segments. This data can be utilized to better understand where you’re starting from, identify discrepancies in sentiment among different employee segments, and track progress over time.
Goal-setting must be tailored to individual workplaces, and gathering data is just the start. Tapping into the employees who have demonstrated an appetite for involvement and asking them what’s important to them can also help to make an impact where it matters most in the organization.
Not sure how to get started? Learn how to collect and utilize critical demographic data.
3. Identify and mitigate unconscious biases
Gathering information is a crucial first step, but there are systemic norms that need to be addressed. For example, white men have been in positions of power for centuries, so data gathering methods tend to primarily reflect their perspective. In fact, it’s so pervasive that The Guardian reported that race and gender stereotypes are even baked into AI technology.
Bias can also have a major impact on performance management by inflating or deflating employee ratings. While mandatory bias training should happen company-wide, effective bias mitigation is not a one-and-done process. High quality and timely performance feedback is critical for professional development and ultimately career advancement.
Identifying areas where biases are operating in your organization’s culture can be difficult considering how they’re often subtly ingrained in how we are taught to work. Don’t be afraid to call out these subtle instances and ask for feedback. As these conversations become normalized, this awareness naturally becomes a part of the culture.
4. Identify your “North Star” DEI metrics
While slicing the data can help you understand various facets of diversity in your organization, it’s important to start simple and identify a clear indicator of success. One useful signifier could be the measure of diverse representation in leadership. The leadership team, from the manager level up to director and VP, should serve as a model for individual contributors to envision themselves moving up.
Further, avoid looking at your organization as a whole – especially when first starting out. Often you have a more diverse slate of talent at lower levels. By segmenting data by various employee subsets, you can easily highlight disparities between groups. This will surface areas where underrepresented groups feel a sense of belonging as well as where they see opportunities for improvement.
5. Don’t wait to get started
During periods of high growth, companies need to hire quickly and effectively. In the hurry to fill roles, recruiters so often miss opportunities to tap into diverse talent pools. Talent acquisition teams should start building relationships with diverse communities and resources before they need them. That way, the foundation is in place when it’s time to hire at scale.
With the right relationships, HR teams can fill the pipeline with candidates before there’s even a job posted and avoid leaning on traditional and easy talent pools that perpetuate a homogenous workforce.
Building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture takes time and intention. But it’s no longer a “nice to have.” Candidates, consumers, and employees are demanding better business practices, and with the proven return on investment there’s no excuse not to. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, people scientists have long been establishing proven tools, methods, and resources to accomplish the task at hand, and even small steps can make a big impact.