Blog Post

How To Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Published December 2, 2022 | by Groundswell | 7 mins read
diverse group hands together

It’s easy enough to incorporate DEI into your values statement and add a page or two to your website. But like every other aspect of your business, when it comes to implementation, things can get a bit more complicated. If you find yourself wondering how to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the real world, you are not alone.

The good news is, however, that it can be done. It’s worth getting it right, too, because the rewards will come. For many companies, it’s not just a matter of sentiment. In fact, diversity doesn’t always feel warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it can feel a little uncomfortable. But that’s when you know it’s working and you’re reaping the benefits.

In today’s climate, diversity, equity and inclusion matter. In this article, you’ll not only learn more about why it matters, but you’ll also understand how it feels. Finally, we’ll give you some ideas on how to promote DEI in the workplace.

Why DEI Matters

The data just keeps stacking up. Diversity is good for your business. Of course, DEI is competing with a myriad of other business imperatives. But when it comes to cultivating a high-performing organization, there are many compelling reasons that DEI should garner attention. Diverse teams are more engaged and productive. The best teams are adept at problem-solving and spawning innovation. Teams that are gender diverse are powerhouses, but teams that mix ethnic backgrounds? Even better.

Yet many organizations simply have not matured in their DEI efforts so that they can reap the full benefits. In a 2022 HR Research Institute survey, although 44% of respondents said that their organization’s DEI initiative plays a role in strategic planning, just 9% of companies said that the effort was very effective. That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. The 2020 Census revealed that nearly half of the population under the age of 18 identify as something other than white. Companies that invest resources into their DEI initiatives will be able to reap long-term benefits. Those that do not will fall behind.

Forget About How It Looks. What Does DEI Feel Like?

Diversity is something you can try to quantify. But the numbers alone are not enough. In order to get the benefits from your DEI efforts, you need to cultivate an equitable and inclusive work environment. In short, this means that employees feel a sense of belonging. While there are various reasons employees give when asked why they feel they do not belong, researchers at Columbia Business School say it comes down to “identity threat.” 

Identity threat is anything that makes someone feel different than others. This can be relatively minor, such as when a manager talks to a group of low-income employees about vacationing in Italy. It also includes micro-aggressions, such as when a highly qualified Black manager is told that she is “so articulate.” Researchers found that participants reported an average of 11 such experiences a week. 

Although identity threat is associated with feeling excluded, that isn’t all. More importantly, individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work. Predictably, this leads to discontent and may explain why some companies lose diverse employees as quickly as they bring them on. 

How To Get the Most Out of DEI Efforts

DEI isn’t about walking on eggshells. However, it does require that managers think more deeply about how to root out systemic and institutional biases. Laying blame on groups or individuals for implicit biases doesn’t help, nor does it ingratiate employees to the cause. Either they feel exonerated because their biases are not their fault, or they feel blamed because they have chosen to embrace their biases. 

We all have biases, implicit or otherwise. The larger problem is that some of the most harmful biases are ingrained in the policies of our institutions. So it helps to think broadly about what must change. Tackle the big issues and the smaller issues start to fade. It is apparently what has happened in the gay and lesbian community. 

As more people came out, the idea became less foreign. More connections, or the “contact hypothesis” as psychologists have called it, led to greater acceptance and the shedding of biases. The same thing can happen in the workplace.

Meanwhile, here are five ways to systemically promote DEI in the workplace.

Examine Your Company Policies

When you created your company DEI policy, you may have reviewed other policies to ensure alignment. Go back and revisit those documents with a fresh eye. 

There may be bias embedded in these policies that you didn’t recognize. Or perhaps you need additional guidelines. For example, many diverse employees may be primary caregivers. Does your leave policy take this into account?

Promote Pay Equity

According to the HR Research survey, just 9% of companies say that equitable pay is a top priority for executives. The gender pay gap still exists in 94% of all occupations. During the pandemic, women were net losers, dropping out of the workforce in record numbers, exacerbating inequities that existed pre-COVID. There is no better time to refocus on pay equity.

Train Often

DEI training should never be considered complete. You don’t need to throw out your bias training. But remember the big picture. Focus on how inequities are built into systems. The goal is to raise the overall level of cultural sensitivity and reflect these values systemically. 

It helps if senior executives split their attendance among multiple sessions and offer kudos, both publicly and privately, to employees who are there. Offer refresher courses annually and reward participation so that everybody attends. 

Mix Things Up

Ensure that teams, workgroups and task forces are diverse. Bring lower-level employees into executive meetings when possible. Encourage groups to participate across functions and include upper management when it seems appropriate. 

Mixing things up can feel uncomfortable. But this is how new and different ideas emerge. Promote your best team leaders — those that ensure that all team members feel included and heard.

Facilitate Feedback

It’s essential to understand how diversity is working in your company. It’s also essential for diverse employees to receive feedback. 

Giving feedback is a difficult job for many managers. They may be especially reluctant to offer feedback to diverse employees. This means that diverse employees receive less mentoring and guidance and fewer opportunities to make course corrections and advance in the organization. 

Ensure that the feedback conversation is a two-way conversation. Train your managers as needed. 

Support Nonprofits

Align your philanthropic activities to support nonprofits that improve diverse communities. Remember that people like to work for companies that share their values. When you provide matching donations, as well, it democratizes the process so that every employee can have a voice. 

There are many benefits that accrue to businesses that figure out how to build a truly inclusive culture. With a proactive approach, your company can push your DEI initiative beyond the numbers and retain the diverse talent it attracts

If you need a better way to set up and manage your corporate giving program, Groundswell can help. We can get your program up and running fast, providing an excellent giving experience for your employees.

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