How To Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

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.

What Is “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”?

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. The concepts aren’t new but they’re more important than ever. Most companies have some sort of DEI initiative. But diversity, equity and inclusion in today’s workplace go beyond the concept of equality. Whether you’re looking to optimize the framework you already have or are starting from the beginning, it’s good to understand DEI in greater detail. As the world becomes increasingly diverse, DEI is a business imperative. 

The Components of DEI

So, if DEI is not equality, what is it? It’s perhaps best to address that question by first understanding each of the components of DEI and how they look in action.

What Is Diversity?

Workplace diversity starts with hiring people from different backgrounds and life experiences. Although early definitions centered around race and gender, diversity also applies to ethnicity, age, sexuality, language, background, education, personality traits and more. And it’s not just about bringing in diverse people, it’s also about ensuring that these valuable employees can participate and contribute in ways that benefit the individual, the company and society at large. 

What Is Equity?

Equity is a term frequently conflated with equality. The terms are similar but when companies pursue equality over equity the outcomes will be strikingly different. Equality is about treating everyone the same regardless of what they need to succeed and despite the systemic inequities that have existed for generations. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that historically unequal access is inherent in economic, educational and social structures. So what’s required is the application of different methods so that everyone has an opportunity to succeed. That’s how equity differs.

What Is Inclusion?

When the workplace is inclusive, employees feel valued and accepted as part of the larger organization. It happens without them having to become something they are not. Inclusive companies celebrate and encourage diverse ideas and approaches, giving everyone the same opportunities for advancement.

What Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Looks Like

As useful as it is to understand what DEI is, it’s equally important to understand what DEI is not. Superficial treatments of DEI initiatives predictably lead to less-than-stellar outcomes. Here are a few examples.

This is DEI:

  • A visually impaired worker is given a large, high-quality monitor and other low-vision accommodations.

This is not:

  • The weekly staff meeting is always held in the late afternoon even though the single parent who must attend has a childcare issue. 

This is DEI:

  • Resume screening during the hiring process is blind, eliminating names and addresses.

This is not:

  • Job candidate information on the resume helps decision makers identify candidates by gender, race, ethnicity or neighborhood. 

This is DEI:

  • The company conducts a regular pay gap analysis to ensure gender pay e quality.

This is not: 

  • Salaries are never included in job postings despite suspected discrepancies between men and women. 

This is DEI:

  • Religious and cultural holidays are acknowledged and employees are automatically given the time off to observe these occasions.

This is not:

  • The company holds a yearly Christmas party and other holidays, like Rosh Hashana, pass by without mention.

It’s not unusual for management to feel overwhelmed by the number of small details that impact their DEI efforts. It can seem impossible to do everything. It’s important to remember, however, that small gestures go a long way toward ensuring that DEI is ingrained in the culture and is a responsibility assumed by all, not just a yearly check-box initiative. Once DEI becomes business as usual, it will be as natural as taking a breath. When that happens, you’ll reap the benefits that accrue to a truly diverse organization.

How To Set Up DEI Strategy That Actually Works

Diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t new, but it’s more important now than ever before. That’s because the world is changing and so is the marketplace. Companies need diversity to innovate and grow to meet evolving needs. Diversity is important in the upper ranks, as well. In fact, when it comes to gender, companies in the top quartile of diversity are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the bottom quartile. 

Companies that currently have a DEI initiative can optimize it to ensure that it accomplishes their objectives. Those with no DEI framework can ensure that they build in certain components from the beginning. 

Here’s how to set up a strategy that works:

Start From the Top

A committed DEI program must have committed leaders. You don’t just need a sponsor; you need a top-down commitment to make change a priority. Your DEI effort goes beyond lip service. It changes the way employees work together. Tie DEI goals into your company objectives and values. That means that in addition to organizational data and metrics that really matter, you’ll need someone to hold managers accountable for meeting the objectives of the program.

Hire Good Resources 

Ensure that you put the right people in place. You may have the people internally to lead the effort but it never hurts to bring in outside consultants to facilitate the setup. DEI conversations can be tricky and the last thing you want is a ham-fisted approach that puts the people you need most on the defensive. DEI is going to be everyone’s job. 

Find Mechanisms to Expand the Dialogue 

Every good DEI initiative begins with a conversation. You’ll need to keep the conversation uplifting and productive. Affinity groups can help. They can give a voice to those who are underrepresented, provide input into critical decision-making processes, and help companies decide how and when to weigh in on important social issues. 

Recognize the Culture Change

DEI is a cultural change in most companies. You’ll need to examine your systems and policies, your language and even your values. Diversity doesn’t just happen. Companies that are diverse and inclusive get there through a series of deliberate and proactive decisions. There are reasons why there may not be qualified people from every community and identity in your workplace and why, when they do come, the outcomes may not be as expected. Culture change will require aligned systems to support the beliefs and behaviors you want to instill.

Find a Common Cause

Companies that truly believe in diversity reflect those values by showing up in the communities they serve. One of the best ways to participate in the many underserved world communities is through philanthropic activities. Such efforts are good for humanity, good for the planet and a great way to engage employees. It can be a challenge to find something the company can do together to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion values. Groundswell is one way to make giving an employee benefit as well as to embrace diversity as a corporate value.

Groundswell can get your corporate giving program up and running effortlessly. No more tracking of donation receipts or vetting nonprofits. Each employee is set up with a personal giving account established just for them. It works just similar to a 401(k), only it’s for charitable giving. Now your company can easily support diverse perspectives with a giving program that is equitable and inclusive.

Diversity Is Increasing. Are You Ready?

In the years to come, the people you hire will be increasingly diverse, coming from different backgrounds and life experiences. This diverse perspective will help shape both your culture and your destiny. Your company will need to invest time and energy to yield the benefits promised. 

In the ever-changing business landscape, companies must be able to adapt and evolve. The concepts of diversity and inclusion are not new, but are becoming more important than ever before. With a diverse group of employees, companies can gain new perspectives, learn from one another and become stronger as a result. Start today with Groundswell.

Is Your Donation Matching Program Inclusive and Equitable? Probably Not.

Corporate employee gift matching – where an employer matches an employee’s gift to a charity – has been a mainstay of major companies for decades. It has unlocked billions of dollars of community funding and helped donors double their impact. It’s also inequitable and lacks inclusion as matching programs currently operate. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

But first, a history lesson.

In many ways and for many reasons, GE is one of America’s most iconic companies – though notably its star has dimmed since its peak several decades ago. GE was born by Thomas Edison, became a founding member of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (where it stayed from 1907 to 2018), and was awarded countless patents for innovation across aviation, healthcare, and energy.

However, an innovation GE rarely gets credit for is its innovation in corporate philanthropy. In 1954, GE rolled out what is often credited as the first workplace-giving program. In the nearly seven decades since GE reports that it has matched over $1.5 billion in employee gifts. That’s an astounding number.

Yet GE’s program has not evolved much since its inception. Sure, it uses a software platform to help facilitate gifts (one that could use a good ol’ fashioned overhaul) and they’ve probably increased the amount they’ll match (it’s currently a generous $5,000 per employee). But the basic construction remains the same – and therein lies the problem.

Today’s standard matching gift program works like this:

An employee gives money to a charity; they then submit that donation receipt to someone on staff (often in HR, finance, or perhaps a dedicated corporate social responsibility or CSR function). That staff member then must vet the charity to ensure it’s a registered 501c3 with the IRS and that it meets the company’s stated program requirements (for example, many companies won’t match gifts to places of worship – like a church – despite them being tax-exempt organizations). Finally, if all goes according to plan, a form is submitted to the accounts payable department and a check is issued from the company to the nonprofit – often weeks or months later.

Many folks would rightfully point out that this process seems like an administrative nightmare – and it is, both for the employee and the employer.  But what’s often not discussed is that it is also by nature exclusionary and therefore inequitable.

How so? Let me explain.

The existing process – even if supported and enabled by software platforms that ease (but don’t eliminate) some of the administrative burdens – requires the employee to disclose where they have given to charity. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem – how else would the employer know where to send the matching money? But spend a moment and imagine all the reasons that someone may not want their employer or work colleagues to know the specific charities you are supporting.

For many people, their philanthropy is deeply personal and inspired by lived experiences. An employee that grew up in an abusive household may support a local domestic abuse shelter. A member of the LGTBQ community that is not yet open about their sexuality certainly wouldn’t want their coworkers knowing they support the Trevor Project. A recovering alcoholic may not want to submit the receipt for their monthly donation to Alcoholics Anonymous.

So what happens?

They simply don’t participate. They feel excluded.

The inequity is further exacerbated when companies determine that some causes or issues are worth matching, but others are not. In GE’s example, the determination that the company will not match contributions to houses of worship – churches, synagogues, mosques, and others – is akin to telling GE’s employees that what matters to them is not worth matching.

Now, we should be fair to GE. Because of GE’s matching program design, any matches sent to charities are coming from GE. Iconic brands like GE must be very careful in creating a perception that they are affiliated with or endorse any specific organization, or in this case, faith. That’s certainly reasonable – but it’s demotivating to the practicing Catholic who dutifully tithes 10% of her paycheck each week to her church.

(As a disclaimer, we draw the line at any nonprofit, religious or not, that stands for hate, and you won’t find any classified hate groups available to fund in the Groundswell app.)

Essentially, today’s standard matching program makes about as much sense as if an employer chose not to deposit employees’ paychecks into bank accounts, but instead forced those employees to submit receipts for all of their expenses so that their cost of living could be reimbursed. How comfortable would you be with inviting someone into your personal life in that fashion?

So is there a better way? Yes, there is.

Modern matching programs must evolve to reflect the capabilities of our modern tax and financial technology ecosystem. Groundswell ( is doing this by making donor-advised funds (DAFs) accessible to anyone, and by specifically creating a corporate benefits platform that provides one to employees. By providing employees with Personal Giving Accounts built on top of donor-advised funds, our platform can disaggregate someone’s decision to be charitable (the moment they contribute to their Groundswell account) from their decision on what charity to support (sending their Groundswell funds to a nonprofit).  

With Groundswell, employees contribute to their Personal Giving Account and companies can match those contributions according to their matching program rules. At that point, the employee controls the funds – they can direct the full amount to whatever qualifying charity they choose when they choose.

Because funds sent to charities are distributed by the Groundswell Charitable Foundation, companies no longer have to restrict where their employees give – because the company is never directly associated with the gift.

Information provided back to the employer is anonymized. They will know all the charities that were supported but will not be able to associate them with individual employees. The result is that companies can better understand what their employees truly value, without violating their privacy.

With Groundswell, employers can take meaningful action that drives home their commitment to DE&I initiatives while providing a unique employee benefit that allows employees to freely be their authentic, charitable selves.

Let’s have a conversation – what do you think?