Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategies

Multicolored game pieces represent diversity, equity, and inclusion.

This post is co-authored by Brian Bruce, Allyson Cline, Vira Trevino-Garcia, and Sweta Patel.

Four Strategies for Promoting Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Businesses that exemplify diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are overwhelmingly more successful than those that do not. Most people have long believed this statement to be true and the mountain of evidence that supports it continues to grow higher. It’s clear that promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is not only the right thing for businesses to do but also the smart thing. Recent findings regarding the positive business outcomes of DE&I include:

  • Diverse companies’ cash flows are 2.3 times higher than those of companies with more uniformity. – McKinsey – Why Diversity Matters
  • Organizations with above-average gender diversity and levels of employee engagement outperform companies with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 58%. – Fast Company
  • Companies with higher-than-average diversity show 19% higher innovation revenues. Harvard Business Review

DE&I Awareness and Implementation

What’s also clear is that many organizations find it challenging to carry out or get started with DE&I initiatives in their workplaces. This is, in part, because assessing the level of diversity and inclusiveness in one’s self and wider workplace requires a necessary but sometimes-uncomfortable degree of reflection about individual and group biases, intrinsic beliefs, and organizational practices and processes.

Inaction also happens when executive teams and leaders willfully or wrongly believe that “everything is fine” with their organization’s diversity and inclusiveness – while some employees feel altogether differently. DE&I problems persist even when leaders don’t observe or feel them. These lapses in self, situational, and organizational awareness often arise innocently, but nonetheless can take a heavy toll on others. Here’s an anonymized but actual example:

A senior executive casually lamented to one of his female direct reports that another female employee overreacted to him angrily confronting her about a situation involving her department. His direct report replied, “You’re around 6’4” and 240-ish pounds, right? You may want to consider that you’ve never been a smaller female in a room with an angry man who is that much bigger than you and in a position of power before.” This perspective, one that he had not considered before, helped him recognize how his own actions and biases negatively impacted this employee.

When employees feel undervalued, underrepresented, and an absence of relatability to their leaders and organization, negative outcomes occur. Below, we look at four strategies leaders can employ to improve and ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion in their businesses.

Build a culture where everyone feels heard and respected.

A strong and healthy culture is essential for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Because culture starts with leadership, leaders must first create a climate where input, feedback, and differing perspectives are wanted, welcomed, and intentionally sought from every individual at each level of the organization. Leaders must instill this tenet throughout the business, reinforce it, and call attention to any actions that run counter to it. How well the organization can sustain this ideal over time through behaviors and actions will determine how deeply it will run in the fabric of their culture. Organizations that develop this kind of culture find that many problems that persisted previously naturally fade away.

Create flexible and remote work opportunities whenever possible.

Providing work delivery models and opportunities that fit the widest practical array of individual worker needs and family dynamics will likewise open organizations to the widest pool of available talent. People want to work for organizations that value their contributions and demonstrate a willingness to adapt in order to have them as part of the business. With remote work, location bias that can occur when companies are located in areas that might be unaffordable or impractical for some to live in or commute to is also minimized. Leaders must be mindful of and attentive to equitable treatment for all (e.g. compensation differences across geographies), but the additional vigilance required is usually far outweighed by the positive outcomes of this strategy.

Be intentional about communication and education.

Honest and open dialogue between people with different views and backgrounds increases understanding and empathy, challenges biases, and reduces unspoken fears. Leaders and managers need to be out front in creating a safe space where this dialogue can occur. This is easier said than done, however. For executive teams comprised of largely homogenous leaders, it can be very difficult to understand the individualized perspectives of others and then actively apply that understanding in decision making and in-the-moment interactions. That’s why education and communication are vital. Being intentional about these interactions means recognizing that they may rest outside of one’s comfort zones, but deliberately engaging anyway because it is so important to do so.

Provide complete openness in opportunities, not quotas over quality.

It can be tempting for leaders to react to real or perceived diversity, equity, and inclusion issues by artificially or forcibly adjusting the representative makeup of their organization or executive team. Hiring goals may shift diversity metrics but promoting employees and recruiting new workers based on checking a box is not what DE&I is about. In fact, checking-the-box approaches can have a significantly negative effect when less qualified individuals from underrepresented groups are recruited or promoted. This happens because these employees are not being set up for success and any performance issues or capability gaps they show may perpetuate misperceptions that go against intentions. Actively demonstrate and emphasize organizational openness, that people of all types and backgrounds are wanted, welcomed, and needed, and make merit-based decisions.

Ensuring DE&I Traction and Supporting Success

When leaders acknowledge and recognize diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in their businesses, they show vulnerability and authenticity in a way that is welcomed by employees. What really matters is actions and real change stemming from this recognition. As leaders work to instill higher degrees of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations, feedback from employees must be regularly sought to gauge progress. This feedback should occur across a variety of mediums – from employee surveys to one-to-one conversations, to open discussion forums, and more.

When organizations commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion and make it part of who they are, good things happen. Employees are happier, engage effectively, innovate with ideas, and bring out the best in others. As a result, business booms, objectives are achieved, and values are strengthened.

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