Some may see diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace as the latest set of HR buzzwords. Others see it simply as “the right thing to do.” But the savviest employers see it for what it really is: a great opportunity to cultivate belonging for everyone.
Focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and fully integrating them into a company’s core values gives businesses a boost. It also helps employees, customers and communities to thrive and creates a cycle of positivity that benefits all involved.
But what do sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion programs look like, exactly? What are the measurable benefits? And how can you put them into action?
DEI at work: a broad definition
Diversity is the presence of differences, but it is much more than the visible differences among people. It goes beyond age, race, gender, sexual orientation, apparent and non-apparent disabilities, cultural background, nationality, and other factors that typically come to mind.
Equity is the process of ensuring that systems and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual.
Inclusion is the practice of making sure that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace.
Alf Mendez, vice president of experience and inclusion at Robert Half, emphasizes the need to acknowledge that differences include varying worldviews, perspectives, opinions and approaches to problem solving and decision making — and should all be considered under the DEI umbrella.
There are also differences in personality, work style, family composition, education and experience level to acknowledge. Giving a voice — and the opportunity to be heard — to people with a diverse set of personal and professional backgrounds is key to reaping the benefits of workplace diversity and an inclusive culture.
The value of an inclusive workforce
“We lead with inclusion at Robert Half, and it encompasses everybody. It’s not just historically underrepresented groups,” Mendez says. At its core, inclusion means everyone from interns to executives is welcome to engage in everything from conversations about business initiatives to casual chats, either in person or via video conferencing apps.
But it also means fostering a collaborative and welcoming environment that recognizes good ideas come from each of us and respects all viewpoints. “When you have an inclusive mindset, it makes diversity approachable and brings it from concept into a living, breathing reality,” Mendez says.
One advantage of inclusion comes from the sense of empowerment it instills. “When we feel included — not just a seat at the table but where our perspectives and views are being heard — we’re then motivated to participate to greater extents and at deeper levels,” Mendez says. “We then take ownership and strive for excellence where some might otherwise be content doing a perfectly adequate job.”
How to get a DEI boost
How can you motivate your employees to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion at work — and reap the rewards it brings? Consider these tips:
It has to hit every corner of your company and go beyond lip service. DEI at work is more than a set of boxes to check, and it’s a mentality that should reach from top executives to individual contributors.
A great way to spread that mindset is to lead by example — and call attention to what you’re doing and why, at least at first. Employees and managers alike should not only welcome but also seek out diverse voices to weigh in on business initiatives and projects of all types.
Showing the team your openness to everybody’s input and the good ideas that come from it will go a long way toward ingraining it within everybody — and assuaging any resistance.
If employees feel safe expressing ideas and viewpoints, they’ll be encouraged to think boldly. The concept of bringing your whole self to work without fear or shame — acknowledging vulnerabilities right along with strengths — increases bonds between team members and shines a positive light on the differences everyone brings.
You always want to hire the best available person for the job but leave any potential bias regarding who the best candidate is behind. Having a diverse set of hiring managers or interviewers helps cut through unconscious bias.
Also, consider your existing team. Is it lacking a gender perspective? That might tip the balance if it’s a close call among top contenders.
Going hand-in-hand with diverse hiring practices is keeping an eye on who’s rising in your company’s ranks and taking care not to end up with imbalances. Promoting diversely leads to well-roundedness in management.
Spread the word about the benefits of workplace diversity and inclusion
A company culture where every voice is welcomed — and truly heard — encourages people from diverse professional and personal backgrounds to apply to your open positions.
Highlighting your DEI efforts and any outside recognition you’ve received on your website and in job descriptions sends a strong message. Posting opportunities on diversity-focused job boards, such as Diversity Jobs and Diversity Working, also helps to attract a wide range of applicants.
Practice pay equity
Discrepancies in pay equality drive a wedge between segments of your workforce. Perception can also come into play, especially if certain groups of employees receive more recognition than others. Spread the wealth and the appreciation to encourage cohesion.
Make it multigenerational
With age presumably comes experience and wisdom, but with youth comes different perspectives and innovation. Include workers of all ages and experience levels in projects for an approach that covers all angles. And while you’re at it, get varying voices regarding gender, race and more involved, too.
“Inclusion and diversity — individually and collectively — help make people better, professionally and personally,” Mendez says. And with teams aware, engaged and motivated, your company stands to gain in myriad ways, possibly even beyond current thinking and statistics.
See this post for more insight on how promoting team diversity can benefit your business.