What Is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? Understanding DEI Initiatives

Photo Courtesy: Nanzeeba Ibnat/iStock

Diversity, equity, inclusion: three words that are gaining more attention as time passes. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are increasingly common in workplaces, particularly as the benefits of instituting them become clearer. However, many professionals still don’t know what DEI programs involve. Here, we’re delving into the full scope of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and examining why they’re so essential. 

What Is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)?

In the simplest sense, DEI initiatives are programs and policies that aim to promote representation and encourage participation from employees from all walks of life. Often, the goal is to create a company culture where people of all genders, ages, races, religions, abilities, identities and sexual orientations feel welcome, supported, and valued. All of this, of course, leads to both a more productive and happier workplace.

Diversity generally refers to having a workforce composed of professionals with different backgrounds — of folks who fall into a range of demographic categories. After all, your specific lived experience allows you access to a unique perspective and may shape your priorities, goals and values. If we place an emphasis on diversity, we can create a more thoughtful, all-encompassing environment. 

Equity relates to fairness and impartiality, but it also acknowledges that we aren’t all starting from the same place. While equality asserts that we should all be treated the same and given the same access and opportunities, equity efforts acknowledge that some folks face more barriers than others. In order for equality to be achieved, we must prioritize equity so that everyone can have the chance to participate fully and find success. 

Inclusion is all about creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable being themselves. In a truly inclusive space — one that embraces people for their differences — we can work to eliminate implicit bias (or unconscious bias) and discrimination. 

Why DEI Initiatives Are Essential

Many people may think that diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives aren’t necessary, mainly because there are laws against discrimination. However, in reality, many folks aren’t protected from bias or discrimination. Moreover, many companies don’t currently have a makeup that’s conducive to fostering diversity and/or inclusion. So, having a plan is helpful; with a clear direction, achieving DEI-related goals becomes more probable. 

After all, DEI initiatives allow businesses to take strategic action to improve the company culture and reach their related goals. Moreover, having a DEI plan formalizes the employer’s commitment to these values and helps everyone identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that monitor the company’s progress. Setting targets, of course, helps us all measure success. Plus, a formal DEI plan creates opportunities to outline consequences for those who fail to meet expectations in regard to equitable and inclusive treatment.

The Benefits of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace

While creating an environment where everyone feels welcome and supported is certainly its own reward, there are benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace that extend beyond that, too. One of the biggest is improved company performance; companies that lead the way when it comes to ethnic and racial diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform the industry average.

Additionally, diverse organizations are 70 percent more likely to capture new markets, while diverse management teams secure 19 percent higher revenue on average. Inclusive companies are also 1.7 times more likely to be innovative and capture 2.3 times more cash flow per worker. Not to mention, inclusion boosts retention, too.

Ways to Implement DEI Practices in the Workplace

Start with Training

As with most things in the workplace, it’s wise to incorporate training into the mix. Teaching employees and managers about the importance of DEI, exploring concepts like unconscious bias, and providing mechanisms for identifying and reporting or addressing issues lays a strong foundation. Plus, it makes the company’s commitment clear and creates opportunities for introducing new policies that impact the workforce.

Update Hiring Practices

Having a hiring process that supports your diversity, equity and inclusion goals is essential if your company is going to actually make progress. Begin by reviewing all of your job descriptions; be sure to use inclusive language — for example, remove all gendered terminology or phrasing — so that no one feels unwelcome to apply. 

Next, simplify your application process and prioritize accessibility. For some disabled people, the barriers to attaining a job begin during the application process. Additionally, using a “blind” resume screening process, creating standardized interview questions, and using diverse hiring panels to reduce the impact of bias, unconscious or otherwise, are all musts. Finally, develop a candidate scoring system to track their performance. That way, the job seeker who’s genuinely the best fit will rise to the top.

Have Defined Processes

When it comes to accessing opportunities, having defined processes makes a difference. If the road to training, career-boosting projects, or promotions is clearly outlined, every employee will have the same chance to excel. This also reduces the odds that some workers will be favored over others, either intentionally or incidentally. Plus, it eliminates any confusion about what it takes to grow and advance.

Embrace Data Surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Data is a potent tool when you need to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in your workplace. It can help you spot discrepancies that aren’t otherwise obvious, thus creating opportunities to make adjustments and achieve your goals.

For example, you can compare the composition of your workforce to that of your local community. Similarly, you can run salary and benefits comparisons to see if there’s a disparity. As you make DEI-related changes, you can also use data to monitor your progress. By identifying associated KPIs and tracking them, you can see if various efforts are making a difference. If not, then you know further changes are in order. If so, you can stay the course — or take other actions to capture more forward momentum.

Talk to Your Workforce

In some cases, company managers think they know what employees need to feel welcome and supported when they actually have no idea whatsoever. If there isn’t a company leader with a similar perspective, then those making the decisions may be simply guessing about what changes will have a positive impact.

If you want to see notable DEI improvements, talking to your workforce is your best bet. Learn about their experience, ask about hurdles, gather information about negative interactions, and find out what they need to be at their best. By doing so, you can typically discover far more than you would any other way, allowing you to become a facilitator for meaningful change.