The working world has spoken: Employees want to be part of organizations that value and support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But they won’t accept lip service. They want employers to put actions behind their words. And they want DEI programs that make a real difference.
Of course, this makes sense. When DEI programs aren’t genuine, they won’t have merit or promote lasting change. But with a sincere, consistent effort, organizations can expect to see plenty of benefits.
The Benefits of Effective DEI Programs
Companies that make a conscious effort to recruit a diverse pool of qualified candidates tend to attract more applicants, overall. In fact, Glassdoor research says two-thirds of job seekers actively look for potential employers that encourage workforce diversity.
What kind of signals matter? For example, consider the proportion of top performers on your staff with diverse backgrounds. When that proportion is high, it indicates that diverse representation will rise to leadership levels in the future. This sends a clear message that opportunity is open to current and potential employees.
A thoughtful, transparent approach to diversity has other benefits, as well. For instance, individuals can see how colleagues are helping their organization grow from within, both formally and informally. Through employer-sponsored professional development programs, employees from diverse backgrounds can learn and apply new skills that will help them take on more responsibility. Along the way, they can contribute to cultural change and even help the organization better align its products and services with evolving market needs.
The Challenges of Establishing DEI Programs
Many employers want to construct a welcoming culture that feels inclusive and equitable for all. So, why aren’t more DEI programs flourishing? What’s getting in the way? Too often, companies make bold statements about their DEI intentions. Then when implementing those plans, they stumble.
One reason DEI initiatives falter is that employers want this process to be intentional, comfortable, and intuitive. It sounds reasonable. But the road to understanding and building better bonds with many types of people sometimes means addressing pain points head-on.
When business leaders are concerned about stretching team members beyond their personal comfort zones, they may simply define the DEI outcomes they want to see. However, they don’t go further because they’re unclear about how to help employees be authentic—or how to help them support one another without bias or hesitation.
Although this may seem like a huge obstacle, it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes, what it takes to get started on firm footing is simply the will to implement several pointed strategies. Here are four suggestions:
4 DEI Implementation Pillars
1. Research DEI programs at successful companies
Figuring out how to design your DEI efforts doesn’t have to involve recreating any wheels. It’s easier—and more practical—to find out what others are doing well. Then use that knowledge as a springboard.
For instance, consider Mastercard. This company has been very intentional about expressing a desire to diversify its workforce. Our team at LaunchCode partnered with Mastercard to help the company find candidates from previously untapped, diverse talent pools. Doing this has connected Mastercard with top talent.
To ensure further progress, Mastercard holds regular meetings to discuss hiring efforts that support its corporate DEI goals. The company also sponsors a Women+ program, providing funding for free technical education and career pathways for women.
2. Sponsor on-the-job training about DEI
More educational experiences can help increase awareness, appreciation and adoption of organizational diversity. For example, you could develop training focusing on understanding and managing unconscious bias. Conducting regular DEI training gives people a chance to step back and consider their frame of reference. This can help people identify and let go of their cultural biases, so they can move forward.
Sponsoring topical employee resource groups (ERGs) can also be a useful approach. Starting one of these committees can be as simple as inviting individuals to speak about their experiences and suggest actions they’d like the organization to pursue. Of course, it’s important to host these discussions in safe spaces, whether it’s online, in person or a combination of both. Plus, leaders must do more than just support these events. They must be present and participate. Their visibility reinforces the fact that this isn’t about checking DEI boxes. It’s about transforming the entire organization at all levels.
3. Hire for diversity in leadership
If people at the top of an organization aren’t diverse, employees assume the company must not be committed to DEI. Workers from underrepresented backgrounds may go one step further and assume they have no future with your organization.
This isn’t an uncommon scenario. In fact, in a recent study, more than 75% of people told Harvard Business Review their employer doesn’t have diverse leadership representation. This means there’s an enormous opportunity for most organizations to make fundamental changes to better align their top positions with desired DEI objectives.
Although it may be impossible to change senior leaders until positions become available, an organization can diversify leadership by adjusting representation on its board of directors (or advisory board). It can also be intentional about seeking clients, suppliers and business partners from different backgrounds and experiences.
4. Evaluate pay equity
As of 2021, women were on average, still earning 83 cents for every $1 dollar men earned, according to the American Association of University Women. And Black male workers make 87 cents on the dollar when compared with their white male counterparts. These gender and racial pay disparities reveal that more work lies ahead for those who want to achieve a more equitable work environment.
However, it’s a general “best practice” for human resources professionals to evaluate pay grades across-the-board. After all, employers are expected to pay wages fairly and equitably. DEI can and should be folded into this process.
The objective for pay equity conversations should be to ensure that wages are based exclusively on merit. If you’re unsure how to move the needle on glaring wage gaps, it can be helpful to work with a consulting firm that specializes in this.
The Bottom Line
Above all, it’s important for DEI to mean more than just putting people in seats based on their demographic profile. It is not just a one-and-done “program.” At its best, DEI is a values-based, purpose-driven process that comes not from the top or the bottom, but lives in every layer of your organization. And when everyone genuinely feels ownership of DEI, you’ll begin to see just how powerful it can be.