What Does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mean for HR?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have gained significant importance in the business world, especially due to ongoing issues of racial injustice, social movements, and global crises. There is a growing interest in DEI among various stakeholders, including current employees, potential job candidates, and customers. People now seek to support ethical and socially responsible organisations by investing their time, skills, and money.

These days, businesses understand that implementing strong policies around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not just a nice-to-have but a vital element for personal and organisational success. However, prioritising DEI in HR should be more than just motivated by achieving business goals. HR professionals recognise the significance of providing a positive employee experience, and DEI affects all aspects of the employee journey, such as fair hiring practices, unbiased performance assessments, and other factors.

While most organisations have issued statements favouring diversity and equality, more than simply making a statement is required. Individuals are urging companies to match their words with actions by developing equitable organisations and establishing a culture that prioritises inclusivity in the workplace.

No matter what stage you are at in your efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it can take some work to determine and execute the appropriate next steps. This guide will give you a comprehensive understanding of DEI, offer suggestions for effective practices and available resources, suggest practical approaches for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and explore ways to refine and enhance your approach.

What is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and its terminology has changed over time. Different names have been used to describe the concept, such as EDI, I&D, D&I, JEDI, and DEIB. The goal of DEI is to create a positive work environment for people from diverse backgrounds. Important terms to understand in the DEI field include diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

  • Diversity refers to human distinctions that make each person unique. In DEI, diversity refers to the composition of teams and organisations. 
  • Equity acknowledges and addresses unequal starting points and provides individuals with what they require as individuals.
  • Inclusion involves making individuals feel valued and granting them opportunities and equal rights. In a diverse workplace, disparities exist, and inclusion determines how everyone can feel valued and included.
  • Belonging refers to the feeling of security and support that individuals experience when they feel accepted and identified as part of a particular group or community.

Friction to DEI: Overcoming Implicit Biases

Recognise the impact of implicit bias in DEI discussions in the workplace. Even though individuals and organisations may not intentionally promote unfair or discriminatory practices, they may have unconscious biases due to systemic injustices. UCSF’s Office of Diversity and Outreach defines unconscious bias as social prejudices formed by individuals without their awareness. These biases can affect the employee journey, from hiring decisions to microaggressions. Keep in mind the potential ways in which unconscious bias may manifest.

The importance of diversity in the workplace

Although it’s important to prioritise DEI for its own sake, measurable outcomes can be useful for gaining leadership support for initiatives. Many companies have experienced significant improvements in various areas by focusing on DEI:

  • Inclusive companies are more innovative, according to research by the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose.
  • Diverse teams can provide new perspectives that lead to better and faster decision-making.
  • Good DEI practices are important to over two-thirds of job seekers, according to Glassdoor.
  • McKinsey’s diversity report from 2020 discovered that companies that had a higher representation of gender, cultural, and ethnic diversity were more likely to outperform financially. This information may assist HR teams in gaining executive backing for DEI efforts.
  • Companies can reduce employee turnover by gathering data on employee sentiment and finding ways to retain at-risk groups.

Apart from the measurable advantages, there are also various intangible benefits like a better employer brand, initiatives to promote inclusivity, and improved employee retention and engagement by demonstrating a career pathway for underrepresented groups through diversity in leadership.

DEI best practices

Identifying the most effective approach to improve DEI can be challenging since there are numerous ways to progress. However, there are several low-cost or free options to enhance the DEI strategy right away. This section will provide some essential measures to help recognise the best opportunities to achieve this goal.

  • Gain an understanding of your starting point by actively listening to your employees

To understand your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion status, conducting workplace diversity surveys is important. This will help you identify current problems and opportunities and track improvements over time. However, before conducting these surveys, it’s crucial to avoid assuming what the problems are and instead ask your employees to share their thoughts. It’s crucial to show that you truly hear and acknowledge their concerns and priorities. Additionally, when creating your survey, consider the data that is already available through HRIS, such as demographic data, and ensure intersectionality is taken into account. Lastly, don’t just rely on demographic information; instead, ask employees open-ended questions about current DEI efforts and where they can be improved. Identifying recurring themes in their responses can guide the prioritisation and evaluation of your DEI plan.

  • Establish metrics of success

After collecting the data, it’s important to understand how your organisation compares to others in the industry and whether it’s meeting internal goals. Once you have this understanding, you can measure progress over time by conducting regular surveys. It’s important to identify the key metrics to measure and how to measure them, which will be covered in more detail later.

  • Share survey results with employees

To establish trust with employees regarding your DEI efforts, it’s essential to communicate the survey results, emphasising the shared problems and positive effects. Programs should be implemented with context. Admitting to the work that needs to be done will encourage a greater sense of trust and mutual responsibility. Employees should be engaged in determining and implementing the next steps by using focus groups or follow-up conversations. It is crucial to gather feedback following the implementation of new initiatives in response to the initial survey results to assess whether the desired outcomes have been accomplished.

Incorporate DEI into every stage of the employee experience

Your survey findings can guide you in identifying quick wins and deciding where to start. However, you should also develop a comprehensive DEI strategy that incorporates best practices in every aspect of the employee lifecycle.

Employee experience must be considered at every touchpoint when developing a DEI strategy. The upcoming section will present the most successful DEI strategies for the complete employee journey, starting from the recruitment process and ending with the employee’s departure from the organisation.

  • Talent acquisition

To attract diverse talent, companies should prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) during the hiring process. This can be achieved by making DEI reporting public, building relationships with diverse talent pools, and avoiding coded language in job descriptions. It’s also important to use a “blind” application process, standardise interviews with defined questions, and prioritise a DEI-centric approach to hiring.

  • Onboarding

If you have taken steps to show your dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the hiring process, it is important to ensure that new hires’ actual experience aligns with those expectations. The onboarding process is an opportunity to create an inclusive atmosphere and make new employees feel comfortable being themselves at work.

Here are some ways to incorporate DEI into your onboarding process:

  • Provide new employees with a mentor or colleague who can offer guidance, respond to inquiries, and accompany them for lunch.
  • Share information about employee resource groups (ERGs), DEI programs and available resources.
  • Ask about preferred names, pronouns, dietary restrictions, and hobbies
  • Allow employees to design their own workspace to feel more comfortable and at home. For remote work, provide a stipend.
  • Offer floating holidays, enabling new hires to schedule work around cultural traditions
  • Ensure all employees have equal access to information about the company’s mission, values, policies, and practices
  • Conduct a survey 3-6 months after onboarding to assess the experience and alignment with the recruiting process.
  • Engagement

After onboarding, employees may have fewer significant moments, but continued engagement is crucial to their overall experience. It’s important to provide opportunities for learning about different cultures and for involvement through workshops, guest speakers, and employee resource groups. During an employee’s tenure, companies have multiple chances to support the diverse needs of employees. For example, women of colour may have responsibilities in multigenerational households, and understanding their needs can lead to a more equitable and optimal experience. Depending on the workforce, options such as flexible scheduling, childcare, gender-neutral bathrooms, and lactation rooms could be considered.

Inclusive performance management and development

Inclusive performance management is critical to career growth, promotions, and salaries, and there are various strategies to reduce bias. These include:

  • Using calibrations to ensure consistency across rating criteria
  • Incorporating peer feedback in evaluations to mitigate potential biases
  • Conducting an audit of pay, promotion, hiring, and firing practices to uncover patterns indicating potential biases or inequities
  • Providing customised training and learning opportunities to promote fairness and equity in feedback and development
  • Regular 1-on-1 conversations to align on development and foster a sense of belonging and connection within the organisation

Effective performance management can help employees from diverse backgrounds overcome their struggles with feeling connected to the organisation.

  • Offboarding

Companies should prioritise the success of departing employees, especially those from diverse backgrounds, by offering references or creating an alumni network to stay connected. Exit interviews or surveys can gather feedback about the employee experience and inform DEI strategy.

Eliminate uncertainty by actively listening to and comprehending your employees.

Achieve more informed decision-making and bring about significant improvements by gaining a deep understanding of your workforce.

DEI in the future of work

As the work environment rapidly changes, people leaders must adapt and reimagine what DEI means in a world of work that is increasingly global, hybrid, and multi-generational. To accommodate diverse life dynamics, people leaders should have the necessary resources to understand and address the unique needs of their employees. It’s important to approach each employee’s circumstances with curiosity and empathy. Take the time to reach out to individual employees to understand how you can support their success and ensure that you follow through on your commitments. For instance, if an employee needs the proper technology to work virtually, provide it to them, or if someone requires childcare, do what you can to ensure they have access to it.

Measuring diversity, equity, and inclusion

Numerous methods exist for evaluating workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, choosing a few that best align with your organisation’s objectives is crucial. Identifying your company’s most significant DEI metrics enables you to track progress consistently on the most important indicators for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

With the data you gather from your employees, you can analyse various metrics by demographic. Here are some potential measurements to assist you in beginning the process:

  • the percentage of diverse hires, 
  • the representation of diverse employees in the entire organisation, 
  • the attrition rate of a subset of employees,
  • the experiences of employees from different backgrounds, 
  • The sense of belonging that employees feel,
  • the diversity in leadership positions,
  • The likelihood that employees would recommend the organisation as a great place to work (measured by eNPS)

Measuring too many DEI metrics can lead to diversity fatigue. It’s important to use metrics as a tool to understand employees’ needs and prioritise initiatives. Metrics should not be viewed as the whole story, but as a strategic tool to create an inclusive culture.

DEI strategy should be incorporated in all aspects of the employee experience, which requires careful planning and execution. Although it may take some effort, the benefits of having a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace can lead to improvements in talent acquisition, productivity, engagement, and retention, ultimately contributing to greater overall success for the company.

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