Understanding and Adopting Strong DEI Programs

Published October 14, 2021

As society continues to grow and promote the removal of barriers for all, more organizations have begun to adopt DEI programs−deliberate practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. DEI programs outline distinct policies within workspaces that urge diverse representation and participation of people from all sorts of backgrounds, experiences, abilities, and skillsets, especially those from historically underrepresented groups.

While DEI programs involve all-encompassing initiatives, it’s important to grasp the three, separate concepts creating the whole.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion: a breakdown

Diversity

Models of diversity within the workplace have changed over the decades and continue to evolve. However, the goal of most companies in regards to diversity is to actively consider all of the many experiences, differences, and perspectives an employee brings to the workplace.

Of course, existing legal protections, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and other EEOC enforced laws, make it illegal to discriminate against a particular set of these characteristics, including disability, age, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. But beyond these attributes are individual experiences, skills, opinions, personalities, and different skill sets we must consider.

All of these distinctions are important in understanding the meaning of diversity, as every individual is different.

Equity

Equity is defined as freedom from bias or favoritism. The term differs from equality, which is understood to be the state of being equal. Workplace equity provides employees access to the same opportunities, and that access may look different depending on each individual need. For example, an employee with a disability may require a reasonable accommodation to perform an essential function − access to and delivery of such an accommodation is considered equitable.

While equality and equity are essential in society and workspaces, instilling equity within company policy is the more actionable road to both. Productive equity initiatives level the playing field and are a valuable tool to help achieve true inclusion.

Inclusion

It’s often assumed in workplaces that if there is diversity, there is also inclusion. However, that’s not always the case. Inclusion in the workplace means every employee is provided the space to thrive and contribute.

A common counter to the concept of inclusion is the idea of tokenism. Tokenism is the hiring of a person or persons from marginalized groups for the sake of the appearance of diversity, often to save face or avoid criticism for lack of diversity. But without any intention of giving that individual room to present all they can offer to the company, their presence proves toothless and is not considered actual inclusion.

What does a strong DEI program look like?

More and more organizations adopt some sort of DEI program every day. However, Gartner research revealed only about 20% of organizations believe their DEI programs to be effective. So what exactly makes a DEI program successful?

Studies show that strong DEI initiatives are based in transparency. Transparency is the bedrock of trust, and the whole of an organization must trust DEI programs for it to thrive.

Frequently, employees whose identities are underrepresented are left outside the loop. Leadership must be deliberate in stating motives, decisions, and processes surrounding DEI programs. Transparency not only helps all employees know their value but also sets the tone for any future changes.

Gartner also reveals three helpful focuses when creating quality DEI programs.

Establishing an employee-centric approach

When companies bring the focuses and interests of historically marginalized employees to the forefront, DEI initiatives are more likely to excel for all employees. Successful initiatives typically took the time to understand organizational challenges and issues raised by individuals within the company before preparing DEI strategies.

Create metrics that allow comprehensive progress tracking over time

Research shows that only 57% of organizations with DEI initiatives use metrics to track progress made by their programs. It is crucial that employers understand which strategies implemented actually drive inclusion and equity in the workplace. It’s also paramount that all data findings are used to alter strategy as needed, moving forward.

Embed DEI strategies into every part of an organization

Quality DEI initiatives should incorporate policy decisions into all facets of operations; this means going beyond policy statements during new employee onboarding to truly encompass all areas of business, including day-to-day business processes and employee relations. The value of strong DEI programs comes in the power they have to move the needle forward within the company culture and the workforce in meaningful ways.

Why are DEI initiatives important?

Organizations that enact strong and sustainable DEI initiatives reap many benefits. In particular, companies report up to 20% increases in organizational inclusion after sustained implementation of quality DEI programs. Among other advantages are a reported average of 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in employee turnover.

A more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workspace helps everyone, not just the most marginalized employees. Great DEI initiatives use deliberate strategies to implement a more comfortable and satisfying workspace for all, and the advantages of such a shift can be endless for both employer and employee.

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