What’s your place in your company’s DEI strategy?

Everyone has their part to play in your company’s DEI Strategy – here’s where you can help. Of course, this is far from a comprehensive guide, but it’s a place to start to ensure that all employees, direct reports, and coworkers feel as though they can thrive in the workplace.

The entry-level employees

Value all coworkers for their strengths.

It’s essential to be aware of unconscious biases in ourselves and within our workplace. Unconscious bias means biases that do not necessarily align with our conscious beliefs or declared beliefs, which means they are even more important to pay attention to and keep in check.

There’s a fair amount of literature about how diversity in teams positively impacts creativity and innovation, and the case for an inclusive culture is only growing stronger. There’s value in experiences with multiple perspectives, inspiring new ways of thinking, and different approaches to problem-solving.

When we understand and value the strengths and insight all team members bring to the table, we can tap into what motivates us and how we do our best work. We can also identify any blind spots related to observing, evaluating, or demonstrating respect for others.

Create space for open dialogue 

Not every employee will feel comfortable speaking to senior leadership – or even their direct manager – about issues they see in the workplace surrounding inclusivity. This hesitation may very well be fueled by their fear that speaking up will result in being fired. So, how do you promote a culture in which individuals at all levels and of all backgrounds feel supported enough to speak up?

Jennifer Brown, author of Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace & the Will to Change suggests forming a council that can meet to discuss broader goal-setting, address employee engagement, review feedback, and troubleshoot crisis scenarios. 

Every company will have its own tolerance for what is appropriate or not appropriate in the workplace, but it’s important to keep in mind that celebrating diversity is not enough. We must be open to the difficult conversations that will allow our coworkers to voice their opinions and help leaders understand changes that need to be made in order to address workplace inequities. 

The managers

Build a culture where every employee can use their voice.

One Gallup study analyzed the effects of manager-employee race differences on study respondents’ intentions to stay with or leave their current employer. An employee’s intention to leave an organization was higher when the employee and manager were of different races and was amplified when the employee was actively disengaged at work. However, when managers and employees were of different races and had high levels of engagement, employees’ intentions to stay were higher — even higher than the intentions of employees who were of the same race as their manager and in an engaging work environment.

Despite this, Gallup also found that few organizations are effective at creating a culture that truly promotes, embraces, and actively seeks each employee’s unique contributions. 

Today we know that companies that prioritize DEI understand that it’s part of the fundamental fabric of their business and overall strategy, similar to how today’s most successful companies understand that their talent strategy is no longer a back-office function but rather a key component of their company’s future relevance and success. And, just like any core strategy, it takes constant attention.  

The fact that Diversity is not synonymous with inclusivity is a critical distinction that’s often lost or overlooked. The truth is, if we do not foster an inclusive workplace – an environment where all people from all backgrounds and walks of life feel safe and supported and engaged – then we’re unlikely to have a successfully diverse workforce. 

The C-Suite

C-Suite executives must go beyond company policies and make inclusion central to their company’s culture and employee experience. When leaders and managers welcome many backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints, they create a competitive advantage for themselves.

But few organizations know how to create a culture that truly promotes, embraces, and seeks each employee’s unique contributions.

Building a comprehensive DEI strategy and plan can feel all-consuming, but taking small, deliberate steps in the right direction can lead to impactful and lasting change within your organization.

Start by trying to understand the state of the union at your company: what do your company’s demographics look like, and, even more importantly, how do people feel about your company culture? The support of the c-suite is, of course, necessary for all DEI efforts to be effective; but it’s your employees on the ground who are truly experiencing your company culture and they need to be the most involved. You need to know how they feel working at your company and ensure they are empowered to voice their concerns.

Consider sending out a survey to your employees to collect anonymous feedback and plan to have follow-up conversations with them based on survey data. Without trust, it’s impossible to have effective, open dialogue between managers and employees at all levels of your company. Just because you allow someone to speak out, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel comfortable doing so.  

Again, taking stock is not a one-time, checked-the-box action item but rather an ongoing “pulse” check. Each person that joins your team and each person that leaves it changes the dynamic of your work environment. Building an inclusive culture and a representative team is an ever-lasting, ongoing process. 

Change won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to remember that representative teams make better teams. The driving force behind an effective DEI strategy is a constant and consistent push toward a better outcome for your employees.