A practical guide for businesses

A practical guide for businesses

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has taken the business world noticeably by storm, and its results speak for themselves. Companies that actively work on making business practices and work environments more equitable and inclusive find more success in pivoting to change and retaining employees, and more companies are following suit.

This makes sense if you think about it. Businesses work best when employees and nearby communities feel invested in the company’s success. The goal of DEI is to expand these relationships to include more people outside the mainstream, such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and more.

So, how can companies reach out to underrepresented communities? The answer is with DEI initiatives. A good DEI initiative strengthens diverse communities while staying true to a company’s overall mission.

In 2022, for example, Hewlett Packard (HP) donated hundreds of laptops and hours of software training to underserved schools as part of their Digital Equity initiative. While the recipients weren’t necessarily employees or nearby communities, HP’s donation used its technology to foster goodwill and show commitment to a more just global society.

Other notable DEI initiatives include:

  • Patagonia’s donations to environmental protection, sustainable agriculture, and community development in South America
  • Zillow’s Community Pillars program, which partners with nonprofits and community groups to address housing inequities and support fair housing practices for underserved communities
  • Unilever’s efforts to provide access to clean water, promote good hygiene practices and empower women in developing countries
  • Ben & Jerry’s “Caring Dairy program, which donates to organizations that promote fair trade, support small-scale farmers and protect natural resources globally
  • Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, where for every pair of glasses sold, the company donates a pair to someone in need in countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America

A reasonably straightforward thread connects these companies’ products with their outreach efforts. DEI’s strategy should aim to do that by strengthening outside voices using a company’s strengths.

A practical guide for businesses

In this post, we’ll discuss developing and implementing effective DEI initiatives.

The Importance of DEI Initiatives

People work better together when we recognize, respect, and value our differences. This is the core of DEI initiatives: Employees with equal opportunities to succeed and contribute often find more opportunities to do so, and the organizations that employ them become more agile.

Diversity initiatives also help to:

  • Drive innovation: More perspectives and insights lead to more creative problem-solving and innovation
  • Improve decision-making: Inclusive workplaces encourage dialogue and collaboration, resulting in decisions informed by a broader range of viewpoints
  • Attract diverse talent: Organizations that prioritize DEI initiatives attract diverse candidates who want a workplace that values their contributions and well-being
  • Engage employees: Successful DEI initiatives create a company culture where employees feel a sense of belonging and empowerment, driving employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity
  • Grow your customer base: Diversity and inclusivity influence which companies customers want to support, making DEI a competitive advantage in the marketplace

Forward-thinking companies understand the importance of DEI progress in being more productive and competitive.

However, can a company succeed without diverse teams and ignoring social justice in the workplace? Certainly. Many of the world’s most prominent organizations stick to their business-as-usual approach. Still, leaders who refuse these initiatives frequently find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion and history in general.

Key Components of Successful DEI Programs

The successful DEI initiative is the one that improves something both inside and outside the organization.

One non-DEI comparison would be an idea accelerator program inviting outside submissions for improving/inventing a product, with rewards for people whose ideas are adopted. It’s an obvious win-win—people are rewarded for flexing their innovation muscles, and companies get innovation that results in a better product.

DEI operates the same way. Hiring practices that emphasize diversity, for example, helps underserved minority communities find work while bringing in new perspectives to a company.

Common DEI initiatives include:

  • Inclusion efforts in hiring practices: Actively seeking out candidates from underrepresented groups and ensuring that recruitment processes are fair, unbiased, and inclusive.
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Voluntary, employee-led groups that provide a platform for employees to connect, share experiences, and advocate for diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Creating a sense of belonging: Helping employees to feel valued, respected, and included involves open communication, collaboration, and recognizing the unique contributions of each individual

These examples are among the most common in companies. They’re relatively easy to implement, and they don’t take much imagination to envision an ideal outcome. If you’re new to DEI, start here.

As your organization’s DEI efforts mature, you can explore more inventive options for fostering inclusivity.

Take a look at these advanced, real-life DEI initiatives for inspiration.

Zillow’s Veteran Housing Search Feature

Zillow, a real estate marketplace, added a button to their search function that allows military veterans to look for housing that accepts VA loans. This helps military veterans find appropriate housing more quickly.

Square’s Black Business Accelerator

Square, a mobile payment company, introduced an initiative to provide resources, mentorship, and funding for Black entrepreneurs looking to grow and scale their businesses. Their efforts help to address systemic barriers to economic success.

Salesforce’s Enhanced Internal Audit

Salesforce broadened its regularly conducted internal audits to assess diversity and inclusivity in its workplace practices. This initiative goes beyond traditional diversity metrics, including factors like pay equity, promotion rates, and employee satisfaction.

REI’s Force of Nature Fund

REI established an initiative to invest in programs and organizations that provide outdoor access and education to underrepresented communities. Their efforts help to create a more inclusive culture outdoors.

Patagonia’s Childcare Support Program

Patagonia began providing its employees with on-site childcare facilities, subsidized childcare costs, and flexible work arrangements to accommodate working parents. This helps to promote gender equity.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are valuable ways to celebrate workplace diversity; many have become their own forces. For example, the Women Techmakers program has over 81,000 members and 1,110 ambassadors with access to budgets designed to recruit more women into engineering. Their work serves communities worldwide, especially in impoverished areas or where women are hindered from pursuing STEM careers.

Why does Google give to communities that don’t perform work for Google? Because in addition to supporting the global community, Google gets to create goodwill among the people it serves, strengthening its future prospects.

Note: DEI initiatives aren’t selfless acts on the part of a company. DEI initiatives aren’t charity; they’re investments. They create a future of collaboration towards shared goals.Building a stronger community is crucial to that mission.

Getting the Fundamentals Right

As with any company initiative, certain pieces must be in place for DEI to work.It’s not enough for a handful of employees to champion DEI efforts sporadically. To truly launch and sustain companywide DEI initiatives, a top-down commitment from leadership is essential.

Successful DEI initiatives rely on the following:

  • Leadership commitment: Buy-in from leaders—especially executives and senior leaders—is vital to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace culture
  • Consistent policies and practices: Fairness, equity, and inclusivity must touch all aspects of the employee lifecycle, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, compensation, and performance evaluations
  • Training and education: You may need to raise awareness of unconscious bias and promote inclusivity among employees, which will require some formal training
  • Accountability and measurement: Expect to create benchmarks and KPIs for tracking progress towards diversity and inclusion goals and hold leaders accountable for the effectiveness of these programs
  • Continuous improvement: DEI work is ongoing and requires constant evaluation, adaptation, and improvement to remain agile and responsive

Implementing Your DEI Initiative

DEI work can be daunting, sparking discomfort. People may feel sensitive when reduced to their appearance or background. The antidote to this “walking on eggshells feeling is regular dialogue and consistent, sincere effort. Give people a chance for input.

Planning a DEI initiative is all about collaboration. Some companies use anonymous surveys to hear from employees. Others have an all-hands meeting to put ideas on a whiteboard. Whatever works best for you, find ways to brainstorm which DEI goals would best serve your specific organization.

Once a plan is in place, the subsequent steps are to:

  • Plan how to assess: Create diversity metrics that can later be evaluated, and seek feedback from employees to find out where and how to improve. This is also the time to set specific goals, timelines, and steps toward accountability.
  • Train and educate: The point of DEI is to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, which means raising awareness on how to improve. Plan to train employees on the issues in your organization and give them ways to solve them.
  • Be accountable: Once your initiatives are deployed, the next thing to do is check in and see how things are going. ERGs provide an objective outside voice for management to hear from.

If DEI is measured, it’s possible to determine whether or not it has improved.

What to Measure

Ultimately, the final step in executing a successful DEI initiative mirrors the first: assessing areas for improvement.

With a formal DEI plan in place, it’s crucial to assess your organization’s progress in fulfilling its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This assessment involves tracking key metrics and evaluating the effectiveness of implemented initiatives. That means metrics. Although each DEI initiative addresses unique challenges, they all share a common goal: to foster a workplace that values diversity and ensures everyone feels included. Ultimately, these initiatives aim to create a more equitable and welcoming environment where all employees can thrive.

Diverse Workforce Representation

Is there a higher presence of underrepresented populations at your organization than before your DEI initiative started? If not, it might be back to the drawing board.

Measure: Demographic data can help assess whether your organization has progressed toward building a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Inclusive Work Environment

Do all your employees feel valued, respected, and empowered at work?

Measure: Employee engagement, satisfaction, sense of belonging, and retention can provide insights into inclusivity within your workplace culture.

Equitable Policies and Practices

Is there fairness and equality in your recruitment, hiring, promotion, compensation, and career development practices?

Measure: Metrics related to pay equity, promotion rates, and representation in leadership positions can help organizations identify inequities and take corrective action.

Business Performance

DEI is not just a moral imperative. It also offers a strong business advantage.

Measure: Metrics like employee productivity, innovation, customer satisfaction, and financial performance shed light on whether or not a DEI initiative is having an impact.

Community Engagement and Social Impact

Beyond the workplace, DEI initiatives can impact communities and society as a whole. Organizations should measure their contributions to community engagement, social responsibility, and corporate citizenship.

Measure: Philanthropy, volunteerism, and partnerships with diverse organizations.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to DEI. People value genuine inclusion efforts. Measurable goals help track progress and show commitment. Those initiatives can make a real difference in their lives.