Former employment attorney and entrepreneur Erika Royal challenges companies to get real on DEI and offers some actionable steps to get them started.
An estimated 80% of U.S. employers have DEI initiatives underway, but a much smaller share of business leaders truly understand how to effectively implement DEI strategies in their workplaces. DEI has the power to bring about real change in the workforce and become more than just a buzzword, but if a business fails to adopt best practices (and follow through on them meaningfully), it risks missing out on achieving its full potential.
One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is not approaching DEI initiatives the right way. I often say that DEI needs to be baked into the cake; too many business leaders look at DEI as something ancillary, like the sprinkles on top of the icing when DEI should be the flour or the sugar. Companies must embrace DEI not just as something nice to have but as a fundamental part of their business model.
The benefits of DEI programs in the workplace have been long studied, and it has been found that more diverse workplaces boast improvements in both the bottom line and employee morale. Gartner reported in 2022 that 75% of organizations with inclusive front-line decision making teams will meet or beat their financial targets. Diversification of the workforce fosters an environment conducive to creativity and different perspectives that yields optimum results.
And DEI isn’t just something investors want to see; workers want it, too, especially those in younger generations. A CNBC survey found that about 80% of workers said they’d rather work for a company that shares their DEI values. Businesses that aren’t able to keep up with the changing needs of a more diverse workforce will be left behind as employees flock to other companies that make them feel more welcome and included.
The first step to a successful DEI program is to establish the goals to be supported by the company’s initiatives. However, identifying these goals can be a difficult task in itself — especially for companies in the early stages of developing their DEI programs. For instance, vague goals of “improvement” aren’t actionable and won’t have verifiable results. Some companies focus on hiring percentages and transparency in statistics, while others identify areas of strength and weakness and come up with creative solutions to solve them.
Actionable ways to improve DEI during the hiring process
Carefully consider job postings
One step companies can take to improve the diversity of their workforce is to be careful with the language and verbiage used in their job postings. A job posting is the first impression a candidate will get of your company, so your description needs to be clear and transparent about the required skills and responsibilities, but written in a way that is sensitive and not off-putting. Avoid common mistakes like gendered language or asking for “native English speakers” when all you need is fluency. These pitfalls can cause some qualified candidates to not apply in the first place. Also, expressly invite candidates to apply if they meet most, but not all, of the requirements in the job posting.
Spread the word in-house
Consider where you are sourcing candidates. Broadening candidate searches can lead to an uptick in overall applications and an increase in diverse applicants. Consider posting positions to your community on social media pages and encourage your employees to repost these listings on their personal pages. Existing employees can be a great source of leads to others who are like-minded and will fit into the company culture.
Another way for companies to improve their DEI in the hiring process is to make the interview experience more flexible for candidates. By restricting the interview experience to 9-5 business hours, you exclude anyone — however unintentionally — whose current job doesn’t allow them to step out long enough to do an interview. Added flexibility, particularly during the hiring process, opens the door to a much wider applicant pool that can then be narrowed down later.
Companies large and small are expected to deepen their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs over the next several years. But as Janet M. Stovall and Evynn McFalls of NeuroLeadership Institute explain, going beyond lip service means committing to constant improvement efforts.Read more
Put your money where your mouth is & follow through
Once companies learn how to implement DEI in the workplace, it is crucial that they follow through on these initiatives. Many companies like talking a big game when it comes to DEI, but often there’s nothing real to back up their big talk.
An insincere approach to DEI not only prevents the company from receiving the benefits from a more inclusive workplace but can also lead to employees becoming disillusioned. Nothing makes someone more frustrated with their employer than thinking that it’s all for show.
As such, the most important thing a business leader can do to show commitment to DEI is to be receptive to feedback from employees and then act upon it. The goal of DEI initiatives is to build a more inclusive work environment — a place where people feel they belong. No one knows how the workplace makes employees feel better than employees themselves. Engage your team in the DEI process and use their input to guide and implement further changes and improvements in the workplace.
Companies can prevent their DEI initiatives from appearing (and becoming) performative by leading through example and doing work on themselves, too. Leadership has to uncover and challenge their own uninterrogated beliefs and biases and role model this work before they can reasonably expect their teams to buy in.
It is also important to create a nonjudgmental space in which people can engage in difficult conversations without fear of shame or recrimination. It may also be helpful to create programs designed to support those typically excluded. For example, employee resource groups can help support their members and guide the organization’s broader inclusion initiatives.
Ultimately, the best approach for companies to take with their DEI initiatives is to commit to being an example in their industry. DEI programs should be proactive, not reactive. Although DEI programs can help solve organizational problems, their primary goal should not be to correct but to empower the workforce in profound ways.
There are many strategies a business can take to implement DEI strategies in the workplace, but the most important thing is that they follow through on them. For employees to feel truly valued and included in the organization, they must be an integral part of the process of developing these initiatives.
Not only do employees want to see verifiable results but they also want to see their own suggestions acted upon. Only then will businesses see the benefits these programs can have on their company.