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Promoting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Actionable DEI Strategies Worth Implementing

Published on: August 25, 2022

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Diversity, equity and inclusion are far more than trendy workplace terms. These concepts reflect the growing need for a work environment that welcomes, respects and cherishes all types of professionals. While evolving cultural attitudes can help to promote these values over time, it's increasingly clear that targeted DEI initiatives at work are needed to hasten the pace of change.

Unfortunately, many of today's leaders struggle to understand not only what DEI is, but also how it can be implemented in the modern workforce. Some confusion is natural; success with DEI relies on implementing a far-reaching series of measures that impact every facet of the professional experience.

It's a lot to take in, so we've broken down the process into a few categories. These are accompanied by actionable steps your organization can take to promote a genuinely diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

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Recruiting Strategies and Hiring Process

Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace begins with strategic recruitment and hiring. There should never be any question as to whether applicants from diverse backgrounds are welcome. In fact, recruiters should make a strong effort to seek the widest variety of applicants possible.

Commit To Blind Screening

A variety of subtle cues can influence whether and how recruiters reach out to qualified candidates — and how they respond to the wide array of resumes they receive. Alarming studies, for example, indicate that applicants with "white-sounding" names receive far more callbacks than those with names that "sound black."

Modern hiring practices should eliminate the unconscious biases that keep excellent candidates from receiving the opportunities they deserve. As such, many organizations have implemented a practice known as blind screening. This eliminates a variety of details from resumes, such as names, addresses or graduation dates. Not only does this simple step prevent deserving candidates from being victimized by unconscious biases, it makes recruiters far more cognizant of their evaluation blind spots.

Post Opportunities in a Variety of Locations

It may seem obvious, but where jobs are posted will influence which types of people apply. The usual digital resources — LinkedIn, Monster and Indeed, for example — provide a great starting point but might not reach the full spectrum of employees you want to represent.

Consider scouring specialized job boards, such as the Neurodiversity Career Connector, STEM Women and the Black Career Women's Network. Simply posting on these sites signals a willingness to move beyond 'typical' channels and actively engage with diverse communities.

Word of mouth also has an impact. While referral programs can be excellent for getting vetted hires in the door, they must be developed with diversity in mind.

Build Representation Into Recruitment Materials

The imagery and language featured in recruitment materials can be powerful. Potential candidates want to be confident that they will fit in even before they apply. All too often, they instead feel alienated by recruitment videos or social media updates, which may fail to capture the full array of professionals who can succeed within a given position or department. Tackle this by revamping recruitment ads to ensure that they reflect your organization's commitment to DEI.

Employee Benefits and Pay Equity

We've been aware of societal pay discrepancies between groups for decades — and yet, when education, experience and other parameters are accounted for, females and minorities still earn less. Their complaints go beyond pay to include several quality-of-life issues, such as benefits and vacation time.

Revamp Parental Leave Policies

Parent obstacles stand in the way of true progress on numerous DEI initiatives. Many employees are unable to take the time they need to bond with their children — often for fear that they will miss out on much-needed paychecks or suffer long-term career stagnation. Some are forced to drop out of the workplace altogether. This can be prevented by expanding parental leave to a minimum of paid three months.

Many organizations also encourage parents to take advantage of flexible solutions that ease the transition back into the workforce. Don't forget to provide lactation rooms, which remove some of the greatest workplace stressors for parents who pump.

Employee Development, Mentorship and Advancement Opportunities

Once hired, many employees observe that certain professionals enjoy a rapid rise to the upper echelons of their profession — while others, despite working just as hard, remain trapped in lower-level positions. Often, their professional trajectories feel out of their control, due to enduring issues such as ageism or the glass ceiling.

Comprehensive training and mentorship programs can help all types of employees move up the career ladder while also developing a more effective pipeline at the corporate level.

Diversity Mentoring

Mentorship naturally occurs in all types of work settings, but the professionals who could benefit most from mentor-mentee relationships are often left out. Formal mentorship programs mitigate this problem, with many actively building diversity into the process. Mentor training is crucial, as it can open mentors' eyes to cultural assumptions that might stand in the way of authentic connection.

Encourage College Attendance

Organizations only stand to benefit when employees seek ongoing training through targeted college programs. Chief barriers to college attendance can be removed through flexible scheduling or even with tuition reimbursement for employees who seek relevant training.

Culture and Work Environment

A silver lining to the disruptions wrought by the pandemic? Today's employers are far more open to flexible work arrangements. Many leaders have been pleased to discover that employees can thrive when given greater control over where, when and how they work. Still, the need for further progress remains clear — especially as some organizations seek a return to the pre-pandemic status quo.

Hybrid and Remote Work

Today's professionals value flexible work arrangements, which are especially beneficial for employees with disabilities or young children. Many now regard work-from-home or hybrid setups not merely as nice-to-have options, but as outright requirements for both current and future jobs. Employers that insist on keeping all professionals in the office at all times risk alienating skilled professionals, many of whom prioritize remote opportunities above all else.

Flexible Work Hours

The limitations that make hybrid and remote work appealing for so many employees may also influence preferred work hours. Parents, for example, may find conventional 9-to-5 hours stressful when they need to juggle commutes and childcare drop-off.

Likewise, neurodiverse employees may be more productive or creative outside the 9-to-5 window. Why force them to work at less than full capability? Projects that don't require employees to be in a certain place or be present at a specific time should have built-in flexibility to accommodate a wider range of professionals.

Accessibility

Accessibility efforts should go above and beyond standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Unfortunately, businesses have often used the ADA's mention of "undue hardship" as a loophole. Others simply assume that meeting the bare minimum will prove sufficient. True equity is impossible unless leaders make an active effort to identify and address ongoing barriers.

Office Design

Offices that technically meet ADA requirements can still be difficult for many employees to navigate. Creative solutions that open the office environment to all include:

  • Availability of adjustable height desks and standing desks
  • Ergonomic chairs with adjustable heights
  • Wayfinding cues with both Braille and graphical information
  • Employee-driven settings for temperature, sound and light settings.
  • Private locations for employees who are vulnerable to sensory overstimulation

Remote Work

While remote work can boost accessibility on its own, this is only accomplished when communication tools and other digital programs can be used by the widest range of employees possible. A variety of barriers must be addressed to ensure that as many employees as possible are able to meet the potential of the remote or hybrid workforce. Examples include:

  • Access to laptops or desktop computers
  • Reliable Wi-Fi connection
  • Digital Braille displays
  • Screen-to-text solutions
  • Closed captions in real time for virtual meetings

Policies and Procedures

Many workplace policies that appear to boost productivity actually undermine employees at every turn. As such, it's always important to determine who, exactly, stands to benefit from any given workplace standard — and whether employees might be actively harmed by these protocols. Examples that warrant a second look include:

Dress Codes

Professional attire is believed to boost both productivity and workplace morale. Often, however, these codes fail to account for cultural or religious practices. Hijabs, for example, have been regarded as fair game in workplaces that ban headwear. In other cases, outdated dress codes reinforce discriminatory sex-based clothing norms. Keep in mind that this not only stands in the way of DEI progress but could also hold legal implications.

Attendance and Lateness

Some employees face barriers that make arriving to work at a predetermined time difficult. Harsh workplace policies often fail to account for this reality. In many work settings, however, nobody is truly harmed by the occasional late arrival. For that reason, many organizations have adopted grace periods. Rather than chastise chronically late workers, determine what, exactly, holds them back and whether any of the previously mentioned DEI initiatives might help them arrive on time in the future.

Collaboration and Teamwork

Many organizations claim to encourage collaboration, but in reality expect employees to navigate team dynamics on their own. Unfortunately, many of the previously identified roadblocks to DEI ultimately pave the way for conflict and generally ineffective teamwork. The following DEI initiatives can help organizations finally realize their vision of a truly collaborative workplace.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Completely voluntary and led by employees, ERGs encourage professionals with key commonalities to support one another. These groups often foster a sense of inclusion among minority professionals and others who tend to feel marginalized. These groups require active interest in and participation from executives and middle managers. Each group should also hold a clearly articulated mission and vision, plus benchmarks to track progress.

Rethink Team Bonding

Activities that seem entertaining or meaningful often make a significant subset of employees feel left out. While there's nothing wrong with providing a wide array of social options, any mandatory outings should be accessible to all.

When in doubt, plan bonding opportunities that actively seek to improve DEI. Examples include:

  • Choosing DEI-oriented reading material to discuss during employee book club meetings
  • Host diversity potlucks or cooking classes that feature dishes from a variety of cultures
  • Create art together and display it throughout the office

Leadership and Accountability

Unfortunately, many organizations that cite DEI as a priority fail to convey these values at the leadership level. Hence, the enduring lack of women and minorities in executive positions. This was especially evident in the 2021 report Women CEOs in America: Changing the Face of Business Leadership, which revealed that a mere 8.2 percent of CEO positions from the Fortune 500 were held by women, along with just 7.3 percent from the Fortune 1000.

DEI in leadership needs to take a top-down approach. The initiatives highlighted above simply won't be as impactful until a diverse array of employees is brought into the fold. This should encompass not only seeking diverse hires for positions such as CEO, CFO and COO, but also, hiring a chief diversity officer (CDO). This professional will be responsible for bringing structure to far-reaching DEI initiatives, with the ultimate goal of enacting lasting change at every level of the workplace.

DEI Training and Open Communication

While the strategies highlighted above can make a world of difference, they are far less effective when implemented by leaders who lack targeted DEI training. Thankfully, those skills are well within reach for today's hardworking professionals, who can benefit greatly from degree programs tailored to this important niche.

At Husson, we're pleased to offer high-level training via the Certificate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This undergraduate certificate program helps promising professionals reexamine their own biases, and ultimately, learn how to build a culture of inclusivity. Contact us today to learn more about this exciting opportunity.

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Sources

https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0418/pages/can-blind-hiring-improve-workplace-diversity.aspx

https://www.benefitnews.com/news/the-one-benefit-employers-are-overlooking-can-improve-dei-programs

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