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By Ajay Kaul, Managing Partner, Agreeya Solutions

In the staffing world, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are no longer just buzzwords, amounting to little more than a compulsory annual training. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Business leaders are realizing that when DEI is a priority, it makes a difference in every facet of the organization.

This article will help you understand what DEI truly means, how you can roll out a successful DEI program, and the value it can bring to your organization and employees.

In the workplace, the definition of DEI is expanding. It’s not about reaching certain demographic quotas or professing blindness to difference. Instead, it’s about understanding the importance of your employees’ intersecting identities, honoring differences, and rooting out the effects of systemic inequity hidden in company cultures.

Let’s take a closer look to understand what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) means:

Diversity means having an organization in which a variety of social and cultural characteristics exist. It entails the presence of different types of people from a wide range of identities with different perspectives, experiences, etc.

Equity means everyone is given the same treatment, opportunities, and advancement. Equity aims to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. This involves ensuring equally high outcomes for all and removing any correlation between success or failure and social or cultural factors.

Inclusion means that employees feel a part of their team and the larger organization, no matter what their identity. Inclusion is diversity in action: creating an environment of acceptance and respect and harnessing the impact of different ideas, experiences, and perspectives to deliver greater value.

Why DEI is important in organizations

A study by McKinsey & Company and The Society for Human Research Management (SHRM) evaluated the performance of organizations with different levels of workplace diversity. They found that organizations that exhibit gender and ethnic diversity are, respectively, 15% and 35% more likely to outperform less diverse organizations. Similarly, organizations with more gender and racial diversity bring in increased revenue, more customers, and higher profits.

Organizations with diverse environments have increased job satisfaction amongst employees, increased levels of trust, and higher engagement levels. Not only do DEI programs lift morale and overall attitude on an employee level, but they also provide a multitude of benefits that can be seen at every level of the business. 

Reinforcing strong DEI programs helps every employee to show up each day without fear that they can’t be their true selves. 

Despite these benefits, very few organizations know what steps to take to create and foster diverse teams. To reap success from DEI, it is necessary to invest in a wider variation of talent, who have broader knowledge, experience, and expertise to match our complex global environment.

Approaches for implementing DEI at the workplace

While many organizations are now including DEI in their principal values, intent is just the beginning. It takes a lot to implement company-wide strategies and initiatives that address and prevent biases in the workplace, and that promote inclusivity, recognition, respect, and appreciation.

DEI initiatives in the workplace often fail or run the risk of tapering out unproductively. For DEI efforts to be fruitful, organizations have to back up their good intentions with resources, putting time, energy, and money into ensuring diversity and awareness-raising work is an integral part of organizational culture, recruitment, and larger business strategy. Alignment doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be fostered deliberately from top to bottom with constant leadership support.

Here are 8 considerations for organizations  creating a DEI development plan:

  1. Emphasize the need for DEI.

Communicate about the importance of DEI in your organization. Companies need diverse leadership who echo the changing business landscape and the need for DEI in the organization. 

  1. Emphasize that your DEI initiative is a core value rather than a peripheral task.

To have an effective DEI program, all team members need to shift their mindsets and their practices from treating DEI as an unrewarded “side hustle” (i.e. peripheral work), to treating it as merit-worthy work (i.e., core work). To achieve this, clearly define your DEI team’s titles (e.g., Chief Diversity Officer, DEI Champion), reporting relationships, roles, and responsibilities. One way is for managers to include DEI work as an important KRA (key result area) in actual performance evaluations, used as a criteria for determining other rewards, bonuses, pay, promotion, etc.

  1. Be conscious of unconscious bias.

Implied bias happens when we make quick judgments, often based on stereotypes and assumptions, and assess people and situations without us consciously knowing or realizing it. These biases are pervasive, and employees often hold them unintentionally. It can obstruct even the most diverse and inclusive workplace cultures.

  1. Practice empathetic leadership.

Very often DEI is mistakenly treated as an initiative driven exclusively by human resources. But for real transformation to happen, employees at every level (including the entire C-suite) need to commit to this initiative — practically, intellectually, financially, and emotionally.

  1. Create sponsorship programs.

Create sponsorships programs to provide opportunity and growth to minority or underrepresented groups. Ensure and accelerate the progress of DEI initiatives, not just in the first few weeks or months on the job, but throughout the employees entire tenure with the organization.

  1. Identify employees willing to serve as DEI sponsors.

Senior management should not be the only ones speaking up in support of the organization’s DEI goals and work. A long-standing practice in companies experienced in DEI work has been to appoint executive sponsors or “champions” to DEI initiatives. 

Many newer and younger employees are passionate about DEI work and are keen to help their organization in this direction. Ideally, a balance between senior and junior employees helps to foster a culture of diversity at every level of an organization.

  1. Make DEI goals actionable and measurable.

A common resistance to DEI work is that it is abstract or non-measurable. Management needs to make sure that their organization’s DEI goals are concrete, actionable, and measurable. 

For quantifying the outcomes, commission an annual DEI report that lists the DEI work that the organization has been doing and progress it has made toward meeting its goals and objectives.

  1. Communicate expectations and hold leaders accountable for results.

Employees and senior management need to have clear expectations about DEI initiatives and communicate about the same to the rest of the organization. Together, they should participate in making the program successful within their teams. Organizations should track data on team diversity, recruiting process, retention, and progress and promote the same in the organization. 

Driving an effective DEI program is no small feat and requires inclusive, strong, and consistent leadership. Such initiatives are no longer a business choice — they are a moral imperative for managing a 21st-century organization. 

Remember: iteration is your best tool! As you deep dive into this important area, your DEI committee will certainly become better acquainted with why some initiatives work and others do not. By staying open to critical feedback from all employees, your DEI committee will continue to remain resilient through organizational change and transitions. For DEI initiatives to be effective, employees must understand that it is everyone’s joint responsibility to create an inclusive environment for all employees.

Ajay Kaul is a visionary leader and a trendsetter. As managing partner of AgreeYa Solutions, he has been instrumental in leading the company through solid growth and international expansion for the past 20 years. Kaul has three decades of experience in building powerful and innovative solutions for businesses across various industries and verticals. His expertise and knowledge span across enterprise sales management, marketing and strategy, global delivery, mergers, and acquisitions.