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Strategies for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization

The case is closed on whether greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) helps improve your workplace as well as the performance and profitability of your business.

The verdict? Affirmative.

When all levels of your company—from entry to senior-level positions—include a diverse mix of people representing different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and perspectives, there’s a proven increase in employee satisfaction, creativity, productivity.

In fact, diverse teams produce better results and outperform other groups. A 2019 report conducted by McKinsey & Company of more than 500 organizations found that every one percent increase in gender and racial diversity is correlated with a 3–9% increase in sales revenue.

Further, a diverse workplace strengthens your reputation as an employer of choice, creating a key competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. 

Companies today know they need to focus on DEI—but where should they start? In this article, we’ll cover different strategies you can employ to continually improve diversity and inclusion in your organization.

Creating a diverse workplace means that your company leaders—and employees throughout the organization—understand, accept, and value the differences between people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations. It’s in this type of environment where employees are encouraged to share ideas and empowered to work together to achieve professional and company goals.

It is also important to know the two types of diversity: inherent and acquired. Inherent diversity includes the characteristics that someone is born with,such as gender, race, and age. However, acquired diversity refers to the traits gained from personal experiences, such as education, knowledge, or skills.

While sometimes mistaken for equality, equity refers to providing fair opportunities for all of your employees, based on their individual needs. Of course, needs differ from person to person, depending on a range of factors. It’s essential to recognize those differing needs and provide the necessary resources so each employee has what they need to get their job done in a way that is both successful and satisfying.

Demonstrating equity in the workplace can sometimes be challenging because what one employee views as fair and equitable treatment may be perceived differently by others. With that in mind, the most effective way to consistently show equity in the workplace is by making it a priority and creating a workplace culture where your employees feel comfortable openly discussing issues involving equity.

Actions you can take to create a more equitable workplace include:

  • Making job descriptions accessible: Be transparent about the wage ranges for different positions and create multiple spaces where potential candidates can access application materials.
  • Providing equitable access for all employees: This not only refers to the resources and opportunities that you offer your employees, but also the physical spaces and materials. For instance, is your boardroom wheelchair-friendly? Do you have closed caption on your video presentation? These are some of the things that you may want to consider as you create a more equitable work environment.
  • Re-evaluating your equity practices: After you have created an equitable workspace, the work doesn’t stop there. It is essential to your company and employees that you continue to analyze and re-evaluate your DEI efforts. People change every day—and so do their needs—so as a company you must update your equity practices as you receive new information.

Consider using pulse surveys, which are 3 to 6 question surveys that employers use to monitor the social climate of their companies. These surveys are distributed frequently, often monthly, quarterly, or bi-yearly, and allow employees to identify any issues, concerns, or suggestions they may have. Allowing your employees the chance to express themselves not only supports, encourages, and increases employee engagement, but also sends the message that you value their thoughts and opinions, and different perspectives.

People don’t want to just come to work—they want to feel safe, welcomed, and have a sense of belonging.

An inclusive work environment is one where all employees feel respected and are encouraged to fully participate in decision-making processes. Each employee also has the same access to development and professional growth opportunities within the company.

By having a solid foundation for supporting employees and their different needs, employees feel secure in their positions and empowered to learn from their mistakes so they can continue to grow professionally.

SurveyMonkey’s belonging and inclusion survey template is a great tool for guiding conversations about inclusion in your workplace, and can help ensure you’re asking the right questions to your employees to receive their most honest and candid responses.

Taking a strategic approach to creating a workplace where diversity and inclusion is embraced, can set you apart from the competition, boost employee satisfaction and productivity, and make you a desirable employer for top talent. Here are some key strategies that can help make it happen:

Too many companies make the mistake of viewing diversity, equity, and inclusion as separate from their business. The focus is relegated to an initiative within HR that is considered primarily through the lens of recruitment and employee engagement. Yet the true power and potential of DEI can be unleashed when it is considered a core ingredient in the design and execution of business strategy that’s embedded in the activities of the organization day in, day out. When this occurs the creativity, ingenuity, and innovation that comes from diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive and take your business to the next level.

The reality is that people bring more than their backpacks, briefcases, and bagged lunches to work. They bring their experience, attitude, expertise, and yes, biases. These biases typically are not readily apparent to others and often the individuals themselves. Yet engrained thinking and attitudes can foster biases that can run contrary to an organization seeking to create a workplace that is diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. The key is to challenge people to explore their biases and consider how they may be influencing their attitudes and actions. Rather than focusing only on eliminating individual bias, organizations should also focus on mitigating unconscious and systemic bias embedded in talent management and other decision-making processes.

While there is no one sure way to identify unconscious bias, here are a few things you may want to consider when hiring and during decision-making processes:

  1. Keep your focus on diversity and inclusivity to  train your mind to identify intended and unintended biases in the workplace.
  2. Create a work environment that encourages peer-to-peer recognition to stay connected with your employees while also giving them a shared purpose and sense of belonging.
  3. Provide company-wide bias training and activities that address stereotypes and allow employees to share their different perspectives.
  4. Encourage and assign diverse work groups to collaborate.
  5. Collect honest feedback from your employees about your company’s effort to provide a diverse and inclusive work environment. SurveyMonkey offers several resources, like diversity and inclusion survey templates, that you can use to gain insight on your company’s progress and efforts.

People looking for a new opportunity typically read job descriptions very closely. When they do, they are assessing whether they would be a good fit for the role, have the skills and experience necessary to succeed, and would mesh with the company culture.

This is an instance in which words truly do matter. And one word that a prospect views as not being relatable or lacking inclusivity could send them looking elsewhere.

When you use inclusive language, you are using words and phrases that do not exclude certain groups of people. For example, while in the breakroom, you greet two of your coworkers that you haven’t spoken to often and refer to them as “ladies.” What if one (or both) identify as another gender? Inclusive language seeks to avoid using phrases that exclude groups of people.

Getting better at using inclusive language is a continual work in progress. The greater awareness you and your colleagues have of being inclusive in written and spoken communications, the better chance you have of making colleagues and business associates feel welcomed and comfortable. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating job descriptions and an overall inclusive work environment:

  1. Use language that centers on individuals—not their physical traits. For example, use the phrase “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people”.
  2. Use neutral words when referencing gender, sexual orientation, and other qualities. Examples include using the phrase “you all” rather than “you guys” and words like spouse or partner, instead of husband or wife.
  3. Listen to your employees when they share words and phrases that they find hurtful or insensitive. SurveyMonkey’s pulse surveys and belonging and inclusion survey templates are great tools to use to stay connected with your employees and receive feedback that can help create a more inclusive workspace

It’s difficult to become a truly diverse organization without significant buy-in backed by action and resources by senior leaders. How these leaders talk about and act on diversity and inclusion initiatives sends a clear message through the ranks of your company whether there is a meaningful commitment to diversity or it’s largely lip service.

With that in mind, leaders at all levels of your organization need to be fully educated on what diversity and inclusion is and the many benefits of an ongoing commitment to greater diversity and inclusion.

Yet it is not through words or policies alone that your company demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion to employees and the outside world. It is also demonstrated through how diverse your workforce actually is. Diversity should be infused into every level of your organization, and that includes leaders throughout your company from C-suite executives to department leaders and managers.

Yet, leadership, particularly at the senior level, is often seen as the least diverse area of many companies. This can create a real credibility problem if your leadership team talks a good game when it comes to diversity but doesn’t back it up by increasing diversity amongst their own ranks.

With that in mind, seeking diverse candidates should be a priority when hiring for senior leadership roles. And that search should include both internal and outside candidates that can add value by providing a unique blend of experience, expertise, and perspective.

For your company to make true progress, diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot be a side project that is regulated to HR or a few people throughout the organization who are passionate about the issues. No doubt, those people should be key partners in the effort, but sustainable success requires that DEI is infused in your company’s core values.

Often this requires a re-examination of your values, mission, and vision as an organization to make sure that they are consistent with creating a culture that encourages diversity and provides the opportunity for everyone to feel as if they belong and their voice and contributions are valued.

To fully achieve this, make sure that there are a range of voices involved in the deeper dive into your company’s core values. Including diverse perspectives into this process will help assure that your values resonate with all of your employees and encourage an environment in which diversity and inclusion is valued and can help your company grow and thrive.

Focusing on developing culture that encourages and promotes mentoring is one of the best ways to create a community that fosters inclusivity and diversity. Through establishing a formal mentoring program, you can pair more experienced staffers with those just beginning their careers and promote leadership development coaching. 

Mentoring can also be woven into the normal routines of your workplace. Train managers on their interactions with their teams so that they’re more likely to create psychological safety and make equitable decisions regarding the processes they control, including pay, performance measurement, promotions, and work assignments.

Diversity training is also key to developing a culture of mentoring. This training is most effective when part of an enterprise-wide strategic approach, including both awareness and skill development, conducted over time.

The reality is that despite increased awareness and understanding of the benefits of a diverse and inclusive work environment, many employees still feel that they don’t belong.

To create a culture in which issues impacting DEI are continuously identified and addressed, organizations should establish a regular cadence of gathering feedback to get a snapshot of employee sentiment that can help guide actions for improvement.

Surveys are one of the best ways to capture candid feedback from employees. SurveyMonkey recommends conducting two overarching surveys: The first for diversity and then another focused on inclusion. These surveys give you a baseline breakdown of your current demographic makeup and provide key metrics on whether or not employees of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. SurveyMonkey offers DEI survey templates that help you get a running start on gaining insight on how to create a more diverse workspace.

Based on your survey results, you can drill down into the specific areas where there is opportunity for improvement and build action plans that can move the needle in the right direction.

Once you have clearer insight into diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workforce, you can take targeted actions to address areas of concerns. This is a critical step as employees who offered their feedback are going to be paying attention to see if you are serious about making improvements toward creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce.

To that end, it’s important to be transparent about the feedback you gathered, and then share how you aim to respond. Oftentimes an action plan can incorporate ideas that employees suggested in their survey responses. This not only demonstrates that you heard their feedback loud and clear, but often ideas that are generated at the staff level hold the best promise of being adopted and making an impact.

Once you have identified actions to be taken, make sure to continually measure progress. Again, this is an area in which surveys can be beneficial. You can periodically conduct surveys focused on issues in which you are concentrating your efforts. This helps you pinpoint what’s working well, and allows you to course correct if you are not getting the results you’re looking for.

The bottom line 

Organizations that continually focus on creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment will have a clear competitive edge moving forward. In a tight job market, a strong track record of diversity, equity, and inclusion can tip the scales in your direction. By employing smart strategies and backing them up with action and ongoing measurement, you can create a workplace where people from all backgrounds and experience can thrive and grow, driving the ongoing success of your company.

SurveyMonkey is part of Momentive, maker of AI-driven insights and experience management solutions built for the pace of modern business. Learn how to shape a stronger, more equitable workplace with Momentive’s Workplace Equity IQ.

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