When a farmer only grows one type of crop, the natural balance of the soil is disrupted. The continued planting and harvesting of the same plant species will eventually deplete the soil of its life-supporting nutrients, which then reduces the varieties of microorganisms needed to keep the ground fertile. Focusing on only one plant has a negative effect on the ecosystem of the farm.
Likewise, growing an organization with a diverse pool of talent is crucial to a rich business ecosystem. In order to thrive, companies must recruit and nurture talent from all backgrounds, genders, races and cultures. They must include a wide range of ideas and people to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to flourish. This is the essence of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.
Profit, innovation and DEI are inextricably linked. A DEI strategy requires preparation. It is a living, breathing effort that needs to be continuously cultivated. People expect respect and diversity more than ever before. Creating a sustainable DEI program is important to attracting and retaining both clients and employees. In today’s market, employees are less likely to stay in a workplace that does not embrace these practices, and every time an employee leaves, it costs money to hire and train someone new.
Additionally, before doing business, more and more clients are looking for companies whose values match their own. Furthermore, diverse teams bring forth innovation, which makes organizations competitive and cutting edge in their fields. It makes sense that businesses are seeking the best ways to embrace diversity efforts, and there are several steps that organizations can take to implement a successful DEI program.
GET LEADERSHIP BUY-IN
In any group of people, whether coworkers, volunteers or social clubs, each individual brings something different to the table. Unique perspectives, values and ideas make a group dynamic and interesting. Yet a culture of inclusivity starts at the top. It is the leaders’ job to create a trusting and positive environment that enables members to share ideas, express concerns and suggest improvements. Senior leadership must be open to the feedback they receive through anonymous pulse surveys, formal career advisor pairings or informal mentoring.
Effective leaders know the importance of acknowledging and changing experiences of disproportionate power and privilege. Those negative experiences can contribute to imbalance, low morale and lack of ingenuity and productivity. Creating a team responsible for building a custom DEI program that is intentional, measurable and transparent is paramount to the success of the company ecosystem. Leadership must be willing to invest time, money and resources into such a program.
In addition, there is one crucial factor: stamina. DEI programs are not built overnight, and there will be missteps. As long as leaders set goals with actionable plans to meet DEI targets, and mechanisms to adjust in real time, they will maintain an upward trajectory.
SET GOALS TO MEET DEI TARGETS
An effective DEI strategy is reliant on clear guidelines and requirements to keep leaders and staff on the right track. This is why it is important to set goals to meet company targets.
An important part of goal setting is the creation of competency models. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employee Council provides DEI competency models that include a personal commitment to increasing awareness of diversity and inclusion, modify communication styles in respect to all parties, advocate for diverse viewpoints and demonstrate inclusive behavior.
Within a group setting, staff can contribute to diverse teams and inclusive relationships, foster growth and training among historically underrepresented groups, respectfully manage issues and gear performance assessments toward DEI targets and strategy.
As an organization, there must be a commitment to foster a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion from the top down. Additionally, inappropriate and non-inclusive behavior should be addressed immediately by using the company’s plan on how to handle such infractions. Fostering, promoting and developing talent within the organization will help to create a company in which all employees thrive and feel valued.
ESTABLISH AN EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUP (ERG)
Employee resource groups (ERGs), which are voluntary, employee-led cohorts whose members have shared characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or interests, provide a place for people to share and support one another in their professional and personal ambitions while helping build comradery. According to Harvard Business Review, the benefits of having ERGs within a company include higher retention rates, identifying and developing leaders from within and better employee education.
As a part of its DEI initiative, GHJ launched its Women’s Empowerment Cohort in 2015 and formed its BIPOC Cohort in 2020. Most recently, GHJ started its Parenting Cohort to support employees with children during the uncertainty of the pandemic. In addition to the many benefits of ERGs, they also allow businesses to recruit often-overlooked yet valuable talent and to develop that talent into leadership positions.
DEVELOP DEI RECRUITING INITIATIVES AND PRACTICES
When it comes to recruiting initiatives and practices, business leaders must look past the often over-mined talent pools and expand their search to include historically black colleges, universities and community colleges. Companies may also reach out to professional associations that foster diverse talent such as the Asian Business Association, National Association of Black Accountants, Association of Latino Professionals For America or Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance.
Other great resources for locating, hiring and promoting diverse employees is Jopwell, a platform dedicated to the advancement of Black, Latinx and Indigenous professionals and students, and the Mom Project, which connects women who may be rejoining the workforce with potential employers.
Additionally, hiring teams and practices must be designed to support inclusive recruitment. Unconscious biases during the interview process should be brought into awareness and addressed. One way to counter hidden prejudices is to utilize tools such as blind hiring and scorecards. Designing each job to optimize work and accommodate the unique needs of the candidate will maximize performance and create immense value for the company.
HOLD FIRM AND EMPLOYEES ACCOUNTABLE
While strategies and targets are necessary and important, there will be no impact without accountability. Leaders must facilitate open, honest dialogue with employees regarding DEI and listen to how people feel. That will help an organization become aware of potential blind spots. An essential element is establishing trust. In addition to open forums, consider alternative outreaches through career advisors, trusted colleagues or friends at the firm. Companies can find multiple ways to take the pulse and gain trust at a grassroots level.
In terms of accountability, one big challenge is evaluating progress in an honest and forthright way. This should be incorporated into performance evaluations. There is a category in the GHJ evaluations called “value to the firm.” Those who are championing diversity and inclusion efforts (a key aspect of the firm’s culture) are taken into consideration for that category. DEI assessments in performance evaluations helps to measure progress and keeps the companies on track to meet their larger goals.
Another way to keep a company on track is by creating a taskforce to lead training, facilitating and assessment of the DEI program. However, according to the Harvard Business Review, voluntary training is far more effective than mandatory training for leaders and employees. A study from the University of Toronto found that when white subjects felt pressured to agree with a pamphlet about prejudices against black people, their biases were strengthened. The subjects who did not feel that pressure to agree were more likely to experience reduced racial biases. While a company should invest in diversity and inclusion training, they would do well to invite rather than require staff to attend.
DO GOOD TO DO WELL
With a successful DEI program, businesses can strengthen their competitive advantage, increase innovation and productivity and create a dynamic and thriving workforce. When properly implemented, DEI strategies have a proven return on investment. Creating a sustainable strategy that holds both employees and leadership accountable is key to having an impactful DEI program.