Employees want to work for companies that care about them. Consumers want to buy from companies that are doing good. Most companies understand this today, even if the path to meeting these ideals is not always clear.
This can feel complicated when looking at the work your company is doing and realizing you want to do more. Today, the definition of caring and doing good often goes beyond environmental initiatives and charitable giving. These acts still matter, but for employees and consumers, the bar has been raised. To get to “doing good,” it helps to look at the overall business goals and strategic decisions and how they impact the world around you. Part of that process is where diversity, equity and inclusion come in.
What is diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace?
Diversity, equity and inclusion, broadly speaking, are the policies and programs that promote the representation and participation of different groups of individuals. Many businesses recognize it as key to building our future workforce, employee retention, and creating better products. In this context, companies are taking DEI beyond policy and including it in their business practices.
For this post, we spoke with two consultants who help business leaders make diversity, equity and inclusion a bigger part of their workplace culture. They told us how organizations approach DEI and some best practices for making it part of your business.
DEI in Strategic Business Decisions
Often, diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is seen as a top-down policy that’s executed by HR in an annual training, not part of a comprehensive business strategy. “This is starting to change”, said Tara Jenkins, CEO and Founder of Conscious Revolution in Scarborough, Maine, who works with companies on implementing DEI programs.
“When DEI is embedded in HR it is putting it too deeply into the organization and doesn’t have enough accountability from senior leadership,” said Jenkins. “Culturally, organizations need to be thinking about this at a much deeper level.”
Instead, DEI initiatives should be baked into the company’s purpose and included in strategic business planning. “That’s when companies truly see meaningful results”, she said.
“If it’s not part of the business decision making, it’s not going to make an impact,” said Jenkins.
Where to Start the Process
So how do companies get started on the path to fully integrating diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace? Crystal Whiteaker, Founder and Inclusive Brand Consultant of Crystal Lily Creative, coaches business leaders on how to become a purpose-driven company. She too agrees DEI is most effective when it’s part of the company’s core values and purpose. But before working on putting those values into action, she asks leaders to dive into the why behind diversity, equity and inclusion in business.
“Leadership needs to do the work of addressing preconceived notions and hidden biases before bringing the rest of the company along,” said Whiteaker. “There’s always a lightbulb moment that bias isn’t always ‘bias’ as we think of it. It’s infused in everything we do; and in every space it shows up. It’s not good or bad. You just need to be aware of it.”
Whiteaker then prompts leadership to push further. “Just because there’s awareness, doesn’t mean it goes away”, said Whiteaker. Leaders should also examine how biases might show up in personal beliefs–and the business.
“They should ask, is it aligned with what I believe and value? If not, how can I shift it?” she said.
What Success Looks Like
“Much like any strategic business decision, a successful DEI program places accountability, goals and metrics into the business system”, said Jenkins. This then makes it far easier for management and staff to search for solutions and create products that are inclusive.
For example, a healthcare tech company can institute a policy that requires a reexamination of the data they obtained from research institutions. Because bias in medicine and clinical studies is well documented, using biased data could inadvertently result in designing a product that fails to address the medical needs of women or people of color.
“Companies should ask can we fix the data? Can we change the product to recognize that’s the case?” Jenkins said.
Getting Employees Involved
“Once leadership has done the work and examined how DEI fits into the company’s core values, it’s time to get the rest of the company involved”, said Whiteaker.
“My recommendation is to also invite employees to do this examination for themselves,” she said. “Show them the organization’s values and ask, ‘what does your team think?’”
Ask employees to examine their own values and how they connect back to the organization’s values. Give them time to consider if they’re on the same page and if not, what would bringing these values together look like, she said.
“Tie the work you do back to core values, whether it’s hiring or taking on a new project or running a marketing campaign, refer back to core values and how it is connected to one, if not multiple values,” Whiteaker said. “It’s a lot easier than it seems if it’s an automatic practice.”
An Outside Perspective on DEI
Working with a DEI consultant can help organizations dig deep into understanding what matters most and how the work they do aligns with their values–and where they may not match up. Jenkins said when a company feels “stuck,” unsure how to become more modern, a consultant can help them find the way forward.
To Whiteaker, a consultant can also help companies take a hard look at their messaging and the way products and services are presented to customers.
It helps to look at whether your company uses any language that could be seen as ableist or phobic in any way, she said, and that there are many online resources to help companies ensure they are using inclusive language.
“It’s not just the words or the visuals. What’s the energy? Is the way you show up for other people consistent in the message you’re putting out?” said Whitaker. “Your messaging is an invitation. That invitation is either going to draw them in or turn them away.”