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Leadership Development, Career Success, NSLS Blog

Ways to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Improving diversity and inclusion helps employees from all walks of life thrive in organizations, and it’s also a very smart business move. 

Numerous studies have shown that diverse teams simply work better. According to the Harvard Business Review, diverse teams are better at dissecting problems, thinking about them critically, and creating innovative solutions.

Increasing DEIB efforts is good for employees and good for business, but despite this, many organizations still have serious gaps to fill

So, how do you get started increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace? What are some DEIB best practices to implement to begin creating a more inclusive and uplifting workplace?

FIRST, UNDERSTAND YOUR CURRENT ORGANIZATION

The first step to addressing or correcting any problem is to have an understanding of where the problems currently are. All organizations are different and will require different action plans to see actual results when it comes to DEIB. 

“The first step to increasing workplace diversity is looking at your company's current makeup and culture,” reports Jennifer Herrity from Indeed. 

“A good way to approach this examination is to compare your company's racial, ethnic, and gender makeup to that of the local community. The community can give you a target for the diverse demographics your company can try to achieve.”

Using local demographics is a great way to set your baseline. It’s important to not only look at your overall demographic data but also pay close attention to your executive team’s makeup. Some DEIB initiatives are great at hiring more diverse candidates but fall flat when it comes to empowering them to take on leadership roles. 

Without a diverse leadership team, organizations can’t fully embrace a culture of diversity since diverse groups will likely not have a voice representing them when company-wide decisions are made.

CREATE DIVERSITY INITIATIVES BASED ON NEEDS AND CONCERNS

Having a firm grasp on the demographics of your overall workplace and leadership team is great and will likely highlight areas that need improvement in and of itself. But the best initiatives strike at bigger issues that lurk under the surface. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) calls this “drilling down.” It requires organizations to have a deep look within themselves by asking some potentially difficult questions. 

SHRM lists a few sample questions that can act as a springboard. These questions include:

  • Is management full of older white males?

  • Do black females earn less than their white counterparts?

  • Does the accounting department tend to hire only females?

  • Have promotions been limited for those with English as their second language?

  • Are employees on the West Coast more ethnically diverse than their East Coast counterparts?

Asking these questions may be difficult, but if no one’s willing to ask them, diversity initiatives may fail. SHRM also recommends sending surveys to team members to get their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

“Employee attitudes on culture may or may not match the survey results. If they do match, then the employer has a clearer path to what change is needed; if not, the organization may wish to conduct employee focus groups to better understand the disconnect,” they report. 

GO BEYOND ADDRESSING HIRING POLICIES

While the above steps are great for understanding an organization’s makeup on a deeper level to reveal growth opportunities, one of the most important ways to increase diversity in the workplace is to review your policies and make sure they have no adverse effects. 

For many organizations, diversity policies typically address hiring practices. While hiring is a huge part of addressing gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion, other policies that may have been on the books forever should also be examined thoroughly.

For example, dress code policies. “Outside of this academic context, many employers today are aware of the dangers of creating and applying gender-based employment policies. Nevertheless, gender-based dress codes continue to raise concerns in the workplace,” reports employment lawyer and author Miranda Valbrune for Forbes.

Valbrune goes on to highlight how gender-based dress codes can reinforce power structures that diversity initiatives strive to level out. While these types of dress codes are thought of mainly when it comes to cisgender women, transgender people are also heavily impacted by these policies. 

“Dress codes should allow transgender employees to feel comfortable living full-time in the role consistent with their gender identity, and shouldn’t prevent them from maintaining a gender-neutral appearance,” Valbrune continues.

Dress codes have also been shown time and time again to impact people of color with multiple reports citing the damage they can have. 

As you can see, there’s a lot that can be changed by looking at this one policy. Organizations have many different policies just like this that should be examined for bias and adverse impact. Hiring practices are just one of them.

Other policies that may be impacting your DEIB initiatives include:

  • Holiday Leave

  • Parental Leave

  • Work schedules

SUCCESSFUL DEIB PRACTICES REQUIRE CULTURAL BUY-IN

There’s many ways to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace using modern policy changes and updated hiring practices. The number one way is to establish and embrace a culture of diversity. 

Culture is king when it comes to tackling workplace issues, from retention and employee engagement to productivity and profitability. Diversity is no different and can be argued that it’s more important because it deals directly with employee wellbeing.

For example, many companies hire based on “cultural fit,” which is how well a candidate will fit into the already established culture inside the workplace. One way to increase DEIB is to reframe this thinking and start looking for people who are a “cultural add.” 

This is exactly what the e-commerce company Groupon did. According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review and SHRM, Groupon’s global head of DEI Yemi Akisanya, stated:

“Rather than seek individuals to fit the existing culture, Groupon wants people to ‘bring their uniqueness, their differences, their skills, and their perspectives — to add those into our culture to continue to create it while preserving the fundamental values of the company.”

In other words, embracing difference, celebrating it, and being proud of having a diverse organization, is one of the very best ways to establish a workplace that is not only varied in demographic terms but also a place that’s psychologically safe and strives to uplift everyone.

BOOSTING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE WORKPLACE: KEY TAKEAWAYS

Increasing DEIB in the workplace can be a huge challenge, especially for companies that have largely ignored these issues in the past. However, with time, a plan, and a willingness to ask tough questions, organizations can make their workplace a truly empowering one. 

The first step toward increasing diversity is to understand where your organization needs to improve and then create smart, measurable goals to ensure you’re promoting them. 

Once that baseline is established, policies and changes should be made while also starting to embrace differences to begin bolstering a culture of diversity that goes beyond written policies.

Organizations that take these steps and keep DEIB at the forefront of their minds will be the most successful. Remember, everything takes time and commitment to see true change.