Arguably, the expectation for company diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has never been so great. In today’s socially aware climate, the pressure is on business leaders to improve diversity and promote equity.
By implementing and promoting DE&I practices across the business, companies can help build a culture where employees feel more valued, and therefore more loyal. Without the help of leadership, employees are likely to shape company culture themselves, which can often be at odds with company policy and identity.
Only through consistent and long-term learning and development (L&D) training and cross-business support, can organizations develop and successfully implement the DE&I initiatives necessary to drive success.
What is Diversity, Equity & Inclusion?
DE&I is a company-wide strategy or set of initiatives designed to remove hidden bias and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Firstly, diversity supports being sensitive to the needs of others regardless of their ethnicity, cultural background, gender, sexuality, or disability. Secondly, equity extends the practice of impartiality to everyone. Finally, inclusion ensures that employees at every level feel respected and comfortable to speak up and share their ideas.
Such initiatives are ideally found in staff training programs, in order to reach all departments and all employees, from the staff on the ground up to the CEO. These programs help guide and standardize company policies and procedures, and provide a means for employees to report discrimination in the workplace. They are also a key part of the recruitment process, to help Human Resources and hiring managers remove unconscious biases in interviews and employee selection process. The goal is to provide real value and support through L&D initiatives that create long-term impact, instead of just scratching the surface.
Why is it so important?
Though a cornerstone of its success, the value of DE&I extends far beyond the cultivation of acceptance. It can enhance a company’s reputation outside of its four walls too, painting a positive picture of the business and the brand. For example, by filtering through to marketing, advertising, and charitable sponsorship, positive DE&I policies can help to form connections with customers and potential employees.
The latest McKinsey DE&I report confirms that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. However, many companies still lag behind – between 2017 and 2019, gender diversity moved up just one percentage point – from 14% to 15%, globally. This is where support from stakeholders can help.
Exploring the benefits
Promoting DE&I throughout your organization is the first step toward making workers feel safe, respected, and trusted. It builds a sense of belonging, helping to foster stronger relationships built on trust and acceptance between staff and upper management. This not only aids communication and collaboration, but also improves empathy and mental health. And when staff feel they are “at home” in the workplace, they are more likely to be open with their ideas – and ideas are what drives company innovation and evolution.
Inclusion and belonging are particularly important in today’s remote and hybrid working environments, where workers can sometimes feel more disconnected from their teams. Cultivating these attributes can bring even the most globally dispersed teams together, build trust, and help to reduce feelings of isolation and the risk of burnout from overwork.
Crucially, by enriching your company culture with DE&I, you can also improve employee engagement and job satisfaction. This means employees are likely to be happier, and therefore more loyal and productive. For employers, this translates into better staff retention and acquisition rates. This in turn brings in more diversity and more fresh ideas, driving company success and attracting new talent, continuing the virtuous circle.
Another recent McKinsey report confirmed that leading companies with executive-level gender diversity were 27% more likely to outperform their peers on longer-term value creation, as measured using economic-profit margin.
Driving this type of success not only depends on company-specific L&D training, but it also requires commitment from everyone in the business.
This starts with the CEO and upper management, who are instrumental in creating and communicating the policies, with the support of Human Resources. L&D teams then develop and deliver the training, while HR steers the DE&I-based recruitment and hiring initiatives. Team managers are then responsible for adapting and driving these policies, through team collaboration activities and processes such as employee reviews and onboarding.
It is therefore essential that significant resources are devoted early on to leadership training, to reinforce positive behavioral change.
Steps to develop DE&I in your organization
- Hire a DE&I executive to lead the way, creating and guiding processes in a uniform manner
- Compile data on your workforce and compare it with the labor market
- Identify underrepresented demographics by department, position, and location
- Address company policies and practices which potentially limit DE&I
- Review organizational objectives to ensure they align with DE&I goals
- Garner senior management support through training and support programs
- Communicate and implement DE&I initiatives, highlighting responsibilities and timeframes
- Measure the results against KPIs, solicit feedback from managers, and report the outcomes to staff
- Continually review and improve your initiatives against your starting objectives
Creating a company culture based on human characteristics such as acceptance, mutual respect, and behavioral awareness can transform workplaces for the better, for both employers and employees. But more than that, it can have a significantly positive impact on brand identity and reputation.
To attain this level of success requires investment in DE&I initiatives, tailored to your company objectives, with expertly designed training to support it. It also requires cross-business support, particularly from leadership, who must embody any new company DE&I values. Only then can your business begin to realize the consequential benefits on productivity, performance, and corporate culture.