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Strong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Programs in the Corporate Environment

Between 2020-2022, numerous companies among the Fortune 100 announced hiring a chief diversity officer in the U.S. This trend is heightened as social equity and impact conversations have become front and center in discussions about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), both in workforce and in supplier diversity. More organizations are adopting DEI programs, typically covering workforce and workplace diversity by outlining distinct policies with goals to increase representation and participation from diverse gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, experiences, abilities and skill sets. The programs are aimed at those from historically underrepresented groups.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A Breakdown
Models of diversity within the workplace have changed and continue to evolve. The goal of most companies today regarding diversity is to actively consider all the many experiences, differences and perspectives an employee brings to the workplace.

Of course, existing legal protections, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and other U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)-enforced laws, make it illegal to discriminate against a particular set of these characteristics, including: disability, age, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. But beyond these attributes are individual experiences, identity, skills, diversity of thought, personalities and different skill sets we must consider. All these distinctions are important in understanding the meaning of diversity, as every individual is different.

Equity is defined as freedom from bias or favoritism. The term differs from equality, which is understood to be the state of being equal. Workplace equity provides employees access to the same opportunities, and that access may look different depending on each individual need. For example, an employee with a disability may require a reasonable accommodation to perform an essential function — access to and delivery of such an accommodation is considered equitable.

While equality and equity are essential in the workplace, instilling equity within company policy is the more actionable road to both. Productive equity programs level the playing field and are valuable tools to help achieve true inclusion.

It’s often assumed in workplaces that if there is diversity, there is also inclusion. The value of strong DEI programs comes in the power of a company’s culture, starting from the top down. In order to create an inclusive workforce, first identify actions you can take to ensure that the diversity and equity you work so hard to improve and increase will not be eroded by the lack of inclusion in daily employee experiences.

A common counter to the concept of inclusion is the idea of symbolic effort or “Tokenism.” Tokenism is the hiring of a person or persons from marginalized groups for the sake of the appearance of diversity, often to save face or avoid criticism for lack of diversity. But without any intention of giving that individual room to present all they can offer to the organization, their presence proves ineffective and is not considered actual inclusion.

Profile of a Strong DEI Program
More organizations adopt some sort of DEI program every day. However, Gartner research revealed that only about 20% of organizations believe their DEI programs to be effective. So, what exactly makes a DEI program successful?

Studies show that strong DEI initiatives are based on transparency. Transparency is the bedrock of trust, and the whole of an organization must trust the DEI programs for it to thrive. Frequently, employees whose identities are underrepresented are left outside the loop. Leadership must be deliberate in stating motives, decisions, and processes surrounding DEI programs. Transparency not only helps all employees know their value, but also sets the tone for any future changes. Gartner also reveals three helpful focuses when creating quality DEI programs.

Establish an Employee-centric Approach
When companies bring the focuses and interests of historically marginalized employees to the forefront, DEI initiatives are more likely to excel for all employees. Successful initiatives typically took the time to understand structural challenges and issues raised by individuals within the company before preparing DEI strategies.

Create Metrics to Track Progress
Research shows that only 57% of organizations with DEI initiatives use metrics to track progress made by their programs. It is crucial that employers understand which strategies executed drive inclusion and equity in the workplace. It’s also paramount that all data findings are used to alter strategy as needed, moving forward.

Embed DEI Strategies Throughout the Organization
Quality DEI initiatives should incorporate policy decisions into all facets of operations; this means going beyond policy statements during new employee onboarding to truly encompass all areas of business, including day-to-day business processes and employee relations. The value of establishing strong DEI programs comes in the power they must move the needle forward within the company culture and the workforce in meaningful ways.

Why are DEI Initiatives Important?
Organizations that enact strong and sustainable DEI initiatives reap many benefits. Companies report up to 20% increases in organizational inclusion after sustained implementation of quality DEI programs. Among other advantages are a reported average of 56% increase in job performance and a 50% reduction in employee turnover.
A more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace helps everyone. Great DEI initiatives use deliberate strategies to implement a more comfortable and satisfying workplace for all, and the advantages of such a shift can show benefits for both employer and employee.