It has been two years since the summer of 2020, when diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) became an urgent priority for many organizations as they reckoned with the systemic injustices and disparities within their workplaces.
Many made bold declarations and promises to promote DEIB in all facets of their work. However, almost two years later, very little progress has been made. For example, a 2021 report analyzed 240 tech companies that made Black Lives Matter pledges or statements and found that they had 20% fewer Black employees than companies that didn’t make similar pledges and statements. According to the report, these companies also had no Black women in executive officer positions, and there were 49% fewer Asian executives than Asian workers at entry-level positions – the largest drop-off in the tech pipeline.
Unfortunately, many organizations aren’t living up to their DEIB pledges. While dismantling structures that uphold inequities doesn’t happen overnight, there are actions individuals, People-leaders, and HR Practitioners can implement to move the needle on this work. As we know, great employer brands don’t just have EVPs or Diversity Value Propositions. They deeply engrain this work to the employee experience.
Here are a few ways to ensure that your DEIB activities benefit and impact your overall employee experience and Employer Brand.
Privilege at work, we all have a role to play
It’s important to note that at its roots, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging aims to dismantle structures and systems. That does not mean there are not things you could be doing to be a more inclusive individual in the workplace.
One of the first things you can do is reflect on your workplace privileges. Workplace privilege has become a source of consternation in the diversity and inclusion conversation over the past few years. However, most of us are privileged in some way. You can have (or lack) privilege because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, wealth, class, and many other aspects. Understanding your privilege – and how it works for you and against others – is the first step toward achieving true diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging at work.
However, unpacking privilege can be challenging because it’s often invisible to those who possess it. For example, if you’re not a person with a disability, you likely won’t notice all the ways your workspace is inaccessible until someone with a disability point it out to you.
This is where specific bias and diversity training can help – if they’re not one-off interventions. Activities like Peggy McIntosh’s Invisible Knapsack allow reflection on an individual level about one’s privileges. It can be exhausting and painful for marginalized folks to advocate for themselves and educate their coworkers constantly. Giving employees access to diversity training should provide a space for them to learn and ask questions without fear of being judged, contributing to creating a culture of empathy and respect, which is fundamental to an inclusive workplace.
Pay attention to the subtle ways workplace privilege manifests
Once you’re aware of your privilege, you can use it to help level the playing field and create more equitable outcomes. Speaking up and using bystander intervention techniques when you see injustice(s) occurring is a solid approach to prevent these behaviours from continuing. However, some behaviours are easier to identify than others.
For example, research shows that racialized women in the workplace are asked to do “office housework” and other non-promotable activities (e.g., ordering lunch, taking notes) more often than white employees.
They also get caught in a catch-22. They can accept the task and reinforce the power dynamics that keep women of colour in lower positions. Or they can reject the task and risk being labeled difficult or aggressive.
While there are strategies that women of colour can employ to turn down these requests without being penalized, people with privilege in this scenario can also use their influence to break norms. For example, you could point out that your colleague has done this task many times before and volunteer yourself instead. Or you could propose that the team rotates housework tasks like facilitating, taking notes, and scheduling.
It’s rarely easy for marginalized employees to call out biases or injustices, as they often have to walk a fine line between being respected and liked. However, if you can identify the obstacles facing those without certain privileges, you can use yours to create a more equitable work environment.
Connect day-to-day DEIB efforts to measurable goals and organizational values and behaviours
DEIB can feel very high-level and conceptual unless you intentionally show your people how they can live out these values every day. Fortunately, a straightforward way to do this is through employee rewards and recognition.
For example, if one of your core values is celebrating diverse perspectives, you can recognize and reward employees who exhibit behaviours and actions that align with this value. Recognition shows the individual employee that their efforts matter while simultaneously serving as an example for the rest of the organization of what living that cultural value looks like.
A 2021 Workplace Intelligence study found that companies that integrate diversity and inclusion efforts and their recognition programs have three times as many employees reporting that they were ‘highly engaged,’. These companies also had seven times as many employees who said they felt included at work compared to organizations that did not integrate DEIB with recognition.
It should go without saying that there’s a business case for organizations that integrate DEIB and recognition and rewards into their daily operations, as they benefit from a more engaged and productive workforce. Highly inclusive companies are more likely to hit their financial target goals by up to 120%.
Continually evaluate DEIB programs
Building and maintaining a diverse and inclusive company is a process of continual accountability. If you want to do better, it’s not enough to set up some mentorship programs or host a few diversity seminars and call it a day. Instead, you need to regularly evaluate and measure the impact of your DEIB efforts with the same diligence that you’d apply to other aspects of your business, like financial reporting.
This means adopting strict reporting standards and sharing impact numbers regularly. Let’s say, if you’ve established employee resource groups, what are their goals? What does success look like, and how can you measure it? And how do you verify they don’t harm the groups they aim to help?
To start, you should provide both formal and informal opportunities for feedback. Feedback forms and NPS surveys are great, but they may not tell the whole story, so encourage employees to share their thoughts with managers and encourage managers to seek this feedback from their teams.
Lastly, once you collect the feedback, make sure you apply it to your DEIB programs. Keep feedback loops open by letting your employees know what you’ve learned from their insights and what you’re doing to improve their experience will help them feel heard. Managers and people-leaders drive an organization’s culture. It is essential to consider and respond to employee contributions and concerns to foster an open and inclusive workplace.
Collaborate and empower your DEIB leads and external consultants who specialize in creating equitable human resources policies and procedures
While understanding individual privileges and biases is an important first step, ensuring this work positively impacts your whole organization requires the development of in-depth policies and procedures, which often requires the support of an external vendor or a specialist in the field.
For example, the very concept of professionalism in the workplace – and how it’s expressed through characteristics like dress, speech, and work style – more often than not privileges the values of white, straight, non-disabled Western employees and disadvantaged people outside of those identities. You also need to evaluate your entire employee lifecycle from a DEIB lens, from recruitment to offboarding. It is not easy work, but you don’t have to go it alone. Working collaboratively with an external consultant or DEIB lead can help lighten your team’s load and give you access to valuable expertise and resources that you might not have in-house.
While you may have someone in charge of your DEIB strategy, it must be clear that it is a company-wide responsibility that necessitates equal participation and collaboration. It’s no surprise that the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role has seen significant turnover, with many resigning due to a “lack of resources, unrealistic expectations, and inadequate support from senior leadership.” If you want to sustain real change and serve your organization’s people, integrate at all levels of the organization.
Building more equitable workplaces is essential to your Employer Brand and Workplace Reputation
Privilege and oppression shape how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us – and the workplace is no exception. Your employees and candidates will have a different experience in your organization, depending on their role, level, or demographics.
However, if you want a truly inclusive culture of belonging, you need to ensure that your employee experience isn’t designed and delivered from a privileged point of view but instead prioritizes DEIB.
Now more than ever, candidates expect clarity and proof points about how potential employers are delivering more inclusive experiences. Job seekers are turning to employer review sites such as Comparably and Glassdoor to hear what diversity & inclusion really looks like at an organization and view an inclusive workplace as a requirement when looking for their next career move.
DEIB work is an ongoing process of unlearning and relearning. Still, the key to making progress is to keep listening to and learning from your employees’ diverse perspectives and apply those insights to make your workplaces more equitable.
Employer Brand and Culture Analyst
Blu Ivy Group
Blu Ivy Group is a global leader in employer branding, organizational culture, and recruitment marketing. We help organizations across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors build extraordinary employee experiences, magnetic employer brands, and high-performance cultures.
From C-Suite to Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition leadership, we partner with our clients to transform their organizations and design the most compelling workplaces of the future.
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