Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Is Critical to Your Employer Brand, Culture, and Business

Blu Ivy Blog featuring Sheridan College

Over the last six months, the pervasive social injustices long faced by the BIPOC community have increasingly come to light, igniting an urgent awakening. Organizations are conducting audits of workplace culture, policies, and practices with respect to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and acknowledging their shortcomings.

While DEI has long been a priority for many HR departments, it hasn’t always been a strategic or top priority across the business.

Creating equitable hiring practices, conducting training on unconscious bias, and working on the gender pay gap are just a few of the things that HR has traditionally done to attract and engage diverse talent in the workforce. In 2020 however, it’s no longer enough. Quite simply, never before has DEI been as important as it is today.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sheridan College

While many organizations are struggling to catch up in the realm of DEI, it’s been a strategic priority for Sheridan College, one of Ontario’s leading postsecondary institutions, for many years. Sheridan educates approximately 23,000 full-time and 18,500 continuing and part-time studies students every year on three campuses in Ontario – Oakville, Brampton and Mississauga. Sheridan’s 190,000 alumni, from across Canada and around the world, play a critical role in shaping the future of society in the fields of arts, business, community service, health, technology, and the skilled trades. It’s no surprise then, with such a diverse base of students and alumni, that DEI is critically important to Sheridan. 

Sheridan is making history by being one of the first learning institutions in Canada to have an Executive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion person at the table. Dr. Jane Ngobia – Vice President, Inclusive Communities – is the inspiring leader who is leading the strategy and rollout of Sheridan’s plan. 

Sheridan’s 2024 Strategic Plan makes Inclusion and Equity a priority across everything we do.  It’s fundamental to everything we believe”, says Dr. Ngobia. “It’s important that our workforces and workplaces reflect the society we live in.  The richness that results when different ideas, perspectives and lived experiences are brought to the table – this expands everyone’s field of knowledge. It also signals that people are [our] greatest assets. The organization’s brand becomes synonymous with being employee centric.”

We asked Dr. Ngobia about the importance of DEI to Sheridan College, and what the future of workplace culture looks like, from her vantage point.

How important is DEI to Sheridan?

“Sheridan is a human centric institution. Our learners are the centre of what we do and the staff and faculty are central to providing an inclusive learning  and working environment. DEI directly impacts a student’s lived experience.  It’s important to have diverse decision makers as this has a direct impact on the student experience. We are working to make DEI an integral part of all recruitment related conversations with hiring managers and leaders. This has been a part of our strategic plan since 2019, as a key enabler in reaching our priorities and goals, and was embedded in the plan as a direct response to the feedback our community provided during the strategic planning process. More recently, Sheridan released an employee diversity self-identification census to collect demographic information that aided in establishing a baseline understanding of the diversity of our employees.”

Why should DEI be a strategic priority?

“We know that DEI leads to enhanced creativity, problem solving and more innovation. In today’s social environment, DEI is a non-negotiable – it must be embedded into your culture, mission, vision and values. Considering today’s multi-generational workforce, DEI could be applicable to any employee. As a strategic priority, it holds us accountable, and will eventually be embedded in everything we do, culture wise.”

How does DEI enhance culture?

“DEI enriches the culture by promoting uniqueness and encourages us to think outside of our traditional boxes. It aids in moving us away from the traditional mindset, and  helps fuel change and support ongoing growth and development for everyone. It also makes us more mindful of alternate worldviews, how we interact with others and how we treat others – internal and external to the organization. Inclusive environments give employees the support they need to voice their opinions and ideas.”

How does DEI enhance an Employer Brand?

“DEI allows people to truly see themselves at your organization. It highlights to employees that their leaders genuinely care about your workforce. It helps with transparency and keeps us accountable. It also cuts the noise of what every other organization may be saying or doing. By making it truly a part of your Employer Brand, you stand out as an employer who is making a meaningful commitment to its workforce and prospective employees.”

What advice do you have for other organizations looking to elevate their DEI strategy and practices?

“Ideally, embedding a DEI strategy should be a top-down and bottom-up approach – it needs to matter to everyone. In order for this strategy to be communicated and implemented, there needs to be a voice at the senior leadership table that is committed to DEI as an ongoing discussion and moving initiatives forward. Then, you need to revisit your practices and processes and examine them from a DEI lens. In addition, others within the leadership table need to adopt DEI language and model inclusive behaviour.”

Dr. Ngobia goes on to explain that there are many benefits to making DEI a strategic priority for your business, and we agree. DEI:

  • fuels and underpins excellence;
  • supports talent acquisition strategies;
  • creates a correlation between inclusion, belonging and employee engagement; and
  • makes inclusivity, fairness, and justice is a moral imperative.

“We also know that organizations are being judged for how they treat their employees and customers – how they do business – and that consumers want to do business with organizations that share their values. Organizations who make this a priority will build stronger relationships with their people and we all know that people are the key to any organization’s success. Because when people feel heard and valued, they are more likely to contribute positively, to stay at the organization and speak positively about it. All of that has a positive effect on the bottom line”, says Dr, Ngobia.

Current research supports these claims. Studies show that organizations that don’t implement DEI practices miss out on opportunities to tap into their peoples’ potential. Diverse teams are more innovative and make better decisions, and diverse organizations have better shareholder returns.  

What Does This Mean For Your Employer Brand and Culture Initiatives?

Diversity within a workplace means more than just demographics. It is a combination of acceptance, respect, and teamwork. It is what enables a vibrant, creative and thriving workplace, and breeds the true sense of belonging that employees seek out when choosing a workplace to grow in their career. In fact, it’s so important that we at Blu Ivy Group have added it to a list of hygiene factors and table stakes – something every organization needs to offer if they want to be considered in the talent landscape. But what about being competitive, not just considered? That’s where what you do – not just what you say you’re going to do – really matters to talent. Talent wants to see specific commitments; they want to see your diversity stats and whether your leadership team represents diversity and they want to know that DEI is truly a priority and not just lip service. And, because DEI is so critical and every organization needs to focus on it in order to be considered, it can’t be something you rely on exclusively in your employer branding because it’s not a differentiator. 

If you have someone who leads DEI for your organization, we recommend taking a page from Sheridan and involving them upfront and at critical milestones in your Employer Brand journey. They can ensure that they bring a DEI perspective to everything you do because they know, as the best brands do, that DEI is critical and foundational to your Employer Brand and Culture work. 

This blog is co-authored by Nicole Fernandes – Director, Employer Brand and Culture, Blu Ivy Group.

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