August 2, 2021

Ten ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace

For diversity practices to be successful, you also need to facilitate an inclusive work culture. Here are some ways employers can build or improve upon their diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.

While many companies have been putting diversity, equity, and inclusion into greater focus over the last few years, there is still significant room for improvement. Diverse teams foster better employee engagement and productivity and they allow for better problem-solving abilities as varying perspectives often approach business challenges in a new way.

The research that diversity in the workplace powers innovation and financial performance continues to stack up. Some studies have found that companies with pro diversity policies performed better and had greater resilience during the 2008 financial crisis. The reason for this is clear: more diverse companies have greater levels of innovation.

However, certain industries in particular – such as financial services – still have significant lack of representation of people of color, mainly at senior levels. Two factors contributing to this underrepresentation are the rate at which employees leave a company and the rate at which employees get promoted. As well, research conducted by McKinsey has found that women in particular have been negatively impacted by the pandemic as it has intensified preexisting challenges that working women already faced – such as finding childcare.

LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends report found that diversity is a key trend that has impacted the way organisations hire their people. According to the report’s findings, 78% of companies prioritise diversity to improve culture, and 62% of companies prioritise it to boost financial performance.

The report adds that companies making meaningful efforts towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as providing a sense of belonging, have invested in their people through supporting employee resource groups (ERGs) and having a strong backing from their leadership teams.

The power of diversity, equity, and inclusion during a crisis

Over the last year, diversity and inclusion receded as a strategic priority for many organisations as they continue to address threats to business continuity and recovery. Workforces are more dispersed as some employees are working remotely while others are at – or returning to – the physical office or worksites. These new working arrangements can further exacerbate existing diversity challenges and highlight unconscious biases that may exist. Essentially, a dispersed workforce can distance employees and teams from one another, undermining inclusivity efforts and initiatives that existed in the traditional working environment.

Making organisational change last 

Recent events have sparked important conversations around racial bias and social injustice, calling upon institutions and organisations to do their part in taking meaningful action. However, new LinkedIn data shows that companies talked about diversity in June 2020, but that discussion began to decline just a few months later. Businesses need to take this opportunity to not only continue the conversation, but to implement and uphold more impactful strategies to see real, lasting change within their organisation.

Hiring for diverse backgrounds and promoting diversity initiatives is only a first step. Diversity, equity, and inclusion go hand-in-hand, and to experience real organisational change, companies must build a truly inclusive work culture. This means extending initiatives beyond the hiring process and providing equal opportunity and treatment throughout every touchpoint of the employee experience.

At Ceridian, we define diversity as a measure of difference in identity; things like gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, ability, or religion. Inclusion is a respect for and appreciation of these differences – the deliberate act of welcoming and valuing diversity and equity. Here are some tips and action items to help managers and HR leaders build on their existing DEI efforts or develop new ones for the first time.

Ways to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace

1. Be aware of unconscious bias

Understanding bias and building awareness is a first step towards real change. According to Associate Dean and Director of Office of Inclusion, Belonging, and Intergroup Dialogue at Stanford University Mohammad Bilal, there are a couple of different forms of bias. The first is unconscious bias, which can include associations or feelings of bias that may be hidden underneath the surface. Bilal explains that unconscious biases do not necessarily align with our conscious beliefs or declared beliefs, which means unconscious biases are even more important to pay attention to.

Leaders can start addressing this by helping employees understand how individuals are impacted by unconscious bias, and what actions continue to reinforce biases. One way to build awareness and address unconscious bias is to encourage every employee to review, question, and analyse their own personal biases and assumptions.

Bilal underscored the importance of leaders and employees keeping a thought journal to process their own biases. Recording instances of stereotyping as they occur will help people become more aware as they start to make those biases more conscious. This will help people observe when they begin to stereotype individuals so they can refute and replace biases.

2. Communicate the importance of managing bias

Cultural humility is another way leaders and employees can manage bias and foster more inclusive environments. This concept involves remaining curious and humble about cultural differences. Bilal emphasises the importance of understanding that no one is an expert, but is on a continuous learning journey when it comes to respecting and embracing other people's experiences and realities. Becoming culturally competent, Bilal adds, is a lifelong practice.

One way organisations can help employees manage their own bias is by leveraging technology and training that provides guidance on actions for moving forward. Joelle Emerson in Harvard Business Review suggests that a concern with diversity or unconscious bias training and teaching is that people can become defensive, and using technology can help alleviate that concern.

“Training can be designed to reduce defensiveness by explaining that we don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad people – we have them because we are people,” she explains. The article adds that internal bias training is an effective way to inspire change and higher understanding amongst employees, citing Google’s internal training findings as one example.

3. Promote pay equity

Managers must level out the playing field and provide fair opportunity for each employee. Organisations can leverage analytics to identify which employees are underpaid for similar roles or responsibilities. For example, people analytics can help managers pinpoint any pay gaps that may exist within their team, and leaders can assess patterns within various departments to get to the root of underlying issues. This insight can help identify patterns or trends that may exist where certain groups of employees like people of color, for example, are being underpaid within certain areas of the business.

4. Develop a strategic training program

Diversity training helps employees understand how cultural differences can impact how people work and interact at work. It can cover anything from concepts of time and communication styles to self-identity and dealing with conflict. Diversity training that is offered as optional tends to be more effective than that which is made mandatory.

Companies should also focus on training that’s relevant to their specific organisation and employees, and that aligns with their broader diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and identified challenges. In addition to using internal resources, partnering with a consultant can help leaders build customised training programs for both the organisation as a whole, as well as those that are function-specific.

It’s critical that leaders are clearly communicating why training is taking place, problems you’re trying to solve, and what comes next. This will help keep people motivated and also help them understand how the learnings tie back to broader company goals.

5. Acknowledge holidays of all cultures

One way to build awareness of diversity and foster greater inclusivity is to be aware of and acknowledge a variety of upcoming religious and cultural holidays. When closing out a team call or meeting, if the audience isn’t too large, ask how people what their plans are to celebrate the holiday. Use your company’s intranet to help employees become aware of and keep track of multicultural religious or holiday celebrations. Be respectful of these days when scheduling meetings, and understand that employees have different needs that may require flexibility.

6. Make it easy for your people to participate in employee resource groups

In a Wall Street Journal article, LinkedIn’s Rosanna Durruthy discussed leveraging employee resource groups (ERGs) as an opportunity to grow and develop talent, and help managers learn from these groups in a safe space. ERGs help build a culture of connection and belonging. Building on this, in addition to leveraging ERGs, employers can make it easy for all employees to participate, whether it be creating a differing pay code for easy time tracking for ERG meetings, or asking employees to share initiatives or projects the ERG is focused on. Provide a toolkit or guidelines that employees can follow to encourage them to set up a new ERG.

Getting senior leaders on board is also critical. An executive and/or leadership sponsor can not only help to increase visibility, innovation, and awareness, but can also help align ERG activities with business goals. Additionally, commitments from senior leaders signal a wider, organisational commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

7. Mix up your teams

Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage” says a key part of diversity is understanding and learning from different voices, experiences, values, and cultures. Morgan likened team diversity to focusing on all 64 squares in a chess game instead of getting stuck on one aspect of the board, or where you happen to be playing. In the context of the workplace, getting stuck is similar to focusing only on a particular geography, or your own department or team.

A diverse cross-section of talent allows enhanced perspective, which will spur creativity on teams. If your team is homogeneous, invite someone who is a different gender, cultural background, or age, to weigh in on an initiative or project.

Much has been written about how diversity in teams positively impacts creativity and innovation, and the case for an inclusive culture is only growing stronger. There’s value in experiences with multiple perspectives, which inspires novel thinking, connecting thoughts in new ways, and different approaches to problem-solving.

8. Facilitate ongoing feedback

Organisations can encourage their people to share their feedback to get a better understanding of what’s going on under the surface. Deploying pulse surveys across the workforce will arm leaders with the information needed to make smarter decisions and reduce or eliminate any patterns of discrimination or biases within a particular branch or area of the organisation, for example. Anonymous feedback via an employee pulse survey can help build a case to take immediate action on smaller, more pressing issues as well as inform long-term strategies. HR leaders and managers can encourage employees to use engagement and check-in tools to facilitate conversations and transparently communicate about how they’re feeling.

9. Assess company policies

Employers will also need to assess areas of the business in which discrimination can exist. Company policies and interpersonal interactions – such as the way an internal issue is handled – plays a key role in perpetuating existing problems. Bilal explains that a main reason why employees leave an organisation is a result of poor interpersonal interactions.

If employers start to rethink their policies, they can address and replace negative processes or interactions with more positive ones. Leaders first need to determine whether policies enable or perpetuate discrimination in the workplace such as racism or sexism and reshape them to move towards a more equitable workplace. “Policies live beyond people,” Bilal added. 

A timely example, as noted in Ceridian’s 2021 Pulse of Talent, relates to working from home and the COVID-19 pandemic. The ability to work from home has largely been considered as a perk synonymous with flexibility. But after several months of remote working in crisis mode and with rapidly changing conditions, the current definition of workplace flexibility, and the policies that support it, are due for an overhaul.

True workplace flexibility should provide every employee with the opportunity to work fairly and equitably, whether they’re on-site, in the office, or working at home, says Ceridian CHRO Susan Tohyama in the report. Facilitating flexibility for all employees, she adds, helps to establish a more equitable and inclusive culture across the organisation.

10. Track progress over extended periods of time

Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts aren’t successful overnight. In fact, making structural changes to workforce strategies and systems can take many months, especially as businesses face new challenges around hiring and managing their people. A cultural shift takes time, which means organisations must set benchmarks and track their progress to assess how their efforts are moving the needle. This will not only show leaders what strategies are working, and which ones are falling short, but it will also help to hold them accountable in reaching their long-term goals.

Taking bolder action with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts

While diversity, equity, and inclusion are at risk during a crisis or downturn, it’s important for companies to recognise the key role they play in recovery, resilience, and overall success in the future. Effective DEI strategies will help better support employees, build culture, and create a thriving business. Employees will feel more engaged as they show up to work every day – whether in person or online – feeling safe, connected, and heard.

Diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environments also appeal to candidates as they remain highly engaged in conversations about breaking down systemic discrimination and bias and are more likely to apply to companies that are outspoken about diversity. Organisations must assess how they stack up when it comes to their DEI programs and identify areas that need to be put into even greater focus. Most importantly, companies must recognise that diversity, equity, and inclusion is not an option or a “nice-to-have” – it’s a necessity.

Team Ceridian

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