Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion. These three words are a rising focus in workplace culture and HR initiatives. Whether an organization wants to improve hiring practices, offer holistic compensation packages, or foster a truly connected community, DEI has an essential role to play. And there’s always a new angle or opportunity to consider.
C-suite executives, middle managers, employees – everyone has something to gain from more DEI engagement. No matter your past or current involvement in DEI work initiatives, you can encourage renewed DEI focus as an individual, team, and company.
Taking the next step in your DEI journey is essential for the growth and health of your organization. If you’re ready to dig deep, here’s the ultimate guide to workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how you can use DEI to build a better organization.
DEI is a holistic approach that helps shape workplace dynamics, from employee interactions to company culture. However, in too many companies, DEI can feel like a shapeless term: three letters that have undefined meaning due to overuse without explanation. That’s why working on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace requires that we get back to basics.
While the acronym for this initiative may be short and simple, each letter stands firm on its own terms. If C-suite executives, people leaders, middle managers, and ground-level employees want to get DEI right, a foundation of DEI definitions can help tremendously. Let’s dive into the meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion one at a time.
Our world runs rampant with distinction and difference. No two fingerprints are the same. Every snowflake is slightly different in pattern, shape, or size. Every night, the sky changes. Even when the same constellations repeat year after year, variable stars dim and brighten over time. The universe around us is truly diverse. But what exactly is diversity, and how does it apply to the workplace?
Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements…especially the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization.” This definition of diversity gets to the heart of the matter: people. Human beings are intersectional, meaning we have multiple aspects of our identity that overlap and shape who we are. No person is solely defined by their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion, age, or ability. Rather, our identity exists at the cross-section of these characteristics.
When we enter the workplace – remote or in-person – we bring our intersectional identity to the table. And everyone shares the responsibility to understand and accept each other’s differences, regardless of ideological conflict or past prejudice.
One important aspect of diversity is that it means different things in different places. A North American opinion on diversity will differ from a Southeast Asian or Northern African perspective. Our cultural expectations, societal norms, proximate marginalized groups, communication styles, and more all vary how we think about and engage diversity in the workplace.
Diversity at work is all about prioritizing, encouraging, and welcoming “the other,” no matter the distinguishing characteristics. When you foster professional and working relationships with people unlike yourself, you encourage the good work of DEI. But once a diverse group sits at the table, how do you interact with one another? That’s where equity comes into play.
If you’ve encountered the word “equity,” you’ve likely noticed its similarity to the term “equality.” Despite their similar linguistic roots, equity and equality describe very different phenomena. Understanding their distinction is critical. If those in charge of an organization pursue equality instead of equity, prejudice, injustice, and ignorance could endure undetected. To help parse the two terms, the U.S. National Institutes of Health explain the equality versus equity divide.
“Equality denotes evenness and the lack of difference, and has been elevated to a principle that is supposed to prevail in all domains—moral, judicial, economic, and political. Equity stands for fairness, yet what is fair is not necessarily equal, and what is equal is not necessarily fair.”1
This definition hints at the stark contrast between equality and equity. While equality distributes the same resources and opportunities without differentiation, equity distributes resources and opportunities based on differing circumstances for a fair outcome.
For example, consider a benefits package offered to employees that includes spousal health insurance. If “spouse” excludes same-sex relationships and non-traditional family structures, then these benefits lack equity. While every employee receives equal access to the benefit, its specific application does not benefit all employees equally. The same resources are available to all, but the outcome is not fair since it excludes.
Equity is all about creating opportunities for marginalized groups to catch up and thrive. If you want to promote equity in your organization, you’ll need an inclusive plan.
Go back to when you were a kid. Do you remember how teachers, parents, guardians, and coaches all encouraged you to share with others? To make sure every other kid had a place? These external pressures imparted a crucial life lesson to our younger selves: It’s on you to bring others into the fold.
In an academic article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, leading experts define inclusion as follows: “Inclusion refers to creating a culture that fosters belonging and incorporation of diverse groups and is usually operationalized as opposition to exclusion or marginalization.”2 This definition is chock-full of great terms to unpack, but one of the most essential is belonging.
Inclusion isn’t just about giving someone a seat at the table for important meetings – though this is an immensely important practice to implement. Creating physical opportunities for people to get involved only goes halfway; true inclusion means adapting surrounding circumstances and building inclusive ideologies, habits, and expectations that foster belonging. Inclusionary tactics are more than a list of actions for managers and employees to do. Belonging requires us to use emotional intelligence and dynamic, empathetic response to gauge whether a person feels included.
This kumbaya cohesion may sound great in theory, but what can you actually do to assess inclusion in your organization? Well, here are a few key inclusion indicators to keep an eye out for:
With these inclusion indicators, HR leaders and people managers can craft employee experience inclusion surveys. A well-rounded questionnaire will ask people throughout the organization whether they experience belonging, trust, psychological safety, and a share of voice. Each organization will need to tailor these questions for their culture, industry, size, and structural hierarchy, but the end result should yield helpful insights into your level of inclusivity.
After examining each part in its own right, it’s time to discover the powerful combination of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Just because these words smash together into a catchy acronym doesn’t mean they exist in perfect harmony. These cultural aspects require thoughtful planning to work in sync. While they instinctively correlate and overlap in meaning, you cannot achieve one without considering the other. The best way to visualize the harmony of diversity, equity, and inclusion is through a thought experiment.
Let’s imagine you’re heading a new project at a mid-sized manufacturing company. You bring together all the members of your five-person managerial team and present the project, assigning tasks for each person relevant to their expertise and interests. While you may accomplish inclusivity by bringing all essential parties to the table and encourage belongingness by anticipating their personal interests, this doesn’t mean the workload is equitable nor that the people on your team bring diverse perspectives.
As the project lead, you’ll need to go a few steps further. First, let’s tackle the connection between inclusivity and equity. Just because you assigned everyone a stake in the project doesn’t mean that’s the equitable decision, since evenness isn’t always fair. Maybe one manager already has two projects she’s implementing. Giving her an equal stake in this new one would pile onto an already overflowing workload compared to her peers who only manage one apiece.
You can still maintain inclusivity by giving the first manager a stake in this new project without burdening her with an inequitable workload.
Let’s flip the script. How is this scenario fulfilling inclusion at the expense of diversity? Well, your role as project lead means you have control over whose voice has influence. At your manufacturing plant, middle managers oversee line workers. Those who live day in and day out on the production line may have a different perspective than those in leadership, but you’ll never know until you ask.
Maybe your new project involves using a material that’s incompatible with current machining capabilities. You know this and plan to install updated equipment to get the job done, assuming everyone else will be okay with adjusting. However, line workers are the ones who must use the tech and learn its finer points. Consulting oft-ignored people and bridging the labour divide will diversify creative input, giving your project a more holistic approach.
As with all thought experiments, these general scenarios are one tiny drop in the sea of possibility. Inclusion isn’t just about comprehensive decision-making; equity isn’t just about fair workloads; diversity isn’t just about listening to oft-ignored voices. There’s so much more to each of these aspects, especially in the vast world of work.
We researched DEI initiatives at work and how employees feel about them in our 2022 Pulse of Talent global research report. Only 49% reported knowing their employer has a DEI strategy.
We went back to basics with diversity, equity, and inclusion and examined a manufacturing industry example. But there’s far more to say about DEI work initiatives and culture. Diversity, equity, and inclusion go far beyond a simple HR function. Here’s more on how you can understand each piece of the puzzle and how it relates to your organization.
Diversity takes on many forms, which means we must look out for many types of diversity. Our definition of diversity includes intersectional aspects like race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender, religion, age, and ability. However, this list isn’t exhaustive, nor should these words live as a tangled string of terms. Whether you’re familiar with the nuances of each word or not, it’s helpful to have a refresher. Let’s unpack each of these and see how they broaden our understanding of diversity at work.
Now that we’ve briefly expanded on each term, it’s time to dig deeper into the benefits of workplace diversity.
A more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment at work – or anywhere else for that matter – is a wonderful thing in and of itself. While the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace include interpersonal, social, and emotional safety and growth, they extend beyond the individual to the organization as a whole.
The business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion has been long discussed – it’s nothing new. But remembering the statistics supports our goal of enduring organizational success.
McKinsey’s DEI report shows the importance of gender and ethnic diversity, especially in executive teams, stating that they “found that the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. Companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30, and in turn these companies were more likely to outperform those with even fewer women executives, or none at all.” 5
Furthermore, “in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, our business-case findings are equally compelling: in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36% in profitability.” 5
Given the improved performance and profitability among companies with diverse gender and ethnic leadership, DEI must remain a high priority for C-suite executives, HR leaders, and hiring managers alike.
Organizations operate using hierarchical roles that determine working relationships, project management, job responsibilities, and more. The reality in every tier-based workplace is the diffusion of power. Though executives and managers have challenging responsibilities, influence accompanies these burdens, giving more voice to those with greater share in company activities. While those who host shareholder meetings or run functional teams should have a greater say, how they use their voice holds sway over company culture and DEI initiatives.
Imagine two workplaces: one with a CEO who routinely hires privileged people for high-up roles and one with a CEO who hires people from diverse or underprivileged groups. Both workplaces have an HR manager who verbally promotes DEI at the organization. However, only the second company succeeds in living out their diversity imperatives. The actions of high-level leaders at a company directly impact the success of DEI initiatives.
An organization’s DEI efforts are only as strong as the leadership’s commitment to them – and that begs the question, “How can leaders promote diversity?” Well, part of a leader’s commitment is apologizing in the wake of mistakes. Business leaders must be willing to offer since, heartfelt apologies for lapses in judgment and organizational actions antithetical to DEI.
Harvard Business Review posits that ideal apologies “read like messages from real people willing to use their authority and power to make situations right, rather than overcoached figureheads trying to avoid legal liability at all costs.”6 When a leader avoids empty non-apologies and takes a meaningful stand for a diverse, inclusive, and equitable company culture, people take notice.
If you’re not a leader in your organization, your voice still matters and carries weight. Consider how you can advocate for DEI and rally internal and external leaders for change.
Hear from our experts on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. Our webinar dives into the DEI details for recruiting, compensation, and engagement.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of DEI and how it fits into the workplace, it’s time to put these ideas to the test. This is the point where the rubber meets the road. And what you do from this point on determines your DEI success. Here are a few tips for putting DEI initiatives to work.
Policies are the guiding principles of company practice. So, it stands to reason that making incremental changes to an organization’s policies will effect change in the long term. Not sure how to support DEI at work? Start with HR policies around hiring practices and interpersonal employee conduct. These two areas are key places where diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t always factor in.
Another way to solidify DEI policies and procedures is through microlearnings, or short, guided educational lessons. Here at Ceridian, we’re using microlearnings to promote awareness and educate employees about DEI, as we believe digestible learning opportunities transform truthful tidbits into top-of-mind ideas.
By adjusting policies and providing relevant DEI resources, an organization can make meaningful steps toward more diversity in the workplace.
Equity concerns all actions of deliberation, discernment, and decision-making. When anyone decides between options – everything from project ownership to budgetary allocations to new hire selections – equity must be a priority.
One way to ensure that equitable resources and considerations exist is to advocate for them throughout an organization’s hierarchy. By promoting equity from the top-down and bottom-up, executives and employees alike will weigh their actions according to DEI principles. If you want to run more equitable and inclusive meetings or avoid discriminatory hiring processes, encourage decision-makers to think about all parties involved.
Those in charge of DEI work initiatives must also continue to clarify the difference between equality and equity. When first learning about equity and implementing equitable practices, it’s easy to revert to basic equality. Maintaining this distinction requires a reflexive awareness throughout the process. One way to increase awareness is to specifically task someone on the team, committee, or project with ensuring accessibility of information and equitable outcomes for underrepresented groups.
Improving DEI at work doesn’t happen with one policy change or a slight culture shift. Even when you feel you truly know how leaders can promote diversity, you must hold to these new credos. Creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace requires ongoing analysis and reflection for everyone.
When a person invests in a new business by purchasing a stock, they could buy it and never look at the investment again. However, the best practice is to keep a watchful eye to monitor ups and downs over time. In a similar way, investing in one DEI initiative or action will make a positive change. But staying the course and continuing that positive trajectory demands a long-term commitment.
As weeks, months, and years pass by, a great way to measure change is to give your employees a voice. Employee engagement and DEI success go hand –in hand. Employ, methods that prioritize hearing from people directly. Employees have a voice, so give them a platform to use it, like an inclusivity survey.
DEI surveys give employees, managers, and executives opportunities to reflect on organizational and personal engagement with diversity. While respondents will approach the survey with varying degrees of openness, giving people the chance to be thoughtful, critical, and self-reflective is essential to growth. Here are a few DEI survey questions to consider using:
These questions are just the beginning, and you should try to include as many industry- and organization-specific survey questions as possible. A few key themes to address include organizational and executive commitments, company culture, belongingness at organizational and team levels, and opportunities for change. Don’t forget to ask similar questions over time so you can get a long-term pulse on your workforce.
Explore expert advice on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. These 10 tips will help you grow your DEI activities.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives like the ones described in Chapter 3 are excellent ways to move the needle on your DEI agenda. But there comes a point where an initiative must permeate all levels of your organization. The unfortunate truth is you need buy-in from every executive, manager, and employee to change an entire organization’s culture. That’s where these DEI integration strategies come in.
A diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace is only possible when it feels second-nature. To make DEI a part of your DNA, you must move beyond initiatives to integration. An initiative can bring new language to a discussion, create events for collaboration, and encourage change, but progress stops at the feet of the individual. It’s on them to continue striving for DEI excellence.
In fact, it’s entirely possible for an employee to complete an online DEI training and continue excluding members of their team. But encouraging employees through ongoing engagement is a surefire way to avoid a “one step forward, two steps back” effect.
One such engagement strategy is to organize and nurture employee safe-space groups. A safe space is a group of coworkers equally committed to sharing honestly, accepting openly, and comforting thoughtfully. When you set up employee groups centered around active listening, wonderful things can happen.
Safe spaces also include the physical environment surrounding the employees. In a remote setting, this could be an invite-only video call. In-person options could involve a quiet meeting room or local café. But no matter where the meetings occur, a safe space must be free of prying eyes and eavesdroppers, so members feel safe to share complicated emotions and experiences without fear of shame or retaliation.
Another engagement strategy that helps make DEI a part of your DNA is an advisory council of employees. This self-governing body should operate with the support of an executive sponsor, showing leadership commitment to ongoing DEI activities. An advisory council can weigh in on strategic decisions, develop DEI resources, and support HR activities. By bringing employees of various levels to the table, your organization can actively promote the “I” in DEI.
How do you keep momentum going once the banners stop waving and the initiatives conclude?
First off, these things take time. You can’t boil the ocean all at once. Incremental change is painstaking, but effective. When you put on a DEI-focused event or require annual DEI trainings, you’re building diversity, equity, and inclusion into your organization’s habits. Don’t become discouraged when setbacks happen – and they will. Celebrate the small changes and play the long game.
While you wait for results in the long-term, there are things you can do now. A great way to build momentum that doesn’t stop is by changing the language you use. Encourage people with ideas and discourse that go beyond the issue or event at hand. Instead of discussing DEI in the context of the event or in abstract terms, talk about it in reference to employee’s typical tasks. The trick is to extend ideas beyond the time-bound event to a person’s long-term career.
For example, when discussing DEI, describe a scenario where sales managers encourage inclusivity in customer conversations. Or demonstrate a situation where marketing staff use more inclusive content or anticipate a more diverse audience when designing email nurture campaigns. By giving people concrete, commonplace situations where DEI can happen, you make it an attainable and ongoing endeavor.
You can also generate momentum by giving employees opportunities to plan and sign up for more DEI events, pledging future support. Let people know that DEI isn’t going anywhere, and create the expectation that you’ll involve them in the future.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are sometimes relegated to HR professionals, as if DEI is relevant to a select few. But if you want to integrate DEI throughout your organization, you’ll need to encourage it in each functional area. Finance, marketing, technology, operations, strategy, and more – everyone in these groups needs to adopt DEI-aligned practices.
A great way to avoid siloed initiatives and disproportionate follow-through is to start with leadership buy-in. The more you can encourage people leaders and middle managers to live out DEI principles, the more those under their direction will pay attention.
For instance, taking DEI to the marketing arm of your organization could look like creating marketing materials that anticipate multiple types of diversity or promoting user friendliness on your website. In the technology area, team leaders could prioritize accessibility to the physical tech or software they develop. Another idea is to get finance and operations to collaborate on a scholarship fund for employees or their relatives from underprivileged communities. All these ideas and more are perfect opportunities for DEI to permeate your organization. Get creative with how your functional areas can better engage diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Dig deeper into how you can start assessing DEI success at your organization and gather meaningful data.
DEI has become a staple of the HR field, influencing everything from boardroom discussions to employee interactions. It’s safe to say that DEI is here to stay, and it’s only going to grow in importance. It falls on HR leaders and executives to steer their organization toward diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here are a few of the directions DEI will take in the coming months and years.
Data is increasingly empowering business leaders to make informed decisions about everything from changes to employee benefits to assessments of company culture. Even back in our 2021 Pulse of Talent research, we found that 86% of employer respondents are using or planning to use analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to inform DEI initiatives.
So, it’s no surprise that the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion should include analytical storytelling. DEI analytics is still a relatively recent priority in business strategy, but it’s gaining traction and setting people leaders up for success.
If you’re looking to start measuring your organization’s DEI success, a data-centric strategy is a must.
The era of organizations being all talk and no substance is at an end. Casual diversity discussions and blurbs about DEI on webpages aren’t acceptable as commitment to change. Employees have a unique pulse on how their organizations fare with DEI, and they’re demanding that change take effect.
In a 2021 Forbes article, Ashley Stahl notes, “Many employees feel that public-facing efforts to promote greater equity and inclusion have not necessarily matched internal corporate practices or culture.”7 People want to see alignment between external communication and internal application. Again, the issue of conversation versus action arises.
Stahl’s account of employees’ cognitive dissonance matches data from our 2022 Pulse of Talent report. We asked participants how they would describe the implementation of their organization’s DEI program. Of our survey respondents, 23% said the results of the program were not reflected in the company culture. That’s nearly one out of every four employees noting a discrepancy between DEI programming and company culture.
Furthermore, only 32% of our respondents answered the same question by saying that progress is being made on DEI implementation. While it’s worth celebrating the one-third of organizations making noticeable progress, that leaves a two-thirds majority struggling with DEI success.
The future of DEI is deeply rooted in organizations’ ability to marry promotional dialogue with tangible progress. And for employers trying to retain top talent, an ineffective DEI strategy could cost you high-quality employees. In our 2022 Pulse of Talent survey, 20% of new job seekers cited a lack of alignment between employer and employee values as a reason they’re leaving. Aligning DEI strategies with organizational actions will promote palpable impact on company culture and employee retention in the future.
Corporate social responsibility, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, is “a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.”8 Also referred to as CSR, corporate social responsibility is uniquely positioned to address DEI initiatives.
This public image is vital for many audiences, chief among them being high-value job prospects, investors, stakeholders, and customers. Amber Cabral contends that “consumers are also growing savvier by the day; it will no longer be enough to make an inclusive stand on Instagram. Customers are looking for clues that companies are serious and committed in the way they create, sell and market whatever the product.”9
If the business case for DEI teaches us anything, it’s that deprioritizing or outright ignoring diversity, equity, and inclusion in the future could lead to high-stakes internal and external consequences.
Public engagement is a key part of the future of DEI. Organizations, especially publicly traded ones, have an external image to uphold. While an organization may have a dedicated CSR department, their activities might not work in concert with the HR department’s DEI initiatives. Intentional collaboration between these departments will increase a company’s DEI success, internally and externally.
The scope of DEI branches far and wide. Making it a central aspect of your organization is crucial. Given the incredible benefits of DEI success and the considerable costs of indifference, it’s time to take your diversity, equity, and inclusion practices to the next level in all levels of your organization.
 Imre Loefler, Let’s be fair about equity and equality, The BMJ, March 2006.
 Zeynep Arsel, David Crockett, & Maura L Scott, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Journal of Consumer Research: A Curation and Research Agenda, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 48, Issue 5, February 2022, Pages 920–933.
 The Difference between ‘Race’ and ‘Ethnicity’ , Merriam-Webster.
 Carolyn M. Mazure, What Do We Mean By Sex and Gender?, Yale School of Medicine, September 2021.
 Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle, Kevin Dolan, Vivian Hunt, & Sara Prince, Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, McKinsey, May 2020.
 Lily Zheng, Enough With the Corporate Non-Apologies for DEI-Related Harm, Harvard Business Review, April 2022.
 Ashley Stahl, What's To Come In 2021 For Diversity, Equity And Inclusion In The Workplace, Forbes, April 2021.
 What is CSR?, United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
 Amber Cabral, Leaders: pay attention to these positive changes you need to make in 2022, Fast Company, December 2021.