DEI: How to Ensure a More Inclusive Workplace


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is sometimes referred to as DEIB, with the “B” referring to belonging. In fact, many organizations have moved the needle when it comes to hiring a diverse team. They have proactively sought to hire people who reflect the real world and therefore represent a myriad of races, religions, cultures, geographies, perspectives, and educational and professional backgrounds.

What trips up some employers is how to ensure the inclusion and belonging part of the equation. It is one thing to pay lip service to DEI and have unconscious bias training, for example. It’s another to live the philosophy of equity and inclusion and make that integral to your company culture.

WATCH: DEIB Culture Starts with Skills

In 2022, respondents of the HR Exchange Network State of HR survey said they would be creating a dialogue about inequality (23%), conducting surveys about DEI (23%), and assessing the perception versus the reality of their DEI efforts (13%). More than 10% of respondents said investing in new DEI initiatives was a priority.

READ: State of HR Report

Still, there is more to creating an inclusive workplace than investment in programs or even checking in with employees. To truly become inclusive, you must influence the culture of the place. Here are some ideas that are widely accepted as functional:

Model Inclusion from the Top

C-suite executives must set the tone for an inclusive workplace. They might require training and education. For instance, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has suggested that leaders, who demonstrate inclusivity, are active listeners. They encourage different points of view, and effectively use language to communicate with a diverse team.

Not everyone is born knowing how to do these things, and that’s all right. Such skills can be taught. In the meantime, you must get buy in from top executives. There are plenty of studies available that demonstrate the link between a vibrant and diverse workforce and positive business outcomes. MarketWatch has shared that companies with a diverse team have cash flows 2.3 times higher than those with a more monolithic staff. These results happen at workplaces, where people feel included and therefore are more likely to perform well.

The point is that everyone has to buy into this cultural shift. To ensure the whole team understands this is the kind of workplace you’d like to develop, your CEO and others at the top must be the first to comply. Knowing the benefits to the business might motivate them. Of course, others will take their cues from the bosses.

READ: Great Regeneration: How to Win the War for Talent

Have a Diversity Director or Board

Many experts, including SHRM, suggest having someone or a few people who devote their energy to DEI efforts. They can measure successes and take the pulse of the team to determine if various initiatives are effective. They can talk to people about whether they are feeling included or excluded. Creating the dialogue about inclusion is a way to pinpoint and address problems as they surface, continuously recognize areas that could use improvement, and measure successes.

Most people get tied down in their everyday tasks, so they don’t get to focus on issues like DEI even if they feel it is important. Having one or a few people who make it their job to improve inclusion is a way to ensure it doesn’t get forgotten or put on the back burner.

READ: How to Solve Your Common DEI Problems

Communicate Well in Meetings

People want validation. Those who feel like outsiders might be reluctant to talk, and others might not provide them with recognition. Teaching your teams to be aware of their behavior in meetings can help. It doesn’t take much time on anyone’s part. Some teams start the meetings with small talk that includes everyone. Others provide ample time to allow people to applaud the successes of their colleagues.

Juliet Bourke, adjunct professor in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School, conducted a study on peer inclusion and wrote about it in Harvard Business Review. Her results indicate that peer inclusion is essential to employees having that sense of belonging. One of the ways peers include one another is by recognizing their achievements and providing praise during meetings or group get togethers.  

Most importantly, Bourke’s work provides three steps for peers to ensure inclusion:

  • Instrumental assistance – helping your colleagues perform their job by providing information, training, mentorship, etc.
  • Emotional bonding – sharing details about your personal life, celebrating together, socializing
  • Embodied connection – using body language, including where you sit in a meeting, how you lean in when someone is speaking, etc. – to demonstrate your collegiality and support

WATCH: Psychological Safety for Today’s Workforce

Encourage Peer Inclusion

Once the senior executives are on board and modeling good behavior, you have to keep tabs on what’s happening among middle management and junior staff. Feeling included, after all, is dependent on a strong team dynamic that fosters this sense of belonging. Half of Bourke’s interviewees said they actively include others as a strategy to make themselves feel more included. But there were still some who felt left out or ignored.

“Disappointingly, in both phases of my research I saw that those who identified themselves as more different to the group than similar were three times as likely to report, and experience, acts of interpersonal exclusion than those who were similar,” reports Bourke. “Some of these acts seemed deliberate, but many more of them appeared to be unconscious.”

READ: Q&A How Empathy Makes for Effective Leadership

The good news is that DEI or DEIB is on everyone’s radar now. It’s a priority for most, if not all, organizations. As a result, beyond increasing the diversity of hires and top management, HR leaders are focusing on helping people fit in and feel a part of something greater than themselves.

You can help forge the bonds of community by getting top executives to model the behaviors of an inclusive culture, creating groups to keep tabs on progress and employee experience, communicating effectively, organizing meetings in a way that allows many voices to be heard, and encouraging colleagues to be more inclusive. Many of these suggestions are easy, actionable, and simply require empathy.

Don’t miss the free webinar, DEIB Culture Starts with Skills, where you can learn about the skills in employees that are essential to creating an inclusive workplace.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels

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