Are your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts meaningful? Or are they superficial – perhaps they look good on paper but don’t really matter?
Unfortunately, almost three-quarters of employees don’t think their companies policies related to DEI are genuine, according to the Catalyst Report, “Words Aren’t Enough: The Risk of Performative Policies.”
What’s worse, “performative policies” – created to make the right impression rather than to make an actual difference – can harm your company. The report found the superficial efforts contribute to turnover, create a lack of trust, and lead to poor performance and reduced productivity.
Naturally, HR professionals want to work with company leadership to create DEI or DEIA policies to make an impact.
“DEI is on the same organizational plane of people and culture, so if companies want to genuinely prioritize DEI, it needs to be embedded in the values of the organization,” says Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness and author of Beyond Happiness. “The ‘future of work’ is here, and it’s demanding new and creative ways for leaders to listen and adapt to be more human at work.”
So you want to create and promote meaningful DEI efforts. To be sure, here are six signs your current DEI efforts don’t really matter and ways to be better.
People of color aren’t impressed
When you whittle down the Catalyst Report data, fewer employees of color (23%) than white employees (29%) think the policies where they work are genuine.
So you need to know: Do your employees and job candidates really believe in your DEI policies and their impact on the workplace? This is critical because when employees of color feel their companies’ policies are genuine, they experienced more inclusion, respect, engagement and loyalty; plus they felt valued and able to handle their work/life demands.
This is best addressed proactively, getting employees of color involved at ground level in creating and implementing DEI initiatives. More importantly, though, is to regularly gauge the effects of your initiatives. Ask employees, “Is this working?” “Do you feel genuine inclusion?”
“Remember the mantra, ‘Nothing about us without us’? Don’t assume you know how to help others, without someone representing their voice at the table,” says Lim.
Biases are still unconscious
You can plan DEI initiatives and schedule solid training, but none of it matters if people – and especially leaders – don’t come to recognize their unconscious biases.
Nearly 40% of employees say they experience or witness bias at work – and 83% of those say it’s subtle or indirect, according to a Deloitte study. Most people who are acting bias often don’t realize it.
To help employees recognize and root out biases, “create psychologically safe spaces that encourage uncomfortable conversations while embracing tensions – even within ourselves – so individuals can openly question their beliefs and decisions to uncover the ‘why’ behind them,” Lim says.
She suggests these questions as a starting point:
- When did you realize you were wrong in an assumption?
- When were you in a new situation and what did you learn from being the outsider?
- What was something surprising that you learned about a different culture (and yourself) when you visited a new country or region?
You don’t include the ‘A’
Most DEI initiatives don’t include “ability” – and they should. Companies that champion disability inclusion had 28% higher revenue, 30% higher economic profit margin and double the net income than companies that don’t, according to an Accenture report.
“When most people talk about DEI, they think it is implied that accessibility is included, but it is typically overlooked,” says Charlotte Dales, Co-Founder and CEO, Inclusively. “Accessibility is broader than just the built environment; it includes information and communication technology programs and services, and also changing and improving attitudes of non-disabled individuals toward the disabled community, which is really a powerful inclusion.”
One way: Offer accommodations at every phase of the hiring process.
“You can have everything set up and in place for people once they get hired, but if they’re not being accommodated in the interview, they’re not being set up for success, which reduces their chances of actually joining the company,” Dales says.
Look beyond physical accommodations – ramp, elevator, screen reader, etc. – and toward more flexible accommodations of the future. Those might include removing the need for a panel interview for someone who prefers to have a one-on-one or accommodating support animals.
There’s a negative ‘fairness’ undertone
Fewer than 30% of all employees strongly agree their company is fair to everyone, according to Gallup research. Of course, everyone’s opinion of what’s fair differs. But inconsistencies in treatment or perceived treatment make a difference.
Equity in the DEI equation involves issues related to pay, opportunities for advancement and fairness in daily work experiences. An example in action: An organization may have a diverse workforce, but because it relies on traditional job criteria – such as degrees and field experience – marginalized groups might struggle to get promoted. Or a company has a diverse and inclusive culture, but benefits and pay favor men over women.
To get equity right – or closer to right – consider this from Gallup: Equity refers to allocating resources based on need because everyone has different circumstances, considering historical and sociopolitical factors that affect opportunities and experiences. Researchers suggest you investigate equity guidelines to make sure that the policies in practice are in line with what’s on paper.
DEIA isn’t strategy
Some companies look at DEIA as an annual training or a quarterly recognition event. True DEIA is part of organizational strategy.
“It is ultimately a talent acquisition and retention strategy linked to getting, engaging and retaining the best talent whose representatives do their best work individually and in teams,” says Stephen Paskoff, CEO of Employment Learning Innovations (ELI) and a former EEOC litigator. “When leaders understand that DEIA is ultimately a vital element for ensuring a wide array of successes, they recognize why they must take DEIA initiatives seriously.”
Two tips Paskoff offers for turning DEIA into strategy:
- Regularly explain how DEIA initiatives link to employees and their teams’ success in terms of their specific work, and
- Bring up examples of inclusive behaviors in individual and team conversations just as much as you cover other performance-related issues such quality, safety, innovation and production.
You don’t measure
What gets measured gets done. It’s a cliché as old as clichés, yet it’s as true as the oldest truths. Companies that don’t plan to measure their DEIA efforts, initiatives and outcomes won’t see quantifiable – and more importantly, employee-appreciated – success.
Research in the Harvard Business Review suggests DEIA efforts be measured on two levels: internal and external.
For instance, track racial and gender breakdowns on teams, promotion rates and key project assignments. Account for and assess efforts in the areas of supplier requirements, connections in the community and funding sources with an eye to DEIA progress.