Having a solid DEI strategy that builds a culture of acceptance and support is a priority for top-performing organizations. Their L&D teams know that having a diverse workforce leads to more successful business outcomes because it invites multiple viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences that can help drive innovation. They benefit in other ways too, with diverse teams being 87% better at making decisions, according to People Management. A culture of inclusion helps to foster understanding and collaboration which leads to better performing teams. McKinsey found that companies that are considered more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are also a big concern for employees. Workers today want more from a career than a simple exchange of labor for wages. More than ever, they want to work in organizations that share their own values – including their desire for a workplace that offers equal opportunities, a culture of acceptance, and an inclusive atmosphere. Although this is true across generations, Deloitte found that Millennial workers are 83% more likely to be engaged at inclusive workplaces. Companies that can deliver on these important values will benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce.
However, despite the best efforts of L&D teams, not every DEI initiative will be a success (and that’s ok!). Although there is no guaranteed formula to follow, there are ways to help ensure that your efforts have real impact. We’ve created a framework for building DEI initiatives to help build your strategy in a way that benefits your unique organization.
A framework for successful DEI
- Employees should guide your DEI initiatives
Because employees and frontline managers will experience most of the benefits of your DEI initiatives, they should also have a voice in how you design your strategy. Balance will be important here, as employees have different priorities and needs. It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. That means that open communication is vital; you should get honest feedback from employees before, during, and after any initiative, and their ideas should be incorporated into future initiatives if possible or at least responded to so that they feel heard and recognized. Overall, employees should be the sounding board of the process, since it will have the biggest impact on them.
- Avoid intersectional strategies that can be divisive and counterproductive
It might seem obvious, but a successful DEI initiative should be inclusive, as well as open and welcoming to all employees. You should avoid dividing people into groups in oppositional ways, focusing instead on finding commonalities and shared experiences to build and foster connections between people. Emphasize mutual support and understanding without assigning blame or inducing feelings of guilt or shame in individuals. When people find things that connect them, as opposed to what separates them, this helps them build trust and a more solid bond that strengthens feelings of camaraderie. This in turn will fuel collaboration and innovation, encouraging teams to work together towards common goals.
- Getting buy-in from top leadership is critical
Though your plans should be designed with insight from your employees, it still requires support and attention from the top to succeed. Leadership should supply resources for marketing campaigns to communicate with employees on the details on your initiatives and how they can take part. The other major way leadership can endorse your initiatives is by putting their own skin in the game and visibly participating. Support is there if you ask for it, because 69% of executives who responded to a Glassdoor survey consider diversity and inclusion an important issue.
- Work towards success but accept failures
Even well-planned and executed initiatives can and do fail to deliver expected results. No initiative is perfect and it’s important to always reassess future plans. There’s no shame in missing a desired goal or experiencing a negative outcome. In fact, the HR Research Institute found that only 41% of HR professionals surveyed believe their company’s DEI initiative is at an advanced stage. When it happens, collect all the feedback you can on how and why the failure occurred, put that knowledge to work, and start over. All initiatives are a learning process, as they should be, and not every organization has a perfect plan.
- Understanding, support, and collaboration are key to corporate culture
In order to fully support your DEI initiative, it’s important to develop a culture of mutual understanding, open communication, and collaboration. Making DEI a central part of the corporate culture will keep it at the forefront so that employees are engaged and top leadership continues to support the program. DEI should be a part of the onboarding process from an employee’s first day on the job. When workers know that the company shares their own values of acceptance and inclusion they’ll feel supported in their work, more collaborative with their team and manager, and more confident in contributing their thoughts and ideas when working towards common goals.
- Your workforce needs human skills to build relationships and trust
With any DEI initiative, it’s vital to encourage the development of strong relationships and mutual trust among colleagues and also between managers and their teams. That’s why it’s vital to support your initiatives with training in soft skills that encourage better communication and understanding, like emotional intelligence, empathy, and active listening. You can also show employees and leadership how to be an ally for an inclusive and equitable workplace. Making these soft skills a core focus of DEI will have positive impacts far beyond the initiatives themselves, by improving employee engagement and strengthening the workforce as a whole.
Well-planned DEI initiatives, as part of your overall strategy, can play a vital role in keeping employees engaged, productive, and happy. When failures happen, it’s important to learn from them and make changes as you go. Your initiatives should be guided from the bottom-up but strongly supported by top leadership and effectively communicated to your workforce. When DEI is at the heart of your corporate culture, your employees will feel welcomed, supported, and understood.