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DEI: What Is It and How Can Employers Build It in the Workplace?

DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, which is an important topic in the workplace. DEI starts at the top and trickles down through management levels to create meaningful change at work, particularly for the groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in the workforce. Understand the DEI definition and how you can strengthen it in your company.

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What is DEI?

DEI is often used to describe the programs and initiatives a company has in place to improve those areas. Diversity, equity and inclusion work together to create a stronger workforce.

For example, without diversity in your employees, inclusion and equity aren’t that difficult. It becomes more challenging and more rewarding when your employees come from diverse backgrounds.

Diversifying your workplace can impact inclusion and equity for some employees, so it’s important to pay attention to your staff, and ensure everyone feels heard, included and safe.

Benefits of DEI

Why should you worry about DEI? It’s easy to make a general statement about valuing diversity, but doing the work benefits you and your employees. Here are some ways it accomplishes that:

  • Innovation: Hiring a diverse workforce, giving everyone equitable opportunities and making all employees feel included can generate creative ideas and solutions for your company. This can encourage growth and increased financial performance for your company.
  • Engaged workforce: Employees who feel valued and have opportunities in the workplace are more likely to be actively engaged in their work. This translates to a happier, more productive workforce.
  • Recruiting benefits: When word gets out that you actively focus on DEI, you’ll likely see an increase in applicants. This makes it easier to hire with diversity in mind because you have a larger talent pool. It could also give you the edge if your number one pick receives multiple job offers.
  • Empowered employees: Employees who feel supported and heard feel empowered to make decisions, be innovative and perform their jobs well.
  • Positive culture: An inclusive, equitable and diverse work environment improves your company culture by valuing individuals and their differences. You create a safe environment based on respect.
  • Expanded audience: Having a staff that represents marginalized groups gives you insight into serving those populations better. Consumers might be drawn to your company because of your focus on DEI.
  • Improved teamwork: Diversity and inclusiveness help promote relationships between employees. This can help promote teamwork because all employees feel safe and accepted.

Diversity in the workplace

Diversity in the workplace refers to having staff members who represent different groups. When you hire a diverse workforce, you get unique perspectives, which can challenge current thinking and generate innovative ideas that help your company grow. Improving diversity also gives people in marginalized groups the opportunity to shine in the workplace.

Many characteristics about your employees can fall under diversity, including:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Physical ability

How to improve diversity

Here are some ways you can improve diversity in your office:

  • Add diversity to hiring teams: Having a diverse hiring team can improve diversity in the workplace. Affinity bias is an unconscious bias that attracts people to others with similar qualities or viewpoints. If there’s no diversity on the hiring team, it might be more challenging to hire diverse employees.
  • Use a blind hiring process: Removing names and other identifying factors from resumes before they’re reviewed can help increase diversity. A blind review process helps you focus on qualifications without letting unconscious bias affect who gets invited to interviews.
  • Analyze your makeup: Gather statistics on the diversity you currently have on your staff. Look for underrepresented groups to guide your recruiting methods.
  • Hire for culture contribution: You often hear about culture fit when hiring, but culture contribution is a better approach. Culture fit insinuates that new employees should fit in with the established culture. Culture contribution means new employees bring something new to the company culture while still aligning with your core values.

Equity in the workplace

Equity in the workplace means that all employees are given fair, impartial opportunities, so everyone can be successful. That doesn’t mean all employees get identical opportunities.

Equity at work levels the playing field for all employees, which means some opportunities are different for certain employees. It takes into consideration the barriers some employees have and the advantages other employees have to determine how to give everyone fair opportunities.

How to improve equity

Try these methods to improve equity in the workplace:

  • Provide development opportunities for all: Work with every employee to identify development opportunities that can help them grow. Individualize career plans for your employees to give everyone an opportunity, starting from where they are now.
  • Ensure pay equity: Stop asking for previous salaries and using that as the basis for an offer. If the candidate was paid unfairly at previous companies, you’re continuing that cycle. Establish salary guidelines with pay bands to offer equitable salaries for various positions.
  • Offer advancement opportunities: Hiring a diverse workforce without being equitable with advancement opportunities can hurt DEI overall. Consider diversity when hiring for upper management positions or offering internal promotions to avoid keeping your diverse employees stuck in entry-level or lower positions.

Inclusion in the workplace

Workplace inclusion means that all employees feel welcome to participate fully and be themselves. They feel a sense of belonging within the company and don’t feel like they’re a token employee to make the workplace seem more diverse.

Without inclusion, diversity often doesn’t last. The new hires you bring in who add to the diversity will likely move on if they don’t feel included and valued.

How to improve inclusion

Creating an inclusive work environment takes ongoing effort. Here are some ways to improve inclusion in the workplace:

  • Establish workplace policies: Create a policy on inclusion for your company. Address known issues that have prevented inclusion for your employees in the past.
  • Focus on company culture: Improve the company culture to emphasize psychological safety for all employees. Create an environment where everyone feels valued and all ideas are encouraged.
  • Rethink benefits: Make employee benefits more flexible and compatible for a diverse workforce. Offer floating holidays instead of standard holidays, so employees can have time off for the holidays they choose to celebrate. Choose health insurance plans that offer benefits to LGBTQ+ employees.
  • Develop extensive onboarding: Creating a supportive onboarding program for every new hire, including assigning mentors, can help them feel more comfortable. The program has a built-in method of helping new hires learn about the company culture and meet their coworkers. They have support throughout the first three months or longer.
  • Honor and celebrate differences: Don’t be afraid to notice and celebrate the differences among employees. Make it easier for people who are different to be themselves. If you offer free snacks to employees, include Kosher snacks or have a separate refrigerator designated for Kosher food to support people who eat Kosher, for example.

Ways to improve DEI in the workplace

Focusing on the individual pieces of DEI can help you improve, but it’s also helpful to have an overall DEI strategy. Here are some ways to support and grow DEI in your company:

  • Form a DEI committee: Create a team dedicated to developing DEI. This team can analyze the current situation and establish and maintain DEI initiatives. Include employees from all levels and backgrounds to ensure your DEI team is as diverse as possible.
  • Survey your staff: It’s not always easy to understand how well you’re doing on DEI from your perspective. You need input from all staff members to see how they feel about the current situation. This creates your baseline and gives you guidance for training and initiatives to improve DEI.
  • Set goals: Once you understand the current feelings on DEI, set goals to improve. Even if you get positive feedback and are already incorporating DEI initiatives, you can always set new goals to improve more.
  • Create a budget: If you’re serious about building DEI in the workplace, put a budget in place for DEI initiatives. The money goes toward training and staff time to educate your staff and make changes.
  • Investigate all complaints: Listen to your employees when they bring up instances of discrimination or bias in the workplace. Handle situations with specific employees and use them as inspiration for the training that all employees receive.
  • Implement training: Employees at all levels need training in DEI. It’s not something that only managers can do. Everyone needs to help to create an equitable, inclusive environment.
  • Balance all three: Remember that diversity, equity and inclusion are all important and need to go together. Focusing on one and ignoring the others can cause DEI to suffer.
  • Recognize that it’s ongoing: DEI isn’t something that has a finish line or a recognizable endpoint when you can say your work is done. It’s something you always need to strive for and improve.
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