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10 Ways to Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

Bettering your business can take many forms, but one often overlooked area of improvement is your business’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Prioritizing equity and inclusion in the workplace is critical not only for your employees’ well-being and job satisfaction but also for your business’s long-term success.  

“Many companies are starting to rethink their diversity and inclusion efforts because there is a need for change like never before,” said Aimie Ye, a digital marketing manager at GoCo, an all-in-one HR, benefits, and payroll software platform offering free resources for diversity and inclusion at work. 

According to Glassdoor’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Survey, 42% of U.S. employees said they’ve experienced or witnessed racism in the workplace. Not only that, but the wage gap between Black and white Americans was wider in 2019 than in the year 2000, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s State of Working America Wages 2019

“The Black Lives Matter movement is bringing attention to the ways in which racism is structural rather than individual,” said Andrea Sommer, the founder and business lead of UvvaLabs. This organization uses AI to help companies make decisions on how to create diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Other forms of discrimination exist, as well. One in two LGBTQIA+ employees reports that they’ve faced or witnessed verbal discrimination at work. Meanwhile, 47% believe being out at work could hurt their career, according to Glassdoor’s LGBTQIA+ Workplace survey 2019.

As inequalities persist, business owners in every industry have a responsibility to examine the workplace structures they’ve set up or enforced. They must then ask themselves what makes a workplace inclusive and then make changes to support employees from marginalized groups. That includes but isn’t limited to Black employees, employees of color, and employees who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community.  

“A company is only as strong and impactful as its workforce,” Sommer said. “By prioritizing your workforce — which is what you do when you prioritize equity — you’re ultimately investing in the long-term resilience and strength of the organization.”

How you create diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Improving equity and justice within your business has far-reaching effects. 

“Organizations have a moral obligation to uphold human rights and to ensure everyone is treated equally and fairly, but the business case for diversity and inclusion has never been stronger,” said Dr. Aaron Barth, a TEDx speaker and founder and president of Dialectic. This company works in organizational culture and learning development. 

A 2019 McKinsey and Company report found that the most ethnically and culturally diverse companies outperform their competitors on profitability by 36%. 

“Money is often wasted on employee turnover from toxic workplace culture,” Ye said. “Additionally, the majority of job seekers consider diversity and inclusion as a key factor in choosing a company.” Younger workers are also more likely to leave a job if they experience discrimination at work. 

Building a more equitable, inclusive workplace can help you attract top talent, increase retention, and boost profits. “By reviewing hiring practices, gaining leadership support, updating policies, and opening discussions with employees, companies are likely to become more effective and successful,” Ye said. 

Here are 10 steps you can take now to begin implementing equity in your company and improving inclusion in the workplace. 

1. Take an honest inventory of yourself and your business 

Before you can affect change in your business by improving diversity and inclusion at work, you have to identify what’s no longer working. 

“The first step has to be a willingness to question everything about how the company operates — from HR practices to office layout and everything in between,” Sommer said. 

As a business owner, it’s imperative to consider the degree to which your business’s structure and processes have either contributed to or allowed racism, sexism, homophobia, and other kinds of discrimination to exist in your workplace. Take an honest look at your company policies, culture, and workplace environment; you will also need to examine your leadership style and the business’s power dynamics. 

“Dismantling structures requires facing our own privilege and the role that privilege has had in shaping the company and its norms,” Sommer said. Understanding the different types of privilege you hold will likely require a combination of self-reflection and education. 

“The first thing you can do as a founder is learn what you don’t know, and make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do,” said Jes Osrow, a DEIBA specialist and the co-founder and head of learning and organizational development at The Rise Journey, a company that helps businesses create better teams and cultures. 

How you create diversity and inclusion in the workplace can start with brushing up on your understanding of civil rights movements. And, read articles and books that shed light on systemic racism and LGBTQIA+ discrimination. Or, turn to teachers and speakers for resources. Taking a critical eye to yourself and your operations may be an uncomfortable process, Sommer said, but it’s essential to laying the foundation for an equitable and inclusive workplace. 

2. Use data to assess your level of diversity and inclusion at work

Change starts with education. Gathering internal data is key to gaining a deeper understanding of your business’s diversity and equity efforts, Osrow said. “Finding out what the current status quo is can help you create a handful of internal benchmarks for progress.”

You can use both qualitative and quantitative measures as you consider what makes a workplace inclusive. But, surveying your employees is an excellent place to start, said Allie Collins, the director of marketing at GoCo. Ask employees to rate your company’s current policies around equity and inclusion in the workplace, she suggested, then provide a space for them to offer feedback, share stories, or point out areas of improvement.  

“You should also be looking at your current demographics by race, gender, and any other demographic data you collect, compared with your community,” Collins said. “If there are big gaps in representation, that should give you a sense of where you need to focus.” 

Once you know where your business is at with its level of inclusion at work, you can set goals for change and growth. For example, you may want to increase the number of non-white employees in your business by 10% over the next year. Or maybe you want your company leaders to be more representative of your business’s clients and customers. 

Setting concrete goals with measurable objectives can help you keep yourself accountable and stay on track with progress towards increasing inclusion in the workplace. 

3. Build a workplace diversity and inclusion budget

As with any other meaningful change in your business, like revamping marketing or expanding operations, improving equity, diversity, and inclusion at work takes money. 

“Anything you want to move the needle on, you have to put a budget toward,” Osrow said. “If you want to do better at diversity and inclusion at work, you have to commit to spending some money.”

Osrow suggested starting with your business’s HR department. If you don’t have a dedicated HR specialist, now is a good time to consider hiring one. If you have an HR manager, take the time to evaluate whether that person has the right resources, education, and support system to foster an equitable, inclusive workplace. Funneling money into HR — and ensuring it’s used thoughtfully — can help create change. 

Keep in mind, though, that internal resources can only take you so far. What makes a workplace inclusive and really improves equity is, “cultivat[ing] a certain level of safety [for current and prospective employees],” Osrow said, “and it’s incredibly difficult for someone internally to create that space,” particularly if your business’s culture contributed to or perpetuated discrimination of any kind. 

That’s why Osrow recommended allocating a portion of your budget to hiring outside help. Diversity consultants can help you conduct assessments and create goals, she said, while external vendors can host workshops and training. 

4. Create more inclusion in the workplace by upgrading your hiring practices

One of the most effective ways to create diversity and inclusion at work is to change your hiring practices. 

That starts with evaluating your business’s current hiring process, from posting job descriptions to interviewing candidates. “Make sure you’re looking at everything with a DEIBA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Accessibility) lens,” said Osrow. 

That means adjusting your recruitment procedures to provide expanded access to candidates who belong to minority groups, said Ye. Implementing bias interrupters can help. “Bias interrupters are changes to basic business practices and structures that ‘interrupt’ implicit bias at work,” she said. 

Ye suggested taking the following steps to remove biases and promote inclusion in the workplace:

  • Revise job listings to remove language that might discourage people from applying

  • Use software to screen applicants at certain stages of hiring to eliminate implicit bias

  • Use a static set of interview questions for each candidate

  • Take thorough notes during interviews to avoid basing a meeting off of impression alone

  • Reduce hiring from referrals 

All of these steps can make a big difference in furthering equity in your business. But, keep in mind that “the diversity and inclusion work does not stop after employees are hired,” Ye said. 

5. Create process groups and diversity councils

Succeeding in how to create diversity and inclusion in the workplace requires creating open, safe spaces for employees to share their feelings and ideas. One way to do that is by organizing process groups, Osrow said. 

Process groups can take many forms depending on what employees need, she said. They might be a place where employees can offer each other emotional support, for example, or review company policies. In any case, it’s crucial that your company’s process groups are led by the people who want to take part in them. “They need to be created from the bottom up, but still have top-down support,” said Osrow. 

Another way to promote equity and inclusion in the workplace is by establishing a diversity council. “The role of the council should be to play detective,” seeking out and eradicating biases and discrimination within the company, Sommer said. 

Unlike process groups, diversity councils “should be composed of people who have real power to create change across the organization,” she said. “If there isn’t enough diversity across senior levels of the organization to populate the council, this should be a key signal that something is very broken.”

If you choose to form a council, make sure it’s fueled by a sense of purpose and ongoing growth. “Giving a council clear directives and goals and then having it championed by leadership and funded makes people in the organization accountable to make change,” said Sarah Koller, a people operations manager at GoCo. 

6. Improve transparency, improve inclusion in the workplace

An inclusive workplace culture that values equity and justice cannot exist without some degree of transparency. Being transparent about wages, promotion criteria, HR policies, business donations, and company beliefs and goals can help you build trust with employees.  

As you improve diversity and inclusion at work, make sure you share your plans with employees, and offer explanations for your changes. 

“You need to be able to say, ‘Here’s why I’m changing. And here’s how,’” said Osrow. “Or else you need to be able to say ‘Here’s why I’m not the right person to lead this charge, but I’m handing it off to this person.’” The willingness to admit your strengths and shortcomings as a leader can help you fill in gaps with education or external help.

7. What makes a workplace inclusive can come down to salary equity

The quickest path to an inclusive workplace is reviewing and redistributing wages. You need to ensure “people are paid the same for the same work,” Osrow said. 

Fortunately, you can achieve salary equity reasonably quickly. You just need “a combination of salary audits, the creation of unbiased quantitative criteria about the experience, and the willingness to deploy sufficient funds to equalize,” Sommer said.

Ensuring equitable opportunities for promotions and growth, however, requires a different strategy. Start by writing a clear set of guidelines for what kind of effort and performance constitutes a raise or promotion, Osrow said. 

It’s also smart to rely on non-direct line management to review employees for promotions, Sommer said, since that can help remove potential biases or imbalances. 

8. Implement regular training

Promoting equity and inclusion in the workplace should be a company-wide effort. Training both employees and executive board members on diversity and inclusion practices can help reduce discrimination and create a more supportive culture. 

When it comes to choosing the right types of work inclusivity training, Barth said it’s important to do your homework. “Look to evidence-based and scientific research to guide the training and tools you develop or use,” he said. “Don’t get caught by your own biases toward what’s been done in the past or jump in on the latest fad.”

Bringing in outside experts is also a good idea. Instead of merely providing employees with information, though, try engaging employees with scenario-based training, Barth suggested. “Serving up a variety of scenarios where employees have to deploy inclusion principles to navigate the situation,” he said, “is the best way to train these skills.”

Make sure training isn’t a one-time activity, either. In addition to educating new hires, try incorporating regular training or seminars on different topics every month or quarter. 

9. Inclusion in the workplace starts with you, so lead with empathy

As a business owner, your attitude toward your employees sets the tone for the entire company. That’s why it’s crucial to lead with empathy in all your interactions with employees – especially those who belong to marginalized groups. 

“Empathy is recognizing someone else’s experience and being able to understand how their experience is affecting them,” said Autumn Collier, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and owner of Collier Counseling, LLC in Atlanta, GA. 

“If you found out that your employee lost someone close to them, you would offer empathy,” she said. “When you see racism on the news or a person of color murdered, you can offer that same kind of empathy.”

Collier said, showing empathy can be as simple as reaching out to your employee to say, “How are you holding up? A lot is going on in the news that feels really heavy — are you OK?”

Checking in matters

Many people don’t know how to broach difficult or taboo topics, especially in the workplace, Collier said, but speaking up is necessary. “It’s important to send the message that ‘I see you, and I see what’s going on.’” 

Looking out for your employees’ mental and emotional well-being goes beyond improving communication, though. “If you see that your company is having a lot of employee absences or sick days, I’d get interested in why,” Collier said. “What is it about my company that employees need a break? How can our company policies be more conducive to folks’ mental health?” 

Offering gym memberships, creating wellness plans, setting up Employee Assistance Programs, and encouraging mental health can all make a difference in employees’ happiness and satisfaction at work, Collier said. 

10. Commit to ongoing learning and evolution regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion at work

Furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is a lifelong commitment that begins with your own personal work. Consider following thought leaders on LinkedIn, Osrow said, sharing resources with other business owners, and paying attention to companies and leaders doing the work you want to do. 

Learning is a business-wide initiative

Beyond committing yourself to continual learning and improvement, however, you also need to put systems in place that push your business to evolve. “Companies need a dedicated champion or team that is measured on hitting goals for diversity and inclusion, just like you have teams dedicated to profit-generating activities and customer satisfaction metrics,” said Collins. “If no one owns it, and they’re not measured on it, it will never be a consistent priority.” 

Sommer echoed that sentiment. “This is not about having enough motivation — it is about creating an environment that makes it nearly impossible for behavior to happen any other way, so motivation becomes irrelevant,” she said.  

Making your business a fairer, more supportive space is challenging work. But, diversity and inclusion in the workplace have never been more critical. The decisions you make have a direct effect on your employees, customers, community, and industry. Holding your business to a higher standard of equity and justice has the potential to transform lives and influence change on an even grander scale.  .../

Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.

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