6 Ways to Improve DEI at Your Organization

How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

By DeVryWorks

July 18, 2023


As organizations work to support individuals or groups of different races, religions, ethnicities, abilities, genders and sexual orientations, they also endeavor to develop workforces that reflect the diversity of the wider world around them. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and outline a few of the steps employers can take to strengthen their D&I initiatives.

What Is Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity and inclusion are often coupled in conversation and awareness, but they each have a different meaning.

Diversity refers to who is being represented in the workplace. Examples of this may include:

  • Gender diversity: What is the composition of men, women and nonbinary people in any given workforce population?

  • Age diversity: Are people in this population mostly from a single generation, or is there a healthy mix of individuals from multiple generations, from Baby Boomers to Gen-Xers and Millennials? 

  • Ethnic diversity: Do the people in this group share a common national or cultural tradition, or are they from different backgrounds with widely different cultures?

  • Physical ability: Does the organization account for the perspectives and different capabilities of people with physical disabilities?

Inclusion refers to how members of the workforce experience their work environment. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines an inclusive environment as one that offers affirmation, celebration and appreciation of different approaches, styles, perspectives and experiences. This inclusivity allows individuals to bring their whole selves into the workplace, and to freely demonstrate their strengths and capacities.

The LGBTQ+ community, for example, is underrepresented in the workforce, especially at the senior levels. As a result, many members of this group might feel they are unable to talk openly and comfortably about themselves and may be more likely to be on the receiving end of microaggressions.

The Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Research has shown that organizations that embrace the values of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace (DEI) and create an environment that champions DEI enjoy tangible benefits in recruiting and retaining talent, enhancing the employee experience and improving productivity and bottom-line profitability. 

Employers who adjust their approach to hiring to eliminate what is described as affinity bias may find they can draw from a wider and more diverse talent pool to select the best-suited candidates.

Employers, whether they be small-to-medium-sized businesses or giant, multinational corporations, have a unique ability to influence the quality of life of their workforce. Employees, for the most part, want to feel a certain affinity towards the organizations to which they devote such a substantial portion of their lives. From the recruiting and hiring process, through onboarding and the day-to-day work, all the way to retirement, effective leaders can provide their employees with an experience that embraces their individuality and is conducive to their growth, inclusive, engaging and satisfying. Or they could provide powerful motivation for those employees to go elsewhere.

Research shows that organizations with more diverse management teams perform better than those who lag behind in diversity and inclusion, and experience benefits that go beyond mere optics. One study found that such companies have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.

A 2019 analysis of diversity and inclusion in the workplace by McKinsey shows the business case for diversity continues to strengthen, finding that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile, an increase from 21% in 2017.

6 Ways to Improve DEI at Your Organization

How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Creating and nurturing a workplace culture that is more diverse and inclusive requires a systematic approach that goes beyond a mere “checking of boxes” or hiring more women or people of color. Inclusion initiatives must consider the different aspects of diversity, such as generations, cultures and ways of thinking.

1. Encourage Diverse Thinking

Most of us tend to think of diversity in terms of race and gender. But behavioral biases can get in the way of quality decision-making. At the root of those biases is often the failure of organizations to recruit and nurture people who think differently.

The area of neurodiversity – diversity in thinking – is chronically overlooked and encompasses a wide range of mental orientations, including autism, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), dysgraphia, dyspraxia, Tourette syndrome and Down syndrome. Roughly 15 to 20% of the world population is considered to be neurodivergent. Business leaders who have conditions like dyslexia are often reluctant to speak openly about their experiences. 

2. Recognize Different Religions and Cultures

This diversity-building measure may be particularly important for organizations that are building global remote workforces. Begin by acknowledging and honoring the different holidays and cultural celebrations of different countries and cultures. Make company holiday events non-denominational and make non-alcoholic beverages available for those who don’t drink. Another consideration in maintaining an inclusive workplace culture is to provide an alternative menu for people with dietary restrictions based on culture or religion. 

3. Build a Multigenerational Workforce

An effective multi-generational workforce is one that thrives because of the widely-ranging differences in professional and living experience among its members, not in spite of them. An effective strategy here is to encourage intergenerational knowledge transfers with a mentoring program that allows more senior employees to nurture and provide guidance to their younger counterparts.

What are some generational differences? Younger employees may be more adept in the use of social media, but because they’re likely to have begun their careers in the age of remote work, they may be lacking in interpersonal skills, negotiating or public speaking. In these areas, the two generations have much to learn from each other and should be encouraged to share that knowledge.

4. Create or Strengthen Anti-Discriminatory Policies

Anti-discrimination policies are generally available in employee handbooks or in a business Code of Conduct but, as part of a broad diversity and inclusion policy, should also be promoted in job postings and on your website.

According to information from the Human Rights Campaign, employers in the United States have some work to do to protect employees against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. A patchwork of state and local employment regulations provides such protections, but leaves 3 of every 5 citizens without them. Employers should enact their own policies, which should also include anti-harassment policies that prohibit any form of harassment or offensive conduct directed at individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

5. Recognize and Remove Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process

Many of the decision-making processes in human resources are influenced by unconscious biases, and they become evident in the recruitment and management of talent. Examples of this may include listing jobs for a narrow range of candidates, reaching out only to specific universities for job applicants, giving more promotional opportunities to friends or acquaintances and placing higher emphasis on referrals rather than job performance.

Implicit bias can be mitigated by investing in a retooling of talent management requirements and procedures, and ensuring your recruiting activities aren’t narrowed to a small pool of applicants. Review promotion requirements to verify that positions are open to all employees. 

6. Seek to Close the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap – the amount women earn per dollar earned by men – has been steadily closing and stood at $0.85 in 2021. For organizations that care genuinely about diversity and inclusion, this 15% gap is still too wide. To close the gap and contribute to a culture that elevates women, recruit and retain more women and pay them fairly, take a deep dive into pay structures and track 3 key metrics:

  • Compa ratio looks at the percentage of average pay for a role that an employee receives. If 100% is precisely on average, an employee with a compa ratio of 130% is compensated well above average, while one with a ratio of 70% is compensated well below.

  • Tracking turnover rate by gender, role and tenure can also help with pay equity. Do men or women leave at a  higher rate? How quickly do they leave? If new hires leave at a higher rate, does that mean your salaries are not competitive or unbiased?

  • The manager ratio – the percentage of employees who are managers – can help you track whether women are well-represented in management roles. Look at departments with relatively few female managers and try to determine how they differ from other departments. 

  • Ask yourself a few tough questions: Is there bias in your performance and review process? Are women included in your hiring pipeline for all roles, including management?

Next Steps for Your Business

Business leaders who want to develop a comprehensive and actionable plan to improve diversity and inclusion can take the following steps.

Assess Current Environment

Assess your current diversity and inclusion status with an analysis of the makeup of your employee population. Gauge employee opinions with a diversity and inclusion survey that asks specific questions about their perceptions of your organization and their experiences as in its workplace environment.

List Opportunities for Improvement

Analysis of your initial information gathering should identify areas where improvement is needed, such as gender representation overall or in certain departments, pay gaps, a lack of employee engagement or belonging, or instances where employees have felt marginalized, ignored or unsafe.

Make an Action Plan

The results of your internal research and employee polling should be translated into clear action steps. Larger organizations can form employee resource groups (ERGs) to encourage groups of people to connect at work, thereby reducing the feeling of isolation some might feel because they don’t work closely with other employees who are like them. Consider starting employee networks for women, LGBTQ+ or other groups, or a DEI committee.

Seek Outside Help if Needed

A competent, unbiased professional D&I consultant can help your organization achieve diversity and inclusion goals by helping you first define your goals and outcomes, then recommending solutions that serve those goals and provide results and return-on-investment. An effective consultant will require you to share information openly and honestly. Some D&I consultants have expertise outside of D&I, having a background in organizational development, business leadership or coaching and training. 

How DeVry Works Can Help Advance Your DEI Initiatives

DeVryWorks, the workforce solutions partner of DeVry University, can strengthen your DEI initiatives with customized learning pathways to upskill and reskill team members, solving for current and predicted talent gaps. We can help you develop a tuition benefits program that is aligned with your DEI policies and refined for increased employee engagement and retention.

Contact us today to discover what DeVryWorks can do for your organization.

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