Are Organizations Truly Embracing DEI? How You Can Help Employees Belong.

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By Scarlett Howery

November 3, 2021
4 min read

As I was recently presenting at the 2021 College Changes Everything Conference about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the higher education sector, I couldn’t help but think we’re just like many organizations.

Regardless of the sector—we’re trying to lift our own underrepresented colleagues, and uniquely to us, students. These efforts are critical components that help allow individuals to thrive in the workplace, academically and socially and ultimately, in their communities. And that’s just the beginning. The benefits of DEI to an organization is something that we can’t ignore:

  • Diversity of thinking produces creativity, enhancing innovation by 20%.
  • Diverse teams are 70% more likely to capture new markets and are 87% better at making decisions.

In this article, I’m sharing some key takeaways from our organization’s experience with DEI, and some ideas you might consider adding to the development of your own program.

The Case for DEI

What’s powerful is that we’re seeing a growing number of first-generation, immigrant and minority students entering colleges and universities nationwide. According to the American Council of Education, “between 1995–96 and 2015–16, the share of students of color among all undergraduate students increased from about 30 percent to approximately 45 percent. This increase was largely driven by the increase in Hispanic undergraduate enrollment.”

What does this mean for your organization? This positive momentum means we must keep careful watch on how their experiences are during school, work and even in their personal lives:

  • Are they able to continue through to graduation?
  • Are they gaining the work-ready skills they need to upskill or reskill for the career they desire?

Influencing the completion of education programs is in all our best interests, our university and our corporate clients, as it allows for a more diverse pool of talent for companies to develop, retain and advance. We, just like you, are trying to help address this challenge by promoting an inclusive environment (both virtual and on-site) and designing policies that help elevate underrepresented talent.

So, as you’re thinking about how you’ll move forward your DEI goals and plans, consider these elements.

Do You Have Diversity Reflected at Every Level?

Did you know that highly gender-diverse executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability? It’s easier for an individual to feel like they belong and to have a sense that their voice will be heard if they have an example to look up to. Not necessarily a parent nor a relative, but someone in their workplace, social circles or even their school, who they share commonalities with, and they see is being heard.

As a first-generation college graduate myself, it was a teacher with a similar background as mine who not only served as my mentor, but also provided that sense of comfort and reassurance about my goals and desire to learn.

My experience is an example that when diversity shows up in more than just your peer population, but also in roles of leadership, it can truly make an impact. Individuals should have colleagues and mentors they can turn to, seek guidance from, and be candid with about their goals and challenges and in the end, help foster their sense of belonging and encouragement.

Have You Considered Using Data to Help Improve Outcomes?

Organizations, just like higher education institutions, might consider applying this data to their DEI programs. Improving outcomes like productivity and job satisfaction could begin with efforts to collect data continuously that demonstrates trends and possibly the need to offer ongoing talent development opportunities, to proactively identify and support advancement in their roles or to reskill to another department.

The Harvard Business Review points out something to consider as it relates to ownership of DE&I goals, because in most organizations, “diversity data are collected and tracked by the HR, DEI, or People Analytics teams far from the front line. Besides making data less accessible to the average employee, this practice can also reduce employees’ sense of ownership over the numbers.”

In the end, we’re all a part of a bigger solution—to help advance underrepresented talent. Each of our organizations are working towards the changes that are needed in the workplace and society. Having a shared purpose, plan and vision for how to make meaningful change is a non-negotiable.

About Scarlett Howery

Scarlett Howery is the vice president of campus and university partnerships, providing strategic leadership for DeVry University’s 45+ campus operations and building and maintaining critical partnerships within the local communities.

Howery drives community engagement and student enrollment in each market, as well as forms strategic partnerships to foster student learning and offer workforce solutions.

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