10 DEI Initiatives to Prioritize in the Workplace

DEI initiatives such as pay equity analysis, employee resource groups and DEI training can create a truly inclusive work environment.

10 DEI Initiatives to Prioritize in the Workplace
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UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Jul 10, 2024

While diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) isn’t a new concept, it’s taken on greater urgency in the past few years. Many companies have gone beyond mere statements of solidarity by establishing DEI initiatives, which are concrete actions and programs designed to make a more diverse and inclusive workplace a reality for all employees.

“There were in-house safe space conversations and dialogue around race relations and presenting an opportunity for people to have — for the first time for many companies, including Genesys — in-house conversations around topics that typically had been taboo,” said Eric Thomas, global DEI officer at Genesys, a customer experience software company. “Then it was followed through with some type of action.”

10 DEI Initiatives to Prioritize

  1. DEI evaluations
  2. Leadership support
  3. Inclusive hiring
  4. Employee resource groups
  5. Mentorship and sponsorship opportunities
  6. Talent development programs 
  7. Educational events
  8. DEI training
  9. Clear DEI response plans
  10. DEI progress updates

Those types of actions often took the shape of donations to nonprofits supporting social justice causes and the launch of new DEI offices. While businesses have made some progress, the corporate world — and the tech industry in particular — still has a long way to go. Implementing meaningful DEI initiatives can help.

 

What Are DEI Initiatives?

DEI initiatives are actions taken by an organization to prioritize building a diverse workforce and creating a work environment that is equitable and inclusive for everyone. 

“Diversity is who we are in a snapshot … inclusion is what we do,” said Dionn Schaffner, chief diversity officer at business software company Aurea. “How are we behaving on a day-to-day basis? How are we promoting and doing performance evaluations of our employees? How are we recruiting? Where are we recruiting?”

Schaffner said her model for creating workplace inclusion initiatives can be remembered by four E’s: Educate, empathize, engage and expect to be held accountable. 

  • Education should help allies understand the challenges colleagues might face
  • Empathizing involves creating a safe place for employees to share their personal experiences, if desired, with colleagues. 
  • Engagement is about action — identifying tactical ways the organization and its employees can actively support DEI causes.
  • Expecting to be held accountable is about measuring the effectiveness of the initiatives. 

“It has to go beyond, ‘We put up a statement,’” Schaffner said. “That’s nice, but what is that going to do to move it forward? How are we going to be able to hold ourselves accountable to prioritizing, putting funding, putting resources on that to get that done?”

 

Free Guide: Racial Equality in the Workplace

DEI experts offer solutions to create a radically inclusive workplace.

  

Why Are DEI Initiatives Important?

DEI initiatives go beyond simply creating a feel-good atmosphere, delivering lasting impacts in several key aspects of a business: 

  • Higher productivity: When workers don’t have to worry about microaggressions and other distractions, they can focus on their work and be more productive.   
  • Increased innovation: Workers who feel like they can bring their whole selves to work may open up more, leading to more frequent collaborations and enhanced innovation. 
  • Improved company culture: Feeling a sense of belonging can raise the morale of all employees and contribute to healthier relationships and a positive culture. 
  • Stronger recruitment and retention: An inclusive, welcoming culture can convince workers to stick around and attract talent of various backgrounds.  
  • Greater ROI: The combination of higher retention, productivity and innovation can yield a promising ROI and boost a company’s overall performance.  

 

10 DEI Initiatives to Consider

1. DEI Evaluations 

Company leaders should prioritize reviewing the makeup of their employee base and existing initiatives that enable an inclusive environment (and be honest if there aren’t any).

“How do we look at and get a baseline of where we sit in terms of our workforce?” Thomas said. “Do we have adequate representation of women? If you look at where we operate around the world, the different markets, do we have an adequate representation of the various traditionally underrepresented populations: African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and so on?”

Look at the company’s various practices — from hiring to performance — to ensure they are equitable to everyone. 

“Some of the things that are great to look at are things like pay equity initiatives. Is there some hard and fast analysis that can be done to identify where some of those gaps are?” Schaffner said. “We’ve taken some time to really peel those elements back and try to remove any bias and barriers from the beginning coming into the organization through the performance evaluation process as well.” 

With analysis as the basis, company leaders can begin to identify goals and then make a plan to address any shortfalls in representation and inclusion opportunities, Thomas said. 

2. Leadership Support

A CEO simply publishing a letter when a world event affects their employees is not enough to say the company cares about DEI. But, it is important for leaders to make sure their employees and its public audience are aware of the priority level for DEI initiatives among the organization’s values — and what concrete efforts and funding will support them. 

“We know if you do not get your leaders on board and bought in, it’s not going anywhere, period, full stop, because you need their buy-in,” Schaffner said. “You need their approval of everything from budget to priorities on those things.”  

3. Inclusive Hiring

An organization won’t be able to bring more diverse employees in the door if their job descriptions and hiring practices discourage certain populations from applying. For example, requiring college degrees or internships (which are sometimes unpaid) can be a limiting factor for some people. Use tools that can scrub job postings for non-inclusive language, and put your company’s commitment to DEI at the top of job descriptions.

“It’s a callout, but it matters. That’s the first thing that you read,” said Pamela Mattsson, senior vice president of people and organizational development at sales execution platform Outreach. “It’s powerful as a signal rather than an afterthought asterisk at the very end of the job description.”  

More on DEI StrategiesHow to Improve Diversity in the Workplace: 13 Strategies to Build Diversity and Inclusion

4. Employee Resource Groups

Employee resource groups are affinity groups or networks within a company for like-minded employees and allies to find a supportive and safe community. Identities commonly supported by ERGs include women, parents, LGBTQ+ people, individuals with disabilities, military veterans and BIPOC employees.

“This should be an employee self-sustained approach,” Thomas said. “If you try to generate certain groups, you may either miss the mark of what’s important to your employee base.” 

5. Mentorship and Sponsorship Opportunities

Companies that encourage colleagues to sponsor and mentor each other stand to keep their employees happier and with the company for longer. Mentorship occurs when a more experienced employee provides guidance to a less experienced colleague, and a sponsor is someone who will advocate for another employee on their behalf. 

ERGs are great places to cultivate formal mentorships and sponsorships, but a company can create an environment that’s supportive of these connections informally too. 

6. Talent Development Programs

Outreach offers a nine-month program to support its female-identifying individual contributors who are historically underrepresented in sales leadership. The program is called RISE, which stands for Recognize, Inspire, Support, Engage. The model was then used as the foundation for RISE UP (Recognize, Inspire, Support, Engage, Unlimited Potential) for Black employees and will soon be offered to other BIPOC employees.

“We used the bones of that program and said, ‘well, if we can do this for women, how can we lift other underrepresented voices in our system to leadership?’” Mattsson said. 

The programs cover topics ranging from career pathways to brand and influence in the workplace to strategic thinking and goal setting. Participants also have the opportunity to tackle a real problem in the business that does not currently have a solution.  

7. Educational Events

Aurea conducts DEI educational events that enable employees to share their personal experiences in small groups. “It’s been informal group conversations, sharing educational resources, sharing our own stories,” Schaffner said. 

DEI education can also be company-wide. Genesys offers “Better Together,” a series of monthly cross-company events. “They are designed to commemorate, acknowledge, and in some cases, celebrate a different event in history or a different moment in time that’s aligned with one of the different affinity groups to shine a light on culture, to shine a light on ethnic differences,” Thomas said. 

More on DEI TrainingHow to Make Your DEI Training Successful

8. DEI Training

Role-specific DEI training can help employees identify the potential biases they are bringing into the workplace and learn how to support the company’s DEI goals. For example, Outreach’s trainings have covered topics ranging from inclusive leadership to how DEI is connected to innovation in the business. 

9. Clear DEI Response Plans

When a news event like George Floyd’s murder or the overturning of Roe v. Wade occurs, companies should consider sharing how they will support their employees and the broader communities affected by the news. Genesys offered a statement on Roe v. Wade and adjusted its benefits package to help employees in states where their healthcare rights might be limited.

Outreach encourages employees to offer their perspectives on how the company should respond publicly. 

“You have a safe seat at the table ... What would make you proud of how we respond?” Mattsson said. “While it’s absolutely not your job to educate the whole system or have that burden, having your voice at the table, and how one responds until we have that inclusion and diversity at the top levels, is mission critical.” 

10. DEI Progress Updates

DEI initiatives require constant assessment. Genesys conducts surveys throughout the year to get a pulse on the employee experience. 

“How are your leaders doing in terms of fostering a sense of belonging? How well do you feel that you can come to work and show up and be your authentic self each day?” Thomas said.

Sharing progress on DEI goals with the whole organization, and even publicly, will provide accountability in creating meaningful initiatives, Thomas said. 

 

Real-Life Examples of DEI Initiatives

For further inspiration, here are a few examples of companies supporting their workforces through DEI initiatives. 

Microsoft

The Women at Microsoft ERG led a one-on-one mentorship program for over 300 participants, and its Latin America chapter hosted a panel session for future parents and caregivers. Initiatives like these can give underrepresented groups at Microsoft the support they need to thrive in the workplace.

Cisco

Cisco offers a training called Building Skills for Conscious Culture, designed to help employees more quickly identify instances of discrimination, take appropriate actions and promote a healthier company culture. 

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson offers employee resource groups for LGBTQ+ members, military veterans, women and Hispanic or Latinx employees.

Accenture

Accenture publicly shares the demographic data of its workforce as a way to build trust among employees while helping leadership gauge whether they’re on track to meet their DEI goals. 

Ally

Ally regularly revisits pay for various positions, aids employees seeking gender affirmation services and offers tuition reimbursement and contributions for student loans, which shows concrete support for employees of different backgrounds. 

 

Free Guide: Racial Equality in the Workplace

DEI experts offer solutions to create a radically inclusive workplace.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

The acronym ‘DEI’ stands for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Enforcing unbiased hiring practices, establishing talent development programs for marginalized employees and offering DEI trainings are several examples of DEI initiatives.

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