In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police in May 2020, a corporate diversity, equity and inclusion playbook started emerging, recalls Eric Thomas, global DEI officer at Genesys, an omnichannel customer experience software company.
“There were these statements that were made by different companies. 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,” Thomas said. “Then it was followed through with some type of action.”
10 DEI Initiatives to Prioritize
- Benchmark the company’s current DEI progress
- Articulate leadership-level support for DEI initiatives
- Engage in unbiased hiring practices
- Invest in ERGs
- Support mentorship and sponsorship opportunities
- Offer talent development programs for underrepresented community members
- Host DEI educational events
- Provide DEI training across levels
- Craft a plan for communicating about DEI issues
- Provide 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. In July of 2020, Genesys launched its DEI office and Thomas became the company’s first global DEI officer. Two years into the role, Thomas and his team are continuing the momentum from the social justice movements of 2020 to launch new DEI initiatives that continually improve the workplace experience for Genesys employees from historically marginalized communities.
Built In spoke with DEI leaders at tech companies to identify meaningful DEI initiatives that will sustain progress at organizations for years to come.
An in-depth analysis of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the technology industry.
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?”
“Diversity is who we are in a snapshot … inclusion is what we do.”
Schaffner said her model for creating workplace inclusion initiatives can be remembered by four Es: Educate. Empathize. Engage. Expect to be held accountable.
Education should help allies understand the challenges colleagues might face. “You want to make this educational piece a self-guided tour, basically,” Schaffner said.
Empathizing involves creating a safe place for employees to share their personal experiences, if desired, with colleagues. “It hits differently when you hear it from somebody you know,” Schaffner said.
Engagement is about action — identifying tactical ways the organization and its employees can actively support DEI causes — and 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?”
10 DEI Initiatives
Benchmark the Company’s Current DEI Progress
A company that wants to commit to DEI needs to know where it is starting. “Initially, you have to do this analysis and this internal reflection of ‘where are we in our beliefs about DEI?’” Schaffner said. “Who’s on board? Who do we need to still have discussions [with] about what DEI means?”
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.
Articulate Leadership-Level Support for DEI Initiatives
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.”
Engage in Unbiased Hiring Practices
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.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the front side in our job descriptions and our job requirements to make sure that we are not overinflating job requirements that may prohibit qualified and exceptional people from applying because maybe they don’t have all of these things,” Schaffner said.
Requiring college degrees or internships (which are sometimes unpaid) can be a limiting factor for some people.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the front side in our job descriptions and our job requirements to make sure that we are not over inflating job requirements that may prohibit qualified and exceptional people from applying because maybe they don’t have all of these things.”
“When we start talking about software developers, you don’t necessarily need a college degree to be an awesome Java developer,” Shaffner said. “Let’s make sure that whatever we’re defining in this job role and these job requirements is tied directly to what we expect out of this position, and not just, ‘hey, we’d really like MBAs from the top three MBA schools.’”
Consider using tools that can scrub job postings for noninclusive language, said Pamela Mattsson, senior vice president of people and organizational development at sales execution platform Outreach. Plus, the company always puts its commitment to DEI at the top of the job description.
“It’s a callout, but it matters. That’s the first thing that you read,” Mattsson said. “It’s powerful as a signal rather than an afterthought asterisk at the very end of the job description.”
At Genesys, recruiters and hiring managers have engaged in diversity training and learned how to spot potential biases in the hiring process. The company also partners with 15 to 20 different organizations that support diverse talent to broaden its pool of candidates.
Invest in ERGs
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.
“We don’t manufacture them because here our philosophy is we believe that 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, in terms of defining diversity, or you end up with groups where they’re not sustainable because you don’t have the volunteerism needed within the employee base to really push through and carry it forward.”
Support 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.
“How can we help this person continue to grow internally, as well as to develop skills that can help them externally as well?” Schaffner said. “Mentorship is often someone who’s been in that same position and could give you some hints about the experience, and then a sponsorship, which is just someone who can open doors for you and find opportunities for you that you might not have access to yourself.”
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.
“What I like to see now is that we are guiding those ERGs then to move more into the sponsorship piece of, given that we have these numbers and these issues, how can we influence policy in our organization?” Schaffner said. “How can we influence initiatives in our organization? What can we bring as a benefit to the balance of the organization to address issues that we’re all in here talking about?”
Offer Talent Development Programs for Underrepresented Employees
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.
Host DEI 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.
Provide DEI Training Across Levels
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.
“We launched a training series for our executive management team and a web-based set of models for our broader workforce that would also give them a similar type of education, but it really leaned on biases and how biases can show up in different aspects of our environment,” Thomas said.
Craft a Plan for How to Communicate About DEI Issues
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.
“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.”
“We’ve been working on a communications rubric framework that allows us to, from time to time, triage around each one of these issues as they surface and make a determination that is centered around our core values on what approach we take, if we take any,” Thomas said. “I think that’s going to become increasingly complicated and complex, as we see more and more of these types of challenges surface.”
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?” Mattson 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.”
Provide 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.
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