Diversity and inclusion are hot topics among HR professionals and scholars. The topics are so complex, in fact, that universities have established degrees from Associate to PhD in Diversity and Inclusion. While we don’t expect HR professionals to obtain a degree in the topic, it’s important to remember that D&I requires continuous education — even if you do have that PhD.
How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
- Make a D&I plan
- Don’t skip the basics
- Get stakeholder buy-in
- Be purposeful
- Level up on diversity training
- Work with like-minded partners
- Use job description and diversity assessment tools
- Break initiatives down to the team level
- Track your diversity metrics
- Make sure senior leadership gets involved
- Have tough conversations
- Be patient
- Invest in diversity and inclusion
Improving diversity in the workplace is a continuous effort that offers various benefits for employees’ growth and well being. Just a few of the many benefits that D&I can provide include being able to have a wider talent pool of candidates, the potential for new perspectives from employees with diverse backgrounds and better performance overall. These benefits are possible because a diverse workforce allows people with varying types of diversity and ways of thinking to collaborate; it’s been proven that diversity and inclusion in the workplace help teams solve problems.
When building a strategy to improve D&I in the workplace, it’s important to focus on actionable activities and ideas. Creating actionable and thoughtful initiatives helps employees feel included and engaged in D&I initiatives. Research shows that, when employees feel involved and accepted at work, it leads to a sense of belonging.
Below are 13 examples of how to improve diversity in the workplace in meaningful ways. Hopefully these examples will help your team either kickstart or expand upon your current diversity and inclusion initiatives.
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13 Ideas to Improve Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace
1. Make a DEI Plan
When it comes to diversity in the workplace, good intentions aren’t enough. When Panorama Education decided to get serious about its diversity and inclusion efforts, the company put pen to paper and outlined exactly what it wanted to accomplish. “In 2019, [we] will implement a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which comprehensively outlines the goals, key milestones and activities that will support the organization in achieving its goals,” said Presceia Cooper, an account manager at Panorama Education.
Understanding what it is you want to accomplish before you begin is the most reliable way to ensure you end up where you want to be. In Panorama’s case, this meant establishing some key definitions. “An important step in drafting this plan was defining what diversity, equity and inclusion mean to our company, recognizing that each pillar deserves its own definition and focus,” said Cooper.
2. Don’t Skip The Basics
Kicking off a formal diversity and inclusion plan is a good start, but it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture if you skip out on planning. Don’t forget to ensure you’ve accounted for everything that’s within your control before casting a wider net. For Medallia, that meant starting with its internal policies and training.
“We have the basics for ensuring all employees are safe and respected, like a clear code of conduct, an anti-harassment and bullying policy, an anti-discrimination policy and mandatory trainings on these policies,” said Lauren Jackman, inclusion practice lead at Medallia.
The company also ensures its employees are paid what they’re worth, regardless of their background. “We’ve also made an equal pay commitment and conducted our first-ever pay equity analysis to ensure that compensation for U.S. Medallians is equal across gender and race,” said Jackman.
3. Get Buy In for a DEI Initative
A diversity and inclusion initiative cannot simply be an edict from senior leadership. To succeed, it must be a company-wide effort supported by all members of the team. When Rapid7 kicked off its formal diversity and inclusion plan, the company learned that employee buy-in has to be a top priority. “We are just getting started, but the biggest lesson learned so far is that to really achieve this goal, we need to inspire every person in the company to understand the role they can play in making it happen,” said Christina Luconi, chief people officer at Rapid7.
The company works with its teams to ensure they understand the impact they can make, helping to set the company up for continued success. “This means not only broadening their mindsets in terms of what makes for an amazing team member, but ensuring every person who joins their team is made to feel embraced and included,” Luconi said.
4. Be Purposeful About Your Diversity Plan
Diversity and inclusion happens where the rubber meets the road. A clearly-defined plan and employee buy-in are a good starting point, but it’s critical that companies make purposeful and tangible efforts to promote diversity in the workplace.
“Quite simply — companies must be intentional about diversity,” said Eric Jones, vice president of brand and communication at WP Engine. “Balance doesn’t just happen; you have to create an environment where differences are valued and encouraged.”
Specific and measurable initiatives are necessary to ensure progress is made. “Where there is focus there is progress,” said Jones. “In order to empower future generations of workers, regardless of race, religion, sex or orientation, companies must do the work necessary to open their doors wider.”
WP Engine also includes some high-level stats about diversity representation in the company on its careers page. One unique stat it includes is the number of employees that do not have a college degree. College degree requirements on job descriptions are overused and can unnecessarily disqualify top candidates who didn’t take a traditional path.
5. Level Up on Diversity Training
Creating a diverse and equitable environment isn’t an easy task. Getting it right is difficult for even the most senior executives, let alone your newest hires. It’s unrealistic to expect your team to know every step to take to foster inclusion in the workplace, so training is almost always needed.
“To foster an inclusive environment, we offer unconscious bias training, which is mandatory for people managers,” said Stacey Kraft, chief people officer at Enova.
The company is also piloting additional steps, like interviewing for cultural add vs. cultural fit and removing resumes from the engineering interview process.
But Enova doesn’t treat its diversity and inclusion training as a “one and done” approach. “Our employee-driven diversity council focuses on providing opportunities for learning, community building and celebration during nationally recognized months of diversity,” said Kraft. By investing in continuing education, Enova has taken the steps necessary to ensure its team is always up to the challenge.
6. Work With Like-Minded Partners
When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s important to know that you don’t have to go it alone. Just about every company out there recognizes the benefits of corporate diversity, and thousands of them are working toward improving the status quo.
For companies like HubSpot, this offers the opportunity to partner with like-minded partners and enhance their efforts. “We partner with Wayfair and TripAdvisor on the [email protected] initiative and I was lucky enough to speak at a MITX Influence(her) event at LogMeIn” said Katie Burke, chief people officer at HubSpot.
Partnering with other companies has exposed HubSpot to a plethora of new ideas and perspectives and allowed Burke to gauge their own efforts against those of other businesses. “There are lots of smart folks who care deeply about this issue, but more work to be done to get us all to the next level.”
HubSpot also dedicates an entire page of their website to their diversity and inclusion efforts. The company delves even deeper into their diversity statistics with the HubSpot 2022 diversity report.
7. Use the Right Tools
As with training, having the right tools in place is critical to the success of diversity and inclusion efforts. You couldn’t expect your engineering or sales teams to be successful without the right tools, and the same is true for your D&I initiatives. Appropriate tooling can also help save hundreds of hours of repetitive work, which is an added bonus.
“We run all of our job descriptions and internal policies through a software platform called Textio, which provides guidance on how to word our job posts in a way that will appeal to applicants of all genders,” said Cynthia Mason, senior vice president of Glowforge.
“We are also working with a local company called Diverse City, which specializes in diversity and equity assessments, training, coaching and accountability systems,” said Mason. “They help us build sustainable diversity and inclusion strategies.”
Glowforge's employee referral program keeps diversity top of mind, as the company offers employees $5,000 for referring under-represented minorities that lead to a hire.
8. Get Granular
Improving diversity at the top line level is a worthwhile goal, but remember that businesses don’t operate as one single entity. They operate as a collection of individual teams, and the true benefits of diversity in the workplace will only be felt if each team is also a reflection of the company’s overarching efforts.
“As we continue to grow, we’re addressing diversity not only at a company level but, most importantly, at the team level,” said April Himel from Relatable’s people operations team. “If Relatable is 60 percent women, yet all of those women are on one single team, they’re still clearly underrepresented.”
Breaking down your diversity and inclusion efforts to the team level may add more work, but as Himel notes, “You won’t feel the true impact of diversity unless all groups are distributed and able to influence the decisions across the whole company.”
9. Track Your Diversity Metrics
The old saying “That which gets measured gets done” is as true with diversity as any other objective. Simply put, if you aren’t measuring your progress, how do you know you’re making any?
The KPIs you track will vary by the state of your diversity and inclusion efforts and the objectives you’re trying to accomplish, but your recruiting pipeline is always a good place to start.
“We have mandated that there must be a diverse slate of candidates for every open role, and to measure our success, we track how diverse the slate was along with the hiring outcome,” said Kim Norwesh, chief human resources officer at 4C.
Performance tracking may seem like an intimidating task, but don’t overthink it. Something as basic as a shared spreadsheet is a great way to get started.
10. Don’t Forget About Senior Leadership
We’ve already touched on diversity and inclusion at the team level, but it’s time to address the elephant in the room: senior leadership.
Executives have more influence over the direction of a company than any other group, so it’s critical that they accurately reflect the company and industry as a whole. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In 2021, only eight percent of Fortune 500 executives were women.
We can do better, and companies like RetailMeNot already are.
“Our diversity and inclusion program started with a realization that our leadership needed to reflect our internal demographics and our customer base,” said Christine McCarey, head of diversity and inclusion at RetailMeNot. “This work began as a women’s initiative, but it quickly pivoted to be more inclusive.”
This is one of the most difficult areas of diversity and inclusion to get right, but it’s arguably the most important, so don’t overlook it.
11. Have The Tough Conversations
The path to ruin is paved with good intentions, and ruin certainly shouldn’t be the fate of your diversity and inclusion program. In order to be successful, conviction and strength in the face of adversity are must have attributes.
“Hope and good intentions do not yield results,” said Tasha McCormic, head of diversity and inclusion at ThoughtWorks. “When it comes to diversity and inclusion, you have to be intentional and have a plan otherwise you will not see the change or progress you desire.”
Aside from sticking to your plan, being intentional also entails having some difficult conversations. This is never pleasant, but it’s an important part of the job.
“Do not shy away from tough conversations,” said McCormic. “Conversations about gender, race, sexism, ageism, etc. can be challenging, but you should not avoid them. In order for your diversity and inclusion efforts to be meaningful, you have to navigate through some uncomfortable areas, but your organization will be better off as a result of it.”
ThoughtWorks has over 60 active diversity programs and initiatives that focus on improving their workplaces and the greater tech industry.
12. Be Patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your diversity and inclusion efforts. When tackling an issue this complex, it’s important that you take a long view and give yourself ample time to accomplish your goals.
“Change may not happen overnight, especially when it comes to demographics,” said McCormic. “Do not get discouraged. If you continue to put time and effort into creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, you will see results.”
13. Invest In Diversity and Inclusion
If diversity and inclusion is something your organization is truly serious about, you’re going to have to make the necessary investments. There’s just no getting around it.
And the more ambitious your objectives, the larger that investment will likely be.
“Our program is designed to focus on three key areas: internal connectedness, community outreach and inclusive infrastructure led by a D&I team that develops programs and initiatives to support our vision,” said Trey Boynton, manager of diversity and inclusion at Duo. “In just our first year, we’ve heavily invested people, time, resources, tools, partnerships and old-fashioned hard work. This is only the beginning, and we are excited about what lies ahead.”