The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (commonly referred to as DE&I within the workplace) cover the efforts an organization makes to ensure that all employees are treated equally. This also entails the programs, language, and opportunities put in place that help employees feel welcomed and obtain a sense of belonging, regardless of their background (race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, etc.). Each of the individual components of DE&I is important for a well-performing, efficient, and cohesive work environment.
Diversity begins with the employer’s perception of a candidate wishing to join the organization. Equity refers to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals, and their opportunity to advance within the organization’s operations and functions. Inclusion, the last piece of the puzzle, binds equity and diversity together by setting up opportunities for engaging employees, as individuals or as a group, and creating a sense of belonging at work. An organization that truly captures and encourages the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion will prove to be a better environment for employees than workplaces that do not have DE&I as part of their management strategy.
A diverse, equitable, and inclusive setting helps workers excel and attain their organization’s mission. When employees will gladly represent an organization within the community it serves, it shows that the community is considered a key stakeholder in operations. This circles back to engendering loyalty, and most importantly, the social license to operate. On the other hand, a work environment that is not diverse can cause individuals to feel singled out. This situation typically does not encourage a sense of belonging for all employees, and is not generally an appropriate reflection of the community and client base. These negative outcomes are non-conducive to long-term success or resiliency in the face of serious change or calamity (e.g., the pandemic).
Building a DE&I Strategy
If a business aims to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, it needs to create a strategy that is relevant to its market and community. Management can utilize the following steps to begin the process of carving out a DE&I strategy/policy:
- Let the organization be a mirror of the community: Do people of color and/or immigrants represent a large percentage of the community on which this organization depends? Is the same ratio present within the organization?
- Be specific and make it measurable: Use current populous statistics as a metric to ensure that minorities are not overlooked and still have representation within the organization.
- Take employee feedback, even anonymously: Once an organization decides to revise or create a DE&I strategy, feedback from all employees regarding the changes is essential. This can be the first step towards creating a welcoming environment for all employees and empowering the feeling of making a difference in the decision-making process.
Effective DE&I strategies contribute to every level of the employee experience, from the interview process through promotion to a leadership position.
The journey of employment typically begins with the interview process. This is the first time a potential employee will interact with a representative of the organization and begins the communication about whether an organization is diverse and inclusive. If interviews are conducted by a panel, including diversity (of gender, ethnicity, background, work experience, and age) in this panel is an important factor in sending the right message. Sharing questions equally between panel members also conveys to potential employees that equality is prioritized at the organization. Recruiters should also receive training before the hiring process to eliminate unconscious bias and be prepared for “uncomfortable” questions regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The potential employee should also be offered time to inquire about and discuss DE&I issues.
By the conclusion of the interview, the potential employee should feel confident in their ability to thrive at this organization. When the employment contract has been signed, the next part of the work begins: instilling a sense of belonging. This can be accomplished by espousing zero discrimination for differences or similarities between new employees and the existing team. Such practices help companies retain diverse employees, maintain higher retention levels, and garner employee loyalty.
Leadership & Mentorship
Diversity at the leadership level can add a competitive advantage to an organization, regardless of the industry. According to Boston Consulting Group, more than 1,700 companies have a diverse management team which has led to a 19% boost in revenue. A successful and resilient company needs to have an executive team that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This also serves to feed into the improvement and demonstration of the organization’s DE&I strategies.
Any organization can begin fostering DE&I at the leadership level by creating a mentorship program with the existing team of managers and directors. Once buy-in has been established and the executive leadership and middle management recognize the value of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace, they can begin mentoring those colleagues with the potential to lead company operations in the future. Assessments for leadership potential should be conducted without regard to personal factors or unconscious bias. By mentoring new hires and middle management of diverse backgrounds, an organization will be investing in its future ability to face any kind of crisis and calamity due to the leadership’s wider range of skills, knowledge, and experiences.
The desire for diversity in an organization is not instilled overnight. Though the pandemic served to highlight many worldwide inequalities in a relatively short time, it will still require long-term, consistent, and sustained effort to implement diversity within an organization. This is only accomplished through strategic DE&I policy implementation.
Experienced in corporate sustainability in both developed and emerging markets, Fatima Fasih has over 5 years of experience in advising businesses on their sustainability strategies and reporting. She also assists businesses in identifying their progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, working as an independent Sustainability Consultant, Fatima holds a Masters degree in Sustainability Management and Bachelors in Health Sciences and Environmental Science from the University of Toronto.
She is also certified a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quantifier (GHG-IQ) and aims to work towards pushing businesses to play a larger role in solving the world’s biggest sustainable development problems: hunger, poverty, and inequality.