If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has become a top priority for most companies in 2021. Employees have grown to expect more from the people and systems they work for, and businesses in turn recognized the need for change and accountability.
So where do you start once you’ve identified diversity hiring and culture as a top priority for your company? Here are a few takeaways from our recent webinar on building a DE&I playbook.
The first step to any DE&I transformation is to acknowledge that DE&I is more than an isolated initiative or HR program. It’s a philosophy that needs to be imbued into every level of your organization, starting with your leaders.
For most companies, the HR leader is the main driver for DE&I efforts across the organization. Unfortunately, getting senior leadership’s buy-in for these efforts is a major challenge that many face.
John Hardy, Diversity & Inclusion Sr. Manager at Best Buy, understands the need for leadership alignment. “You have to start at the top, and you have to be focused on your C-suite,” he said. “The executive has to get it, their direct reports have to get it, [and] the board of directors should probably be on that journey with you.”
That’s not to say that things will be easy once leadership is on board with the DE&I mindset. Introducing change into your organization will likely yield some discomfort and ambiguity, so it’s important to have a strong argument for venturing into new territory.
To build a strong business case for investing in a company-wide DE&I strategy, you need to present leadership with concrete, evidence-based reasoning on why diversity will benefit the organization. As Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition and Diversity at Fiix Software, Dean Delpeache, pointed out, companies in the top quartile of ethnic-racial diversity outperform the industry median by approximately 36%. For gender diversity, they outperform the median by 21%.
Not only will this kind of data help you make a case for DE&I programs, but it will also help establish benchmarks for your company. In terms of leadership, for example, is your C-suite completely comprised of one demographic? Identify some diversity metrics you can put in place to ensure that different groups are represented in every major decision.
While you’re examining your organization’s leadership structures, consider hiring some expertise in the DE&I space to provide valuable guidance and perspective to your overall strategy. HR leaders have a wide range of responsibilities, so it makes sense to bring in dedicated and ongoing support to champion DE&I causes and initiatives. Professionals with experience in workplace diversity are uniquely equipped to communicate and articulate sensitive ideas, a powerful quality to have in leadership.
A big part of what people think of when they hear about DE&I is hiring. Hiring practices are an undeniable component of any DE&I strategy, but diversifying the hiring pipeline isn’t about filling a quota. Instead, focus on what problem your organization is trying to solve when it comes to talent.
One of the most misguided myths about hiring is that prioritizing diversity means sacrificing the best talent. This assumption isn’t just inaccurate, it’s harmful to business. Companies need to “understand that bringing in a diversity of folks and talent is actually going to bring in diversity of skill and the ability to do things that [they] cannot do today,” Hardy said.
Bringing in this diversity isn’t a passive process. There needs to be an active effort to recruit talent that isn’t being reached or represented because, as Hardy put it, “talent is limitless, but opportunity is very limited.”
Job descriptions are the gateway between your organization and its future employees, so it’s important to be aware of how unconscious biases can influence them. Research shows that women are less likely than men to apply for positions where they do not meet at least 90% of the listed qualifications. In the interest of encouraging higher female representation in your candidate pool, try differentiating between qualifications that are required versus nice to have. The same goes for educational requirements – if a role doesn’t require a post-secondary degree, then consider not including it in your job description or simply listing it as a preference.
Another great approach for encouraging applicant diversity is including an equity statement in your organization’s job postings that lets job-seekers know they should still consider applying even if they only meet some of the role’s qualifications. For Delpeache, this method has been extremely effective for bringing in candidates from diverse backgrounds, with 51% of applicants crediting the company’s equity statement as their reason for applying.
Diversity and inclusion surveys are a powerful part of your hiring toolkit. These are optional surveys that applicants can fill out anonymously during the application process.
“This tells us who's coming into our pipeline,” Delpeache said. “So, for example, if I have a software developer role and see 80% male applicants coming in and 20% female, I can literally go back and say, is there something wrong with our job description? Are we using gender-neutral words?”
There are multiple values to this level of insight. One, it allows you to quantify who is coming into your hiring pipeline so you can make an effort to appeal to people from different backgrounds. Second, it gives you the ability to do some root-cause analysis on how diversity trickles down from the candidate stage to the hiring stage.
“If you're courting a lot of POC but only hiring a very small percentage of that, that tells you where there's a flaw in your system,” Hardy said. “A lot of organizations do most of their hiring around people of color in lower bands of the organization...And oftentimes, they'll trade up for other organizations who see the value in [them] before you see it.”
The third component of any successful DE&I playbook is training. If your organization is serious about transforming its diversity practices, you need to ensure that everyone has the training and resources needed to evolve.
Training isn’t going to solve DE&I issues singlehandedly – it’s only part of the equation. As Hardy pointed out, “Having diversity in the room is not enough. Inclusion is, again, back to that mindset where you're creating safety. Do people feel safe in your environment?”
Your organization's primary challenge is creating growth, and one of the best ways to do this is to invest in creating a positive employee experience. Instead of focusing on individual initiatives, make an effort to align your organization from top to bottom around the DE&I philosophy. Rather than implementing training programs based on awareness, allow your employees to interact and practice in peer-based environments.
“Employees that find and feel a sense of belonging in the workforce are 167% more likely to promote your organization to others,” Delpeache said. DE&I training is powerful because it can create a united front. When your executives, mid-level managers, and recruiters all view themselves as cultural ambassadors for your organization, they’re more invested in working together to create a positive experience.
Ultimately, DE&I training is a long game. Still, a lot of training programs fall short because they’re seen as event-based rather than continuous.
“Completing a class doesn’t mean you can move on, because diversity is deeply introspective work,” Hardy said. An isolated training session isn’t going to drive any meaningful behavioral change. You need to be following up with engagement surveys – both immediately after the training and then again after six months – to see if there have been any quantifiable improvements. Lattice’s employee engagement software makes it easy to track progress and see how DE&I sentiment evolves over time.
Building DE&I into your company isn’t a quick fix. Rather, it’s a nuanced and deeply rewarding process that requires a fundamental shift in your company’s mindset. To prioritize DE&I means that you’ve realized diversity breeds innovation, and this outlook is essential to effecting change that is meaningful and intentional.
Don’t rush it. After all, according to Hardy, “Urgency is the enemy of inclusion.”