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How to Build a Successful Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Program

November 5, 2020
By

For many organizations, it’s been an eye-opening year.

Following the murder of George Floyd, and amid rising support for Black Lives Matter, companies ranging from Mercedes-Benz to Ben & Jerry’s have spoken out on behalf of social change. But that wave of corporate activism has left some wondering what comes next. Are businesses willing to put in the hard work to make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) a long-term priority?

Lattice’s recently released State of People Strategy Report 2020 shows that a majority of organizations are willing — at least when it comes to their HR initiatives.

Based on a survey of 570 HR and People professionals from across industries and around the world, the report found that over 60% of organizations are building on their DE&I programs this year.

Of the organizations surveyed:

  • 25% are working to go beyond the basics
  • 21% are radically expanding their efforts
  • 16% are starting a program from scratch

That’s encouraging news — but what are businesses actually doing to effect change in the workplace? 

Creating a DE&I Roadmap

If you’re looking to make an impact, you can't take any shortcuts. Amber Madison and Liz Kofman, co-founders of DE&I strategy firm Peoplism, know that from firsthand experience.

“Like anything mission-critical for company success, DE&I programs require time, resources, and long-term investment,” Madison said. And for your DE&I initiative to have far-reaching effects, it needs to be incorporated throughout the employee lifecycle — not just during recruiting.

“Yes, diversifying your candidate pool and ensuring a fair hiring process are critical to DE&I. But how will you ensure that underrepresented employees have equal access to development and promotion opportunities once they're in the door? How will you make sure that all employees feel included by their managers and connected to their colleagues?” Kofman added.

Bias, after all, goes deeper than some may think. It affects hiring and promotions, performance management, and manager feedback. White men still hold almost 70% of senior leadership positions, and that number rises when you get to the CEO level. Overcoming systemic biases starts with taking a closer look at your entire organizational culture.

“We recommend that you create a realistic, sustainable DE&I plan with initiatives that will address recruiting and hiring, performance management, employee engagement, and connection,” Madison said. To hold yourself accountable, she suggested putting together quarterly progress reports on DE&I and being transparent about the results.

Knowing What to Prioritize

Lattice's State of People Strategy Report shows that HR teams are hoping to promote DE&I thought a variety of means. The most popular initiatives are focused on hiring, unconscious bias training, and employee resource groups (ERGs).

Madison and Kofman weren’t surprised to see the popularity of initiatives like unconscious bias training. While it has its critics, unconscious bias training is a popular solution among non-DE&I professionals, and often the initiative they turn to first. This bears out in the numbers: The larger a company gets, the more likely they are to have dedicated DE&I leaders — and the less likely they are to rank unconscious bias their go-to solution.

Ultimately, the initiatives you choose to introduce, whatever they may be, should be based on an understanding of your larger DE&I goals. While training can help, no single program is going to be enough on its own. “HR teams should challenge themselves to raise the bar on all of their programs by considering the DE&I impact, rather than see DE&I as an ‘add-on’ feature,” Kofman said.

That starts with doing your due diligence. To find out where your organization needs to put the most investment, begin by asking questions via a survey. Just remember to act on the answers.

“A DE&I-focused employee engagement survey is a great tool for gathering information, but you should only ask employees to share their views if you are prepared to act on what they tell you. Otherwise, you risk even more frustration,” Madison said. “For companies just starting out, it’s also important that you build a DE&I program that feels authentic to your company, as opposed to simply trying to quickly address complaints or copying what other companies are doing.”

Knowing the Roadblocks

HR teams know that implementing a successful DE&I roadmap takes time and effort. Among the organizations surveyed, perceived time commitment, lack of DE&I program knowledge, and indifference were cited as the biggest barriers to success.

Understanding and communicating the real benefits of DE&I, company-wide, can help get everyone on board.

Data gathered by Peoplism shows DE&I initiatives can boost financial performance, combat employee turnover, and enhance employee productivity. Companies in the bottom quartile for gender and racial or ethnic diversity are 29% more likely to underperform on profitability. And in the tech industry specifically, unfair treatment has been cited as the number-one reason employees decide to leave — especially among underrepresented groups.

“If you would say that improved financial performance, employee engagement and retention, and improved innovation are all top priorities for your company, then DE&I should be, too,” Kofman said. “Think of DE&I not as a distraction from business priorities, but as a tool you can use to meet your other business priorities better.”

Download your copy of Lattice’s State of People Strategy Report 2020.