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This post is a guest post written by Lauchways Diversity and Inclusion partner, Chanté Thurmond.

So, you want to learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion, generally referred to as DEI. That’s good news, because building a diverse and talented workforce is the best way to set your company up for success.

Recent studies show that greater gender and racial diversity each are directly correlated with increased profitability and value creation. Companies with the most women and minorities in leadership positions are between 20-30% more likely to achieve above average financial performance.

As a DEI consultant, I have a lot experience guiding companies through the difficult and often treacherous process of tackling the issues of diversity and inclusion. Every individual and company’s journey will be different, and each faces their own challenges. But in this article, I will share some of the biggest lessons that I have learned about implementing DEI through helping my clients through their journeys. Most business leaders, managers, and HR professionals can increase diversity and inclusion to build a diverse and talented workforce by following these six basic steps:

  • Raising their awareness of DEI issues
  • Aligning their mission/vision and culture with DEI
  • Making diversity part of their brand
  • Keeping all of their employees happy and engaged
  • Offering compelling and inclusive benefits
  • Building a diverse network

Who Should Learn About DEI?

If you are reading this article, odds are that you bear at least some responsibility for the hiring or make-up of your company’s teams. Let’s take a look at who can benefit the most, and have the most impact, by learning about diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion efforts are most effective when they are are built from the ground up, as a fundamental part of a company. For that reason, the people who can have the greatest impact on DEI are the founders/leaders of startups and SMEs – business leaders who still bear the responsibility for developing their team and defining their culture. If you are an entrepreneur or small business person, you have the power to implement the principles of diversity and inclusion in every part of your business.

The second most important group of people to read this article and learn about DEI in general are managers and HR professionals at startups or high-growth organizations. These people’s jobs are to attract talent and maintain effective teams. They are the front lines of any diversity and inclusion effort at a larger company – and many smaller ones as well.

Finally, it’s important to educate anyone who has heard about DEI and is interested in learning more. If everyone were well-versed in DEI issues, companies wouldn’t have nearly as hard a time building diverse teams and making sure that they are genuinely inclusive. So, please share these ideas with anyone you think might take them to heart or learn from them, not just key stakeholders.

Raise Your Awareness

The first step to tackling any new issue is to deeply understand it. DEI can be an extremely complex and highly-charged topic, so it is especially important that you have as nuanced an understanding of it as you can in order to address it effectively. Misguided DEI efforts can alienate your employees and hurt diversity, rather than helping it.

There are plenty of resources to turn to in order to understand the topic. I encourage you to take it upon yourself to do some research and learn about what DEI is and how business leaders can best foster it. To get you started, here are some key terms that you should understand:

  • Diversity
  • Equity & Equality
  • Inclusion
  • Accessibility
  • Socioeconomics
  • Social Justice
  • Disparities
  • Privilege
  • Bias
  • Oppression
  • Marginalization

Also, think about what groups you are having trouble attracting and retaining and do research into common challenges they face, missteps that companies make to exclude them, and needs that they might have. Just don’t forget to treat your employees as individuals no matter what their race, gender, or orientation.

Align Your Mission/Vision

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the concepts of DEI, it’s time to put them to work in your organization. The best way to make your company truly diverse and inclusive is to put the principles of DEI at the very core of your company mission/vision and culture. Those three things drive the direction, priorities, and very nature of your company, so orienting them at least partially around diversity and inclusion can have a significant impact on how well your company works for all employees.

Your culture and mission/vision are also important parts of your hiring process: you want to hire candidates who fit into your mission and who buy into the values behind your culture. So, basing them on DEI will help you attract diverse talent and candidates who believe in diversity and inclusion.

Make Diversity Part of Your Brand

What you tell the world about your company defines its reality. So, make DEI a part of your brand! Make it clear to the world that you are a steward of diversity and inclusion to attract diverse employees, clients, and business partners.

Every social media post, blog article, and job posting should reflect your key values and commitment to diversity. Bottom line: walk the talk because consistency and integrity matter, and people are paying attention to your words as well as your actions.

Keep All of Your Employees Happy and Engaged

This is where inclusion really comes into play. All employees should be on a level playing field with equal opportunities for advancement and equal involvement in the life of your company. 

It doesn’t matter how diverse your hiring practices are if you have trouble engaging and retaining employees of all backgrounds. If any employees feel left out or alienated during their day to day experiences at your company, are passed up for promotions or new responsibilities, or are not sufficiently recognized for their accomplishments, then chances are they will leave.

Keeping your employees happy and engaged also pays off in more ways than just keeping them around. Happy employees are more productive, more effective collaborators, and better representatives of your brand. Your employees’ true feelings about your company will become clear in the ways that they interact with their teammates and with your clients. Give them every reason to be enthusiastic advocates for your company.

Offer Compelling and Inclusive Benefits

Generous benefits help retention and engagement across the board, so are a good investment whether as part of a DEI initiative or not. But when trying to increase diversity and inclusion at your company, targeted benefits can be an extremely useful tool.

You should tailor your benefits to the unique needs of your workforce. It is useful to listen to employees about what they need, don’t just assume or assert what they need. For example, women still handle most of the child-rearing responsibilities on average. As a result, they are more likely to leave their jobs, whether or by choice or not, and be passed up for promotions. Companies who are serious about retaining and cultivating female talent would therefore be well-advised to offer benefits like work-from-home options and parental leave so that women don’t have to choose between their families and their work. Those benefits will also increase the inclusion and retention of single parents of all genders. There are plenty of ways to tailor your benefits package to maintain a diverse workforce.

Ask yourself who is being left out by your benefits package, and if there are any areas in which you feel as though you could be doing more. Addressing obvious gaps is a great start, and then take the time to get employee feedback and adjust to their needs.

Build a Diverse Network

Lived experience informs our perspectives and actions. If you, as a business leader, foster a diverse network, you will be much more effective at building a diverse and inclusive company. Not doing so both makes your DEI efforts seem hypocritical and calculated, and means that you will approach the topic of diversity with blinders on.

Just like how a diverse workforce increases the creativity and productivity of the whole team, a diverse network will help you create original and effective business solutions and DEI strategies. Plus, they will be able to spread the word about your business and its diversity efforts to their trusted networks – which are also less likely to overlap with your own or each other’s networks.

Key Takeaways

This article hasn’t covered every facet of diversity, equity, and inclusion. But hopefully you now have a road map to guide you on the journey of educating yourself about the issues and implementing DEI in your organization. Don’t be afraid to get creative and go beyond the principles outlined in this article, just remember to always put your employees and their needs at the center of any strategy that you implement. And, to get started, remember to:

  • Learn as much as you can about the issues relating to DEI so that you can be the most effective advocate and policymaker possible
  • Live DEI in your company mission/vision, culture, and brand – and your own networks
  • Keep your employees of all backgrounds happy and engaged, especially by offering the benefits that meet their unique needs

Hopefully this article has gotten you thinking about how you can make your company more diverse and inclusive. We’d love to hear about your experiences, questions, and diversity strategies in the comments section below.

About the Author
Chanté is a fierce advocate of equity & inclusion; gender parity and social justice initiatives. She is on a mission to learn the backstories of underrepresented leaders and share their voice with the world. Her expertise is in Organizational Development, Social Innovation, Health & Well-being and Community Engagement. In a previous life, Chanté’s work centered around cultivating strategic alliances between public and private sector leaders to reduce public health inequities and improve population health outcomes. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Mount Mercy University and a M.A. from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN.

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