Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are critical focal points for executives across industries, company sizes, and geographical reach.

DEI efforts and goals are also variable. For example, global organizations must consider country- and region-specific factors as well as the historical context of exclusion, discrimination, and inequities faced by communities within those areas.

While some firms have the financial resources to fully invest in a DEI program – including hiring internal staff and vendors to establish vision, characteristics, goals, and measures of DEI success – others don’t have the HR maturation to develop a robust program.

When considering where to begin, it’s important that workplace culture, organizational goals, and DEI are mutually self-reinforcing, interconnected, and mission-driven. Here are several steps HR leaders can take to build an inclusive culture and deliver a better employee experience.

DEI in workplace culture led by HR

Don’t Just Talk, Act

The events surrounding George Floyd’s death and the Me Too movement were critical catalysts to creating meaningful change around diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Organizations quickly took to LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media outlets to demonstrate solidarity with their diverse workforces and committed to changing the landscape internally for more inclusion and equity among employees. These commitments are a critical first step toward making change, but the journey itself requires action.

According to HBR, “ … attempts to address discrimination seem to be more about optics than about real change, with business leaders’ being quick to issue statements of support but sluggish when it comes to taking meaningful action.”

To make a long-term impact, it’s critical for leaders to clearly articulate a path forward and define programs that embrace and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion as a part of the organization’s culture. To do so, leadership must dedicate time and resources to discuss objectives and obtain alignment on the goals for the program.

Employees, investors, business partners, and customers should see not just a baseline DEI strategy but actionable steps and measurable change over time. Establishing DEI programming requires leadership to develop and publish action plans to ensure transparency and accountability for enabling results. Identifying priorities and communicating progress helps to build trust that the company is taking action aligned with its messaging.

Develop a Future-State Vision Based on Current-State Practices

Similar to an approach for any strategic priority, leadership needs to define what DEI means to the organization. To start, evaluate the current state of diversity practices within your organization.

employees leading DEI in workplace culture

Adena Friedman, global CEO for Nasdaq, submitted a proposal in December 2020 that requires its listed companies to disclose diversity data for their Boards – noting those that don’t have adequate representation have to provide explanations for the lack of diversity. According to Time, “Directives like this appear to be having an impact: nearly half the 456 independent directors appointed in 2021 at S&P 500 companies were from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, a Spencer Stuart report found, and 30% of all directors are women, up from 16% a decade ago.”

In this case, Friedman acknowledged that the lack of Board diversity is a challenge that needs to be addressed. As a result, Nasdaq’s goals for listed companies helped to further define the vision for more than 3,300 companies listed on the exchange. Though this change may come as a step toward compliance for some, it also serves to progress the maturity of diversity in corporations.

As a part of the acknowledgment of your current practices, understand your respective maturity from a DEI perspective. Sample frameworks may range from a maturity rating of Compliance to Innovation, with several steps in between that define how effective and embedded an organization’s program is among its people. To define a vision, leadership must agree on the level of inclusivity they embody today and plot the maturity level they wish to achieve over time.

Engage Employees Early and Often

Employee engagement hinges on the level of trust people feel in their leadership. DEI work is no different. If people connect with the vision and actions of their leaders, they are more willing and likely to help enact programs, either through establishing and leading employee resource groups or volunteering their time to help build diversity programs for the enterprise.

As HBR notes, implementing DEI practices is “ … the right thing to do. Additionally, diverse and inclusive companies find and nurture the best talent, increase employee engagement, and improve customer willingness to buy.”

Leaders can deputize and energize employees throughout the organization’s DEI journey, allowing staff to drive, initiate, support, and contribute to programs at every stage of development and rollout. Just as employees are crucial to referrals of new talent, they are similarly integral to contributing to and implementing new DEI programs. They should be in positions of authority when workplace-diversity decisions are being made, leading from the front. Including a cross-section of staff can also minimize institutional bias and the heavy presence of senior leaders that may not be constructive to collective efforts.

Infuse Practices Within Your Processes

HBR authors state that “one-off D&I initiatives do not effectively address these long-standing disparities. Instead, leaders should infuse D&I throughout their organizations.”

In addition to setting objectives and elevating team members to support DEI programs, leadership must integrate new DEI practices into existing operations.

For instance, if an objective of the program is hiring more diverse talent, the processes that support hiring must reflect this objective. Talent acquisition teams may need to identify new recruitment outlets and sources to fulfill this objective.

DEI in workplace cultureOrganizations must also implement tools to monitor the progress of their goals. Tracking DEI metrics represents one of the two least common DEI actions implemented over the last year.

Each organization must designate time and resources to track and measure the impact of their new processes to validate that the right enhancements have been made. Identify a reporting cadence that provides leadership insights into the progress of the programs. And at the same time, continue to build credibility with team members by candidly sharing results more broadly.

CrossCountry Consulting’s human capital transformation experts help develop and implement DEI programs that effectively embed DEI into company culture. To learn more, contact CrossCountry Consulting today.