These days, initiatives to create and sustain diversity, equity, and inclusivity (abbreviated together as DEI) in the workplace are a mainstay of corporate culture. Many companies are focused on elevating and improving conditions for employees in groups that have been historically marginalized or shut out of advancement: women (particularly mothers), people of color (POC), and individuals who identify as LGBTQ+. There are many reasons that DEI issues have come into focus, not all of which are purely about any moral or ethical injunction to offer a fair playing field that rewards skill and hard work, irrespective of background or identity: Rather, companies may fear class action litigation for issues in pay or advancement equity, or less cynically, simply be trying to leverage the business advantages that diversity has been shown to bring to the table.
However, even company executives with the best intentions may struggle to know precisely how to foster DEI in their workplaces, barring the implementation of some boiler-plate corporate training; conversely, they may be unsure if their behaviors promote a positive work culture for marginalized groups, or if there are problems that need addressing.
With that in mind, we wanted to talk about some strategies to promote DEI in the workplace. This is by no means an all-encompassing or finite list, but rather, some ideas for strategies to take the next steps towards making your workplace one that is safe and empowering for a diverse bench of employees.
1) Consider a pay equity study
If asked whether it’s okay to pay women or minorities less than men for comparable roles at comparable skill levels, the vast majority of executives and HR personnel would say, “Absolutely not.” However, there is a temptation to assume that pay inequity is an issue impacting other companies, and not one’s own. To know for sure that your pay practices are fair to everyone, it may be worthwhile to employ an outside firm to conduct a pay equity study. This study would involve a careful examination of salary and other compensation practices, and even advancement practices, to ensure that all employees are being paid fairly, respective to their responsibilities and skills. Conducting a pay equity study has an upfront cost, but pays dividends down the line–not only by avoiding potentially costly litigation, but by creating a competitive advantage in being able to recruit top candidates from diverse backgrounds.
2) Utilize culturally sensitive and multilingual materials
Particularly for companies that maintain either offices or client bases in other regions of the world than their HQ location, offering materials (training manuals, courses, etc.) that are culturally aligned with the regions in which they might be utilized, and even available in other languages, provides a great step towards cultural competency. Choosing to provide materials that translate linguistically or thematically across cultures (and avoid idioms, stereotypes, or assumptions that might be offensive) can bridge gaps, and foster a situation where talented individuals worldwide feel their values align with those of your brand.
3) Elevate marginalized voices
Too often, there is a tendency for the loudest person in the room to claim all the attention and all the credit–for productivity, for innovation, for bringing in new business. Studies have shown that elevating voices that might otherwise get drowned out builds a positive change in work culture, in which diversity and innovation are both fostered. Calling attention to marginalized voices also elevates the status of both parties–the person who originally had the idea, and the peer who helped amplify their voice and recognize their contribution. Particularly in environments where women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ folks are under-represented, having a peer publicly endorse a contribution is beneficial for everyone: the amplified individual, the amplifying individual, and the company as a whole.
4) Lead with and welcome authenticity
A common but under-discussed problem in many workplaces is the implicit messaging received by women or members of minority groups that they must somehow suppress innate aspects of their identity in order to fit in. Women may report a sense of needing to “act like a man” in order to advance; members of under-represented ethnic groups may feel the need to hide religious practices, dietary observances, or attend company events on holy days in order to remain valued–and not be overlooked for important assignments or promotion. For managers, the best way to combat this is to lead with authenticity–to wear your stripes proudly and vulnerably–and to value, support, and honor the diverse backgrounds, customs, and individual needs of your team.
5) Remove obstacles in career paths
Numerous studies have shown that employees are more likely to remain in an environment where they feel they are being developed with new skills, and where they know there is opportunity for advancement. (Conversely, neither of these incentives being in place is the number one driver of employee attrition.) An extension of this is the need to remove obstacles to advancement. This can be done by providing robust parental leave (for all parents, not just those who give birth), comprehensive employee and family healthcare (mental health inclusive), offering no-questions-asked personal days to attend to family or cultural obligations,
6) Learn about and avoid microaggressions
Microaggressions are statements or actions that subtly or indirectly signal racism against a marginalized group. Often these incidents occur unintentionally, with no awareness of the bias that they indicate. However, repeated instances of microaggression can create a toxic and hostile work environment for BIPOC, LGBTQ-identifying employees, and women. Referring to people of color as “articulate,” “aggressive,” or “angry”; constantly relying on women to coordinate meetings, coffee, or lunch; asking people “Where are you really from?” or stating, “You don’t seem [insert ethnicity, religious background, or sexual orientation]”–these are all examples of microaggressions that commonly occur in the workplace. Many times there is no ill-intention behind them, however, these remarks betray discriminatory animus and may leave the recipients feeling uncomfortable, scared, embarrassed, or impugned. Maintaining a work environment where the consistent occurrence of microaggressions is tolerated and not taken seriously isn’t just a quick way to a lawsuit–it’s also a fast-track for driving out talented employees from diverse backgrounds who, rightly, will not put up with such behavior. There’s a lot more to learn about this, and we encourage you to research this subject further on your own, rather than waiting for minority friends and coworkers to explain it to you.
So, where do I start?
If you’re a manager looking to improve diversity in your shop, a good first step–beyond the ones outlined here–is to take Aperian Global’s Inclusive Behaviors Inventory (IBI), a tool that allows you to rank yourself across five dimensions of inclusion, providing you with knowledge about behaviors you may already be doing successfully, and areas where you have room to grow. Take the time, also, to read, study, and learn about DEI. And, to the extent that they do want to share their experiences, engage with employees: Listen carefully to what they have to say, implement their suggestions, and above all, affirm the skill, innovation, and talent they bring to the workplace.
The Girard Training Solutions team includes experts in Learning and Development, Management Development, Facilitation, Learning Experience Design, Project Management, and Graphic Design.