32 Ways to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace
To promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, you need more than just beautiful words on a paper or internal policy document. Asking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) during an interview may soon be as standard as asking about salary. It can be the one thing deciding if top talent chooses your company or a competitor.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are becoming essential features of the modern employee experience. Data shows that investing in DEI in the workplace literally pays off – diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times more cash flow per employee. So, we will review what DEI is and provide you with 32 ways to promote it in the workplace, as well as mistakes to avoid.
🌈 What is DEI in the workplace?
👩🏻🦯 Diversity in the workplace
Diversity means all the ways we differ from each other.
The first things that come to mind are gender, skin color, religious beliefs, and age. But diversity also means different ways of thinking and seeing the world. This includes neurodiverse people and diversity based on physical ability.
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace means embracing these differences.
🦼 Equity in the workplace
Equity refers to the fact that we all have different needs for thriving at work. Equity differs from equality, which means giving everyone the same resources regardless of needs.
Respecting equity means meeting everyone's individual needs.
A simple example: a left-handed dressmaker would need a left-handed pair of scissors to do a good job. Giving them that is an example of workplace equity. Equality would mean giving everyone a left-handed pair of scissors.
👥 Inclusion in the workplace
Among diversity, equity and inclusion, inclusion may seem the most self-explanatory. Practicing inclusion in the workplace means that everyone is recognized. Inclusion in the workplace also means that everyone feels a sense of belonging at work, no matter how diverse your employees are.
You can implement inclusion in the workplace, starting with the language you use.
Pro tip: Avoid instances of non-inclusive language, and use the proper pronouns that people select for themselves.
Inclusion also means transparency. Transparency is essential for open communication. It can mean, for example, forwarding emails to everyone involved in a project for visibility.
❗️ The importance of DEI in today's workplaces
There are some key elements to consider when discussing DEI in today's work:
- a changing work landscape
- the ROI of diversity, equity, and inclusion
- benefits of a diverse workforce
⏰ The changing work landscape
Two key facts shape the current work landscape:
- A generational shift: baby boomers are leaving the job market, more and more gen Zs are entering, and millennials are becoming the core of the global workforce, representing 75% of the worldwide workforce by 2025.
- A global pandemic forced everyone to reconsider their life and priorities, especially about modes of work and work culture.
These facts or trends mean that attitudes to work are dramatically changing. An essential part of that is how employees select their employers. For young workers, company values and ethics can make a huge difference when selecting their employers.
Millennials "want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society," highlights the Deloitte Millenial Survey Report.
For Gen Z, company ethics are of utmost importance:
"Not only must companies have strong ethics. They have to demonstrate they take action consistent with their ethics and values, and this action must be front and center of their brand for prospective Gen Z buyers and employees to see." Deloitte's Welcome to Generation Z Report.
Needless to say, diversity and inclusion are important topics for young generations.
A staggering 99% of Gen Z workers report that workplace DEI is important, with 87% responding that it is very important.
Do these numbers portray the urgency of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace? We surely think so.
📊 The ROI of diversity, equity, and inclusion
But the benefits of DEI in the workplace go beyond employee branding and talent attraction.
In fact, there are some very tangible benefits of building diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. A study from McKinsey & Company highlights the following key findings:
- Fourth-quartile companies for gender diversity on executive teams were 19% more likely than companies in the other three quartiles to underperform on profitability.
- Regarding cultural and ethnic diversity, top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth one by 36% in profitability.
🏆 3 Essential benefits of a diverse workforce
These differences in performance derive from some critical benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workforce and an equitable work environment:
- A more diverse talent pool is a broader talent pool.
- When employees feel included, and as if they belong, they are more engaged.
➡️ We have already discussed the benefits of employee engagement. We highly encourage you to read our article on Employee Engagement Statistics that every HR manager should know.
- A more diverse talent pool brings fresher perspectives and potential for more innovation.
Implementing DEI in the workplace can be challenging and require strategic thinking and planning. Yet, it simply seems like companies cannot and should not ignore these topics that are genuinely important for their potential and future employees.
"We as employers need to make sure we're including these [diverse] individuals and that we're giving them equity. We need to make sure that not only do they have a job, but they have the same ability to get promoted, contribute, and have the same impact — in the world and the workplace — as their peers.[...] I think the mindset has always been to avoid talking about these things.
We didn't want to make people uncomfortable. I think right now, the call to action is about understanding how to navigate that discomfort and how to use that to elevate your workforce. It's about doing the important work that is long overdue and becoming inclusive and equitable." Catalina Colman, Director of HR and Inclusion at Built In, an online community for startups and tech companies.
💡 32 Practical ways to promote DEI in the workplace
💼 For team leaders and managers
1. Model inclusion
Change starts with yourself. As a leader, it's your job to be the example of workplace DEI. Real change happens when policies go from papers to people.
You can model inclusion by being transparent about mental health issues (as much as you feel comfortable). You can also use pronouns and set boundaries between work and free time.
2. Mind your choice of words
On that same note, you promote workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion by choosing an inclusive language. Always strive to become a more open-minded and empathetic leader. Recognizing that people face different challenges and not taking for granted your ways of doing and thinking are good examples of DEI.
3. Promote a work environment of respect
Promote an overall culture of respect and open-mindedness in your team. Encourage employees to report offensive words and actions, ensuring that all claims will be taken seriously by HR and management.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. One of the most selfless acts as a leader is to listen. Take the temperature on your employees' feelings – remember that everyone won't be comfortable sharing during a meeting. An anonymous survey can give valuable information.
5. Host open discussions about inequality
Conversations about inequality should be as normal as discussing action items during a meeting. Invite feedback and listen rather than get defensive.
Tip: Take DEI from the elephant in the room to its shining centerpiece by regularly discussing it during meetings. Mention it on the company website and during the onboarding process.
6. Encourage everyone to talk
Encouraging everyone to talk is a pillar of inclusion. During meetings, your job as a leader is to encourage everyone to share their opinions. Some people are quieter but may have a gold mine of ideas. Open up for different ways of sharing, for example, talking to you in private or via email.
7. Understand your team members
Jumping to conclusions is the enemy of DEI. It may be easy to think that just because two people have similarities – for example, in gender, age, religion, or job role – they want the same things. Practicing equity means seeing everyone beyond labels and meeting their needs.
8. Motivate why DEI is important
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace can meet mixed reactions depending on how central of a value it has been in the past. However, everything gets more manageable if you can convince all employees and stakeholders why DEI is an important part of your organizational culture. Why should your employees care about DEI? How can it improve everyone's life? (You'll hopefully have a solid answer after reading this article).
9. Host inclusive social events
Social events should be accessible to everyone, not just to a few. An example is to avoid intense physical activities. For example, hosting a soccer game may be fun for parts of the team – but would everyone enjoy it?
DEI-friendly Tip #1: If you're going out eating, DEI means ensuring that you can meet everyone's dietary needs and preferences. Going to the place with the best meat in town is not too fun for vegans.
DEI-friendly Tip #2: If you're planning on having a drink, alcohol-free options should be available – and no pressure on drinking or explaining one's choices.
10. Mix teams
To the extent that it's possible, avoid teams where everyone has a similar age/gender/ethnicity. Leveraged correctly, diversity is fun – and innovative!
11. See diversity as an asset
Whether diversity becomes an asset or a liability is ultimately down to your mindset. If the current situation is not optimal, see it as a dusty diamond that, with some polishing, will become invaluable! Remember all the benefits of having a diverse workforce.
👤 HR Staff/People Operations
12. Think outside the recruitment box
If you do something just because it has always been done this way and not because it's motivated, it's time for a change.
For example, is it necessary to have a college degree for a particular role? Or can you be open to hiring someone passionate and willing to learn?
There will always be jobs where higher education is a must-have. Nobody is a self-taught doctor or physicist. However, there are many cases where the willingness to learn and a robust skill set and knowledge basis can be enough to allow a candidate to achieve success in a role.
For example, not all software developers have a computer science degree/ background. However, as long as the candidate has a sound logical and analytical skill set, there's a high chance that they can receive training to learn how to develop a website or a mobile application.
13. Consider rewriting job ads
Language is a biggie when it comes to inclusivity. Are you using words or pronouns coded to a stereotypical candidate? That may exclude some candidates. It can have the ideal candidate subconsciously believe the job is not for them and make them turn elsewhere.
14. Review your website and communications
Look at what the company website conveys. If you only have pictures of white men, you'll want to swap some images to be more inclusive. The same goes for female-dominated domains. Make sure your visual communication represents people of color and all ages.
15. Assess your hiring practices
Subconscious bias is real. It means you favor people similar to yourself – without thinking about it. Luckily, with the world going increasingly online, it's easier to minimize subconscious bias through clever digital hiring practices.
One example is using software that allows for anonymous job applications. The candidate's identity is not revealed until you have assessed their CV.
16. Standardize the interview process
As a hiring manager, use standardized questions to eliminate the risk of discrimination (such as the classic example of asking women if they plan on having children).
Get into the habit of taking notes of the applicants' actual merits instead of just going on feeling. It's normal human behavior to like people who are similar to us. But just because you like someone it doesn't mean they would be the best fit for the team.
17. Rebuild fences into bridges
Social and professional clusters naturally form within an organization. This is normal – just be mindful of them still being inclusive.
An example is coaching and mentorship to connect people between seniority levels. Junior employees can learn from the seniors. The latter get an important reminder of how it is to be new – which fosters empathy. Seniors can even get ideas and fresh perspectives from their greener colleagues.
If your workplace has informal and social organizations, DEI means making them visible and inviting everyone to join.
18. Turn culture fit into cultural add
There's a lot of talk about cultural fits in old-school recruitment. This suggests that people must fit into a specific norm to be accepted.
A more DEI-friendly way of reasoning is in terms of cultural adds.
Tip: Switch your perspective from "Does this person fit the mold?" to "What can this person bring to the table?"
Let your company culture be a living thing shaped by those who resonate with the company's mission. It will make the business more multidimensional and invite innovation!
19. Mix generations within teams
Age is a factor to consider when discussing diversity. People can experience age discrimination at all ages – junior hires not taken seriously, women of child-bearing age receiving rejections during job applications for this mere fact. The same can go for mature people who can feel left out from new projects and initiatives since they're soon to retire.
In a DEI context, age can be considered an asset. Blending age groups means differing points of view and higher innovation potential.
20. Ensure diversity trainings
Employee diversity training is a good way to start promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. The goal is that they'll learn about each other and how unconscious bias works.
However, diversity training is not always effective. Often, companies resort to using a dry slideshow added to onboarding out of obligation rather than genuine interest.
But by doing so, they fail to take advantage of the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce. We have been showing that implementing DEI within a workplace has numerous benefits. So, how can companies bridge the gap between their inability to provide meaningful DEI training and the benefits of DEI in terms of employee satisfaction and productivity?
🔍 Overall DEI tips
So how can you bridge the gap between the lack of and need for DEI training? Engaging your employees beats passive reading or watching. And it doesn't have to be complicated! Here are some of our general tips.
21. Flexible holidays
Not everyone celebrates Christmas and Easter. Consider offering flexible holidays that your employees can take during days that matter to them. It can be different religious celebrations or even their birthday.
Depending on the size of your workplace, it may be challenging to celebrate every holiday. Consider at least recognizing days that are meaningful to your team. Also, use more exclusive names on holidays focusing on a white, Euro-centric worldview (like Columbus Day).
22. Quiet rooms
You can install quiet rooms for two purposes:
- A distraction-free work environment for those who are sensitive to noise (equity)
- The possibility to relax, meditate, pray or worship (diversity/inclusion)
Knowing that there's a quiet room can be a relief and motivate people to work from the office instead of from home if your workplace offers this kind of facility.
23. Physical and psychological safety
People need to feel safe to be able to function effectively as part of a team and feel like they belong. Physical and psychological safety are two critical parts of DEI in the workplace:
- Physical safety means that the office is equipped with wheelchair ramps, nursing rooms, and gender-neutral bathrooms.
- Psychological safety refers to a respectful and inclusive atmosphere. It also means respecting everyone's digital boundaries and, for example, not expecting employees to reply to messages at 11 PM.
24. Announce available policies and support
Let employees know what support is available and where they can turn to if they feel excluded. Even if you know your team, their needs can change, or they may not be comfortable sharing everything.
25. Have inclusive rewards and benefits
Are the bonuses, rewards, and benefits at your workplace inclusive, or are they tailored to an average white man?
Here are some examples:
- Getting Christmas Day off if your team normally works may not be appreciated by someone who's not Christian.
- People with children may enjoy a day off more than a night out.
- A bottle of wine isn't equal to celebrating wins for everyone.
26. Measure DEI progress
When leveling up your DEI efforts, start by honestly assessing how you are currently doing. Measuring beats guessing games. Identify relevant KPIs to be able to track progress. For example, gender balance in recruitment and promotion can be a starting point of investigation.
Work with goals and deadlines and decide upon activities that will take you there.
27. Normalize customization
Instead of fitting everyone into the same mold, normalize work environment customization.
Flexible hours have become standard in many workplaces post-pandemic. Workplaces can be personalized whether your employees work at the office or from home to accommodate everyone's individual needs.
28. Encourage participation in Employee Resource Groups
Having perfect policies on paper won't make an actual difference. Similarly, starting an Employee Resource Group (ERG) is the first step. These groups exist as a safe space for employees, where they can get help for personal or career development. The employee resource group dates back to the 1960s in the USA, where workers created a safe discussion forum for dealing with race-based tension in the workplace.
Leaders must actively support and encourage participation in these groups for optimum results. A critical step in DEI is thus to decide who's responsible for managing and promoting the ERGs at your workplace.
29. Introduce employees with diverse backgrounds to sponsorships
There are many sponsorship opportunities available for marginalized groups. However, browsing these can be daunting. As a part of workplace DEI, make your employees' lives easier and present them with exciting opportunities.
30. Include inclusivity in company values
Values describe the philosophy and culture of your business. Transform them from a set of beautiful sentences to actionable DEI practice by touching upon inclusion and diversity.
Bonus tip: As the world becomes more conscious, inclusive company values can attract more diverse candidates and different investment opportunities. The investment landscape has to keep up with employee needs and preferences. As a result, more investors are interested in seeing new types of voices and more diverse opinions.
31. Promote pay equity
If your workplace has an analytics department, use their help to identify patterns for salaries and promotions. For example, are all ethnic groups and genders compensated equally? Or are there trends less favorable for underrepresented groups?
And don't stop there – use the data to look into the dynamics in the departments involved, and take actions to level the playing field.
32. Assign a workplace diversity and inclusion budget
DEI can seem daunting, and we know you want to get it right. However, assigning a budget allows you to hire external help and get your DEI practices on the right track faster!
❌ How NOT to do it - DEI mistakes to avoid
Here are some DEI pitfalls to avoid:
- Focusing on creating the perfect facade and forgetting about what really matters: your employees.
- Communicating the values once and thinking it's a done deal – either orally or in writing.
- Only focusing on one aspect and forgetting about the others.
- Promising the impossible.
DEI is a complex issue that touches on deeply rooted beliefs and behaviors.
Enacting a culture rooted in DEI principles might make you uncomfortable addressing topics you are unfamiliar with and ideas challenging your subconscious bias. While there are no shortcuts to DEI, and it won't get fixed overnight, addressing these issues is part of creating a better workplace and, in the long run, a better society! Never underestimate the ripple effect of seemingly small changes.
📉 The issue with most DEI training
Navigating DEI training is a delicate topic. But, skillfully done, it favors a more open and inclusive workplace.
Imposing DEI training can have the opposite of the intended effect. People can be resistant and defensive and even perceive it as a punishment. On the other hand, making DEI training voluntary often leads too many people to skip it.
The good news: by definition, every problem has a solution! Resistance can often be soothed by motivating how everyone will benefit from the training – and revising the format.
Tip: Lead by example! Ensure that higher management also participates in training.
Keep an open channel of communication between higher management and the general workforce. Allow suggestions from your employees on their challenges and develop training tailored to overcome them.
➡️ DEI training that works
Virtual training doesn't have to be boring videos played at double speed. There are learning methods proven to work!
If there's a magic bullet, it's spelled engagement.
Scenario-based and peer-based learning activate everyone.
Exercises entice reflection.
And in a world where attention spans are down to nanoseconds, micro-learning helps retain focus from the starting point to the finishing flag.
➡️ Use Zavvy's DEI training template today!