By Lindsay Morris, contributor of Underground Group
⏰ 6-minute read
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is increasingly critical to companies’ success, as it translates to higher employee retention and productivity, among other benefits.
While hiring a D&I consultant is helpful in many scenarios, the five steps below can help your company up its diversity and inclusion game on a budget.
Important steps include defining both diversity and inclusion, surveying current employees about their experiences and remembering that D&I pertains to how you treat your customers, too.
It’s become clear that setting diversity and inclusion (D&I) as a priority at your company is important, no matter its size.
Look no further than the fact that Sephora and Starbucks temporarily shut some of their stores for mandatory diversity training and racial bias training, respectively. Meanwhile, startups like Salsify make D&I a part of their employee training.
In a 2017 survey from management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates, 74% of executives cited D&I initiatives as critical to their organization’s success. These executives were also 38% more likely to view their companies as effective in retaining talent and 42% more likely to say their companies effectively facilitate creativity.
Diversity and inclusion also makes sense dollarwise: Companies with diverse management teams produce 19% more “innovation revenue” (i.e. revenue due to new products and services) than those with below-average leadership diversity, according to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group study.
5 steps to improving D&I at your company
Prioritizing D&I at your company requires more than just a day of training, said Madeline Winslow, a diversity and inclusion consultant at human resources consulting firm Mercer.
“D&I shouldn't sit on its own island,” Winslow said. “It should be part of your talent strategy, your financial strategy and your health and benefits strategy.”
Heed the following tips to jumpstart your own diversity and inclusion program.
1. Define D&I.
Before starting a D&I initiative, it’s important to first understand the unique pieces of the project: diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity and inclusion is a company’s mission, strategies and practices to support a diverse workplace and to leverage effects of diversity to achieve business advantages,” states the company blog for Ideal, an HR software.
As that definition suggests, D&I doesn’t stop at hiring a diverse workforce. Employees must feel included in the workplace, too.
D&I doesn’t stop at hiring a diverse workforce. Employees must feel included in the workplace, too.
“Oftentimes, the knee-jerk reaction is to have diversity, just get some hires and check the box,” said Winslow.
However, a critical step entails considering what happens when those diverse employees -- professionals of unique backgrounds, abilities and orientations -- begin to interact with their colleagues and managers.
Some 47% of the Robert Reynolds survey respondents reported their organization had a clear definition of diversity, while only 24% were familiar with the idea of inclusion, or the way their company cultivates opportunities for its diverse group of employees.
“Inclusion is much different; that's your day-to-day,” said Winslow. “You can't have inclusion without diversity; you really need both. It's good to zoom out and get big-picture.”
While often lumped together as a single discipline, diversity and inclusion are distinct endeavors.
2. Assess your base.
Instead of creating diversity and inclusion programs willy-nilly, Winslow recommends taking stock of the diverse groups currently represented in your employee base, then building inclusion programs as a result.
“Don’t go off and say, ‘We have this program for women …’” Winslow said. First, “gather your data, see where representation is. This can come in the shape of focus groups or employee surveys. This is a chance for you to pull back and look at what your issues are, see where your representation is most concentrated or your choke points.”
"This is a chance for you to pull back and look at where your representation is most concentrated or your choke points.”
When creating surveys or otherwise polling employees, carefully consider how questions may limit or exhibit bias against certain groups.
Software company Slack has been lauded for its D&I initiatives. In creating its 2019 Employment Information Report, the company updated the questions on its internal surveys to allow employees to identify as transgender and gender-nonconforming. It also included Middle Eastern employees in its reporting for the first time and created an array of more specific ways for Asian employees to identify: East Asian, South Asian and Southeast Asian.
Surveying employees in this way -- with tact and respect to the myriad ways in which they might identify -- helps employers better understand how to relate to their workforces. It is also fundamental to an employee’s perceived level of inclusion at a company.
Surveying employees -- with respect to the myriad ways in which they might identify -- helps you better relate to your workforce.
A D&I consultant might be a wise investment in this area if you find yourself overwhelmed, but there are also tools for tackling the challenge on your own. You can design surveys that measure how employees feel about diversity and inclusion with programs like SurveyMonkey, many of which have templates specially for this purpose.
SurveyMonkey’s “belonging and Inclusion” survey template, for example, includes questions developed in tandem with D&I consultancy Paradigm that cover three core categories: objectivity (how fairly employees feel they’re being treated), belonging (whether they feel welcome in the workplace) and “growth mindset” (whether they feel there are growth opportunities at the company).
When surveying employees about D&I or any other topic, consider the multiple ways they might prefer to identify.
3. Officially commit to D&I.
Once you’ve gathered data from your employees, it’s time to put those learnings into action. In doing so, you’re both making your efforts visible internally and leading by example in the marketplace.
You might use results of a company-wide D&I survey to:
Modify policies so a wider array of underrepresented groups feel included in your office.
This can be as simple as posting an “all genders welcome” sign on a restroom. It can also involve having your HR team send managers resumes without names to ensure every candidate has a fair chance.
Invest in corresponding e-learning tutorials for diversity and inclusion.
Or, create a training video tailored to your office’s particular weak spots. You might also take a similar tack to Starbucks, who underwrote a short film about bias in public spaces, then incorporated it into diversity and inclusion training for employees.
Draft a press release or similar note featuring D&I highlights.
As mentioned, Slack publishes its demographic numbers each year, publicly revealing just how much or little they’ve moved the needle on D&I over time. If you aren’t quite there yet, be honest about it. Doing so not only has the potential to win esteem in the marketplace and with investors but also among employees, who look to how their employers approach D&I when deeming whether they feel included at work.
Write a diversity and inclusion handbook for employees -- or something they’re more likely to read.
Outline best practices for inclusion as well as how to log concerns or discuss them with leadership.
Create employee networks to bring groups together.
Diversity and inclusion expert Josh Bersin recommends three types of them: D&I champions, employee resource groups and communities of practice. Make space for both underrepresented and majority groups to share cultures and discuss how they can better support one another.
4. Empathize with your customers.
It’s also mission-critical to consider D&I when interacting with your customers, said Winslow.
Doing so translates to both revenue and brand loyalty, according to a recent Accenture survey. In the survey, roughly 41% of shoppers reported they had shifted at least 10% of their business away from a retailer who didn't reflect their definition of diversity and inclusion. And 29% of shoppers were likely to switch to a retailer that shared their D&I values.
One in four shoppers are likely to switch to a retailer that shares their D&I values.
Customer surveys and focus groups can shed light on those values, helping you make inroads in practicing what you preach. Accenture recommends evaluating whether your brand offers “products that address shoppers’ diverse needs” and “developing ads that reflect the everyday experiences of people from all walks of life,” among other remedies.
5. Solidify your pipeline.
When you invest in D&I, you’re investing in your company’s future. But too often, there is too much focus on diverse recruitment and not enough on nurturing a pipeline or retention, said Winslow.
“Let's say you're hiring more women at one level, but women are leaving at a higher level,” she said. “So, you're actually kind of like a leaky bucket. You need to make sure that you're keeping them there. It can't just be about hiring; you actually want to make sure that they want to stay.”
"It can't just be about hiring; you actually want to make [underrepresented hires] want to stay.”
In other words, it’s one thing to “helicopter in” a diverse employee and quite another to keep her on the ground (via making her feel included). Questions to ask yourself -- which could stem from the findings of an employee diversity and inclusion survey -- might include:
Would my company’s disabled employees benefit from more flexible work hours?
Might the various ethnicities at my company benefit from a task force dedicated to their individual needs?
Are there qualified employees -- of any background -- overdue for a promotion?
How do salaries of females rank alongside those of males at my company?
Questions like these will help you assess the efficacy of your D&I program or any related efforts you have thus far, as well as push them further.
The goal, of course, is to ensure your D&I efforts translate to real wins for those you wish to elevate.
👉 Want to learn more about diversity and inclusion? Some of the most thorough free resources come from consulting firms including Mercer, Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte. (Of course, you’ll find information about hiring a D&I consultant there, too.)