This past week, I received an email asking, “How can I give my managers a better understanding of why DEI is so important for our organization?”

It is an important question and one the business leaders and human resources professionals should be asking. Shareholders, Investors, and Social Justice Groups are demanding companies take action around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:

DEI or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a critical topic that needs to be discussed at all levels of your organization. Diversity in the workplace refers to creating a place of employment where people of various characteristics such as gender, religion, race, age, physical and mental capacity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other attributes work together. Equity is giving equal access to opportunities and providing support based on where an individual is and not where others are. Inclusion is where all employees are included in all levels of the organization, treated fairly and with respect, and allowed to contribute fully to the organization.

Why DEI Matters: Profits, Innovation, and Engagement

Statistically, companies with a diverse and inclusive culture have higher profits, more significant innovation, and employees are more engaged in the organization’s mission. In McKinsey & Company’s Report called, Why Diversity Matter, they found that those companies that were more diverse outperformed their competitors by thirty percent (McKinsey & Compay, 2015). The Harvard Business Review stated that those companies whose employees perceived them as inclusive were twice as likely to be innovative (Harvard Business Review, 2013). The American Sociological Society found that companies diverse in gender and race had a more significant market share than those that didn’t. (Herring, 2009) Employees treated fairly in the workplace are five times more likely to stay longer in their organization, reducing the cost of turnover, recognized as 1.5 times the salary level. According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers view a diverse workforce as essential when evaluating companies and considering job offers.

Why DEI Matters: Legal Compliance

There are numerous laws and regulations that focus on ensuring employees have a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, including bullying.  The most influential is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Other laws prohibit discrimination based on age, pregnancy, disability, veteran status, and genetic information. If individuals are discriminated in our workplace or if by inaction, we allow our employees to be harassed in the workplace, we can be held liable for the actions of our members. Note: In some circumstances, managers and supervisors can be held personally responsible.

A Critical Aspect of DEI: A Sense of Belonging

One of the most critical aspects of the workplace is the answer to this question, “Does your organization make you feel like you belong?” Or in other words, “Can you be your authentic self in the workplace without any ramifications?” Do you feel like you must “hide yourself” when you come to work because people won’t be able to accept you? As a manager, do you allow other people to be their authentic self, without judging them?

Belonging, defined as the ability to bring your authentic self to the workplace and be accepted and valued by your coworkers.

According to SHRM, “A feeling of belonging at a company has the strongest relationship to engagement. This means that belonging has a high correlation to business outcomes like productivity and retention.” (Stephen, 2020) Employees who feel like they belong are more likely to stay and perform at higher levels than those that don’t.

One of my favorite questions from Gallup’s research around employee engagement is, “Do you have a best friend at work?” They can clearly connect how employees answer this question and how engaged they are at work. If they have a best friend, someone who accepts them for who they are, they are much more likely to perform at a high level. (Mann, 2018).

Actions You Can Take:

It is not enough to talk about DEI. Businesses need to take concrete action to build diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace and beyond. Unfortunately, if you are in the majority in your organization, you may not see the need to change until it’s too late. Below I give you some ideas to start your DEI journey.

  1. Take Stock: Diversity is in the numbers. Do a general survey of your employees’ demographics. Knowing your starting point will allow you to set reasonable expansion goals for the upcoming years.
  2. Set and Publish a Clear Commitment. Going public is never easy when it comes to DEI but doing so makes you accountable to your shareholders, employees, and business partners. Tie your goal into your leadership team’s compensation.
  3. Start with the Hiring Process: You cannot wish a DEI workplace into existence. You have to work to make it happen. It starts with where you are looking for candidates and ends with hiring a diverse population.
  4. Welcome All: Organizations have a tendency to streamline the onboarding process for all candidates, treating them as if they were the same individual. Establishing a sense of belonging starts with the first interaction with the new employee. Make sure everyone is assigned a mentor who can help them navigate (and perhaps challenge) the way your organization deals with the differences in the workplace.
  5. Train Everyone in DEI: We are all different. We also carry on our own biases when we come to work. DEI training should celebrate our differences and the benefits they offer the company while creating a set of behavioral norms for the employees within the organization.
  6. Build Equity: Because we are all different, we need additional support to perform at our highest level. What that is will vary based on the employee’s role, experience, knowledge, and ability. Examples of equitable culture are making job descriptions available, providing equal access to resources and opportunities, and ensuring equitable benefits.
  7. Proacting Listening: Not waiting for the complaints to come rolling in but being visible and listening to how people are treated in the workplace and taking action when necessary. Every employee has a different experience at work; understanding and being open to change will help create a better environment.
  8. Create Employee Affinity Groups:  Provide the opportunity for groups with similar interests to build connections. Maybe a new parenting group. Perhaps an LGBTQ+ community group. Adding a reach out as part of the group’s mission allows them to share with other people their challenges.
  9. Appoint Someone the DEI Champion: Ideally, this person is on the leadership team and is given the authority to positively impact the whole organization. It is always best to hire from within the company. The person should know the culture, what changes they can quickly make, and what will need time.

Why People Resist DEI:

The hard truth is that a lot of people resist DEI initiatives. They don’t believe there is a problem. Their life experiences don’t match what other people experience. They see it as an affront to their power or authority. They are racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. And finally, there is a group that just doesn’t have the energy to care.  

Let’s face it, DEI is a change. We are not going to pull people out of their comfort zone, screaming and kicking. It will never work. In fact, we cannot change another person’s behaviors.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t bring DEI to our organizations. The first step is to increase their awareness of the truth of DEI issues by showing them how DEI impacts their coworkers.  The second is to provide motivation for them to change. The third is to make sure they have the skills necessary to make a change.

We start slow, build urgency, and finish fast.

On the Horizon:

DEI organizational change is hard. It is also a process that needs leadership to move forward. However, the benefits are well worth the effort. This is an issue that is not going away, and you can continue to push it down the lane, or you can face it head-on and figure out the best way for your company to deal with it.


Speaker | Business Advisor | Leadership Coach | Author | Owner

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