A Business Perspective
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) becomes a business necessity rather than a choice. Organizations – including businesses, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities have to reconsider that U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043 and by 2060, 57 percent of the U.S. population will consist of racially ethnic minorities.1 This change towards a more diverse population will have substantial impact on the workforce and how organizations rethink its processes to manage opportunities and challenges related to DE&I.
In fact, there is no shortage of suggestions to create inclusive environments. However, it is crucial to think about the role and positioning of DE&I within an organization’s structure. The question here is whether organizations consider DE&I a HR policy, a management-led initiative, an objective, a trend—or a mixture of all four? Some organizations still struggle to properly define DE&I, which impact the development of appropriate DE&I initiatives to empower and engage underrepresented groups. Making progress on that front requires a deep understanding of the concerns, experiences, and perspectives of people with different ethnicities, nationalities, educational backgrounds, sexual orientation, religion, and gender.
To cultivate a more diverse and inclusive workplace, organizations should focus on DE&I as a strategic business goal rather than a separate initiative or a HR policy. For example, it is not enough that organizations hire employees from different genders, generations, geographies and ethnicities and wait for the magic of DE&I to happen. Considering DE&I as strategic business goals requires specific and measurable actions to engage underrepresented employees within specific timelines. This should be followed by soliciting diverse employees’ inputs in planning and implementing DE&I programs, measuring and reporting outcomes, discussing failures and challenges, and providing solutions to sustain improvements in DE&I programs. Thus, DE&I as a business goal should be embedded in every department, operation, and orchestrated at the organizational levels. In so doing, organizations can achieve meaningful success in promoting, broadening, and maintaining culture of belonging and equitable structures that fully leverage the potential benefits of a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace.
Furthermore, organizations’ decision-making processes to enhance DE&I as a strategic business goal should be driven by many questions including what DE&I means to internal and external stakeholders, what is the target audience of DE&I programs, what programs can best serve the target groups, and how to measure the impact of DE&I programs on the short and long terms. To answer these questions, organizations should focus on strategic tactics and less anecdotal evidence. Specifically, participatory approach and communication are two strategic tactics—over and above the impact of workplace environment as a whole—shape the degree of impact that DE&I programs exert on marginalized employees. Let’s discuss why these tactics can help organizational efforts transit from diversity towards equity and inclusion, with the ultimate goal to build better work environments instilled by human differences.
The first tactic is participatory approach that focuses on reaching out and involving marginalized groups in decisions that affect their lives and communities. Crucially, participatory approaches are needed to help employees feel they belong to an inclusive environment where differences are welcomed and valued. Empowerment is a central concept in, and foundation principle of participatory approaches. It underscores the importance of providing a voice to those who have been overlooked for too long and enabling marginalized, diverse people to advance their concerns about DE&I without fear, and provide them opportunities to develop diverse, inclusive, and equitable initiatives. At the core of the concept of empowerment are concerted efforts to (a) improve the competencies of historically marginalized groups by providing them education and mentorship programs to advance their careers, accordingly, increase diversity in leadership positions, and (b) provide marginalized groups with the resources, support, and environment needed to be fully included in the decision-making processes that shape DE&I initiatives.
The second tactic is effective communication driven by transparency and accountability to bridge the gap between leaders’ and employees’ perspectives about DE&I initiatives. The catch is a two-way communication to ensure that marginalized employees’ concerns and managerial priorities are in alignment. On one hand, managers should clearly communicate DE&I as an integral part of organizational planning linked to organizations’ successes in the marketplace. This requires managers to make a public commitment to enhance DE&I, and be held accountable for desired results. One important aspect of management led-communication is to report about DE&I initiatives by discussing with employees challenges in implementing DE&I programs. Reporting should be based transparency to ensure a thorough communication with underrepresented employees about ways to improve existing and future DE&I initiatives. At the organizational level, a diverse communication team can help increase marginalized employees’ engagement with DE&I through overcoming language and cultural barriers and representing different voices and experiences. On the other hand, employees should commit time and efforts to enhance DE&I by volunteering in diversity committee, participating in surveys to express their concerns, and providing suggestions to improve DE&I initiatives.
Needless to say, there are numerous DE&I initiatives to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workplaces. What requires special attention, however, is to set specific metrics to measure the outcomes of DE&I programs to identify what needs improvement and celebrate best practices. Most importantly, organizations should provide training and education for both managers and employees to become more diversity competent and be cognizant of cultural sensitivity. For example, cultural sensitivity trainings can help managers and employees to be more self-aware of their own conscious and unconscious biases. Thus, organizations can require employees at all levels to take regular and mandatory sensitivity trainings to better understand how to coexist in a diverse environment.
The biggest takeaway is that organizations should not consider DE&I as initiatives to comply with government regulations. Organizations should ensure ongoing, open dialogues between managers and marginalized employees to establish a strong foundation for DE&I efforts. Participatory approaches and effective communication should shape the conversation about DE&I. For leaders, the key message is that DE&I is an evolving journey rather than a static plan. It requires holistic strategies and continual commitment to ensure sustained progress to create inclusive workplaces.