Recently, the Supreme Court ended affirmative action in higher education, and many are wondering how the court decision might affect corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. And the speculation kicked into high gear with a letter from 13 state Attorneys General to the leaders of the country’s largest companies, saying that certain hiring practices with a DEI focus might count as illegal racial discrimination.
But if you operate a business, you know there is far more to DEI than simply ticking off boxes or meeting minimum requirements. Companies seek more diversity because the more points of view that are represented at the table, the better the decision-making will be.
It won’t be laws that make businesses more diverse. It will be policies crafted by company leaders who want the healthiest and most profitable company they can have. Being diverse and inclusive is the way to get there.
For this reason, many DEI initiatives will continue to march forward with whatever is being decided in the courts. Companies answer to shareholders and customers, and that’s why they will want to have as many diverse backgrounds, points of view, education levels, and work experiences as they can as they roll out new products and services to a diverse world.
In fact, if you are a company leader and are ignoring or not prioritizing DEI, you’re already falling behind. Diversity is crucial to successfully scaling and modernizing the workplace and day-to-day improvements for engagement, productivity, retention and morale.
As with everything else, DEI initiatives have changed since the work-from-anywhere phenomenon has taken off. Keeping these initiatives on track with a distributed workforce may be challenging, but it is still doable.
Making It Work
The most important thing a company leader can do to ensure healthy DEI in a hybrid workplace is to be mindful of how hybrid work impacts all employees. Understanding that hybrid work can affect individuals differently and that it may be difficult for individuals to articulate their concerns is the first step toward a productive, open dialogue.
The entire team must know if your company is making substantive moves to become more diverse.
Communication is key. Looping in employees helps the leadership team understand the ecosystem of the workforce. If you have a company committed to DEI initiatives, it will impact workplace engagement. Creating a fair and safe work environment for employees to feel valued, respected and heard can evolve into a breeding ground for engagement, job satisfaction and strong retention rates.
Here are some steps any company can take to create such an environment:
- Create a regular cadence for seeking feedback.
- Make a conscious effort to demonstrate empathy and show vulnerability.
- Regularly assess your hiring and employee retention policy.
- Track mentoring and leadership time across all employees.
- Conduct regular mental/emotional check-ins.
- Seek to understand the experiences of all employees.
- Prioritize team-building.
At a more granular level, there are programs that can be implemented to help DEI become a part of your company’s DNA. While these will differ company by company, the below are steps that companies should consider:
- Unconscious bias training, which helps identify and correct incorrect assumptions and implicit bias in hiring and management practices.
- The creation of various employee resources groups (ERGs), which can include groups for women, LGBTQ+ employees, ethnic heritage groups, parents, people with disabilities, mental health advocacy or other groups.
- Raising awareness by honoring ethnic and religious holidays, awareness months and other initiatives.
- Appointing advisers or liaisons for particular DEI initiatives or groups in need of support.
- Providing continuing education for employees.
- Creating a culture of “office hours,” and limiting the professional events or communications outside of those hours, as they can disproportionately inconvenience groups aside from cisgender, straight white men.
- Regularly eliciting feedback from employees about steps the company can take to help them feel more safe and included at work.
- Investing in training for recruiters and hiring managers to increase the number of diverse candidates applying for company roles.
According to Glassdoor, 76% of job seekers and employees say a diverse workplace is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. Taking the above steps will help businesses become more diverse and help them communicate this clearly to the entire team and anyone considering a position at the company.
More diverse companies have greater profitability and long-term health. A welcoming, inclusive atmosphere where every team member feels valued for who they are and what they contribute helps people perform to the best of their abilities, boosting the entire organization.
Employees who feel more connected and comfortable can be more efficient and engaged. Feeling safe and secure in the workplace leads to happier employees with the mental capacity to get involved within the organization — because they know someone will support them.
These things are more impactful to employees than legal opinions and court decisions. They mean the difference between being happy at work and looking for a new job. This is why DEI programs will continue whether or not they are a matter of law.
Companies will continue to grow more diverse. And as they do, they should communicate frequently about their progress.