Many employers know that one of the most critical steps for building a diverse and equitable organization is focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) during the hiring process. Get that process right, and you can attract a diverse workforce that can add value and drive innovation through employees’ rich backgrounds, unique perspectives and varied experiences.

But while focusing on hiring is certainly important, it’s only one part to creating diverse, inclusive workforces and environments. Although frequently overlooked, the onboarding and training process is a particularly critical stage for DEI efforts as well. If new hires do not feel valued or that they belong in the organization, they are more likely to leave — if not immediately, then soon — undermining all of the work done to hire great talent.

Understanding Where Companies Are Focused Today

In 2020 and 2021, many companies made statements about their commitment to DEI in response to a heightened awareness of systemic racism, making this longstanding issue top of mind for many organizational boards and shareholders alike.

A CNBC/SurveyMonkey report found that nearly 80% of employees want to work for a company that values DEI. And, of course, in a highly competitive labor market still feeling the effects of The Great Resignation, what employees value most matters now more than ever.

But what does a company’s commitment to DEI really mean in practice? What actions have employers been taking to do the things they said they wanted to do, like improving representation and creating inclusive working environments?

EVERFI recently partnered with Greenhouse Software and The Human Resources (HR) Research Institute to conduct a nationwide survey of HR professionals across multiple industries to explore these questions. The survey found that only 38% of organizations include inclusive content on hiring sites and less than one-half eliminated biased language in job postings. Though more organizations are becoming aware of the problems with DEI, there is still no connection between an actionable and effective plan. For DEI to be effective, it needs to be cross-departmental and transparent in the business culture.

Employers have certainly gotten the message that focusing on DEI during hiring is a key part of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. When discussing the survey results, Ariana Moon, director of talent acquisition at Greenhouse, notes that structured hiring helps reduce bias in hiring processes, but she cautions employers that it’s only the first step to creating diverse workplaces.

“You should monitor the data in your pipelines to see how your processes are working in line with your diversity goals. For example, analyzing how different demographic groups convert through various interview stages provides useful information on how to iterate your processes to become more equitable and inclusive.”

Hiring isn’t the only barrier to building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce. Onboarding and all elements of the employee experience that follow may actually represent some of the most overlooked risks to meaningful progress on DEI commitments — but, unfortunately, DEI efforts drop off significantly once employees are hired.

Onboarding and Beyond

While many companies are focused on increasing diversity in their talent pool, there’s far less focus on what happens after day one. While specific DEI practices may vary based on factors such as company size, industry and where the organization is on its DEI journey, onboarding and training executed poorly can exclude rather than include new hires and hinder their contributions rather than empower them.

It’s critical that employers ensure that all new employees feel included, valued and respected from their very first day so they can feel a part of the team and be positioned for success. By doing so, organizations can retain the diverse workforce they worked so hard to recruit and hire.

Humans are not born knowing how to be DEI champions or even allies at work. Like so many other workplace competencies, it needs to be learned. Therefore, training is an important element to strong DEI practices. Teaching all employees — including leaders — how to address bias and disrespectful behavior, work across differences and create an inclusive workplace are keys to a successful DEI program.

Specifically, leaders need to understand the critical role they play in influencing DEI through everything they do — from hiring to managing team conflicts to performance evaluations. Employees also need to understand the positive impact they can have, like spotting biased assumptions in team decision making or speaking up in support of a colleague whose perspective isn’t being considered. Training — during onboarding and ongoing — helps with this.

Indeed, companywide training is critical for teaching all employees the skills to take action in everyday moments and to create inclusive and equitable work environments. Organizations wanting to encourage leadership buy-in and participation in DEI training during onboarding or beyond could consider implementing one or more of these strategies:

  • Enlisting senior executives to voice their support for training at leadership meetings or via email.
  • Discussing the importance of DEI training during one-on-one conversations with leaders and managers.
  • Monitoring and calling out participation — and non-participation — during conversations with leaders and managers.
  • Having the chief executive officer review training completion reports during leadership meetings.
  • Having senior leaders show their personal commitment through their own actions, coaching and mentoring.

The Time Is Now

The stakes are higher than ever for getting DEI right: According to a recent MIT Sloan study, the No. 1 predictor of employee resignations in 2021 was a toxic work environment that stemmed from failure to promote DEI, among other factors.

Including simple steps in your onboarding process and beyond — like encouraging all employees to join employee resource groups (ERGs) if you have them, connecting new employees with a coach, buddy or mentor and ensuring all employees and leaders complete DEI training –– are critical to promoting DEI and helping new employees feel welcomed, valued, included and ready to contribute.