Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe programs and policies that encourage representation and participation of diverse groups of people, including people of different genders, races and ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations and people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills and expertise. It is an expansion of the term “diversity and inclusion” (D&I) to reflect the growing focus on equity in organizations. DEI is not just a “feel-good” initiative. Research has found that having diverse viewpoints at all levels of an organization improves financial results, organizational and team performance, innovation, and other areas of the business.

The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are often confused, but they are two parts of a whole strategy. Many DEI experts describe diversity as being invited to a dance and inclusion as being asked to dance. In other words, an organization can have a diverse workforce, but if those diverse people aren’t having their voices heard and their perspectives included in business strategy, their presence is only half of the equation.

Developing a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Organization

The first step in DEI is ensuring that a company’s workforce is diverse and representative of its culture and customer base. After recruitment, though, learning and development leaders play a key role in creating an inclusive organizational culture. For example, research from the Center for Talent Innovation has found that inclusive leadership and clear career paths are two “levers that drive inclusion.” Through leadership training and performance management, they are also both areas where L&D can make a big impact.

Diversity training, when done well, can also make a difference. Training employees who have co-workers with disabilities, for example, can help them work well together and help the individuals with disabilities succeed. Gender diversity training that focuses on helping employees understand each other rather than placing blame can improve gender inclusion. Overall, continuous rather than one-time training will help reduce unconscious bias and improve inclusion throughout the organization.

Measuring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Establish DEI success metrics for your organization. What is the approximate ratio of men to women, races to races, “abled” to disabled, etc. that will make your organization diverse at each level of the workforce? What are the retention levels of diverse groups of employees? What are your employee satisfaction scores? What about customer satisfaction? Are you known among your customer base as an inclusive organization?

Once your DEI program has been in place for some time, have you seen improvements in these areas? What about in strategic business goals? Has your company’s revenue increased? These are all important data points to measure and report on.

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