When it comes to building greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in workplace culture, organizations have tended to approach the matter in a knee-jerk fashion—quick, reactive, and over in a flash. To create real impact that is consistent and sustainable, companies must strategically approach their efforts. This means no one and done approach. No check-the-box solutions. And no thinking, "We did it, it’s solved, and we never have to focus on it again."
Creating an inclusive culture for employees of varying ethnicities, genders, ages, sexualities, socioeconomic, or neurological backgrounds is not done in a day, or a month, or even a quarter. Whether you’re establishing a mentoring program, increasing your employee resource groups (ERGs), improving hiring practices, or expanding your focus on intersectionality, a DE&I strategy requires continued effort, resources, and acknowledgement of imperfections and improvements along the way.
To cultivate a workplace that allows employees to bring their complete selves to work, whether this be physically or remotely, companies need to establish a strategy that’s backed by these guidelines.
More Than the MinimumOrganizations hoping to set it and forget it when it comes to DE&I will be disappointed in their efforts. Building an inclusive workplace culture cannot be achieved with one act or by one part of the company. It has to be greater than the bare minimum. It must be an amalgam of these efforts working together to increase diversity across teams and leadership, build inclusion and belonging amid co-workers and management, and provide equitable opportunities for growth and advancement to all employee demographics.
StrategicWhile strategic might seem to be common sense within a strategy, people often forget the meaning encompassed in the word. Strategically building something includes allocating the appropriate resources (this includes budget) to launch and facilitate the activities within your strategy. Strategic means establishing a realistic timeline for your initiatives that encompass deadlines and those responsible for each part. In addition, all the efforts within your strategy should be reinforcing, presenting a consistent message of where your organization stands on DE&I across the company and publicly to the outside world.
Progress Over PerfectionRather than projecting audacious goals, focus on making incremental progress over the course of several months or years. This doesn’t mean not aiming for measurable goals, but it does mean focusing on each step rather than only the finish line. It is a living, breathing strategy that will evolve and grow over time. What you may focus on in month one of your strategy may look entirely different once you reach the one-year mark. Set up the infrastructure to reach the goals and be ready to make adjustments along the way as you understand what isn’t working or what isn’t helping you build an inclusive culture.
Scalable and ConsistentDE&I is not an end state. Organizations need to understand how initiatives will scale past any one team, department, or function. It cannot be a fully realized strategy and only exists in one corner of the company. Posting the responsibility and control in HR or D&I alone will not be enough. It has to be company-wide, starting with the leadership at the top. In addition, it has to look the same in all places. Activities and efforts can’t convey one message in the onboarding process while serving employees an entirely different look and feel in leadership development.
MeasuredBe clear about the intentions and goals of your DEI strategy, and identify the metrics that will showcase how you’re performing in these areas. These metrics shouldn’t just be numbers of representation or hiring results. Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at Avalara, reminds us companies need to be focused on overall outcomes of a DE&I strategy as well:
Too many companies want to measure diversity in terms of hiring, forgetting that culture matters more. What’s the point of hiring lots of diverse talent if they leave your organization in 12 to 18 months? There are many things to measure, such as retention and promotion of underrepresented employees. Often, we measure the numbers that are easily available to us (race, gender, and so on) and forget to consider other factors that help us be more inclusive also (neurodiversity).