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How to launch a successful diversity, equity & inclusion Program

When diversity, equity and inclusion is done well, organizations see results. Yet, often the programs are not strategic or employee-centered. There are three key strategies to successfully launch a DEI program.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 32% of companies require some form of DEI training for employees. Even fewer have DEI included in the company’s leadership development or overall learning and development curricula (25%). By contrast, Quantum Workplace finds that 75% of employees think more diversity is needed.

This is an opportunity for a competitive advantage. There are three vital steps to starting a successful DEI program:

  • Get the senior leadership team aligned early
  • Have a strong DEI strategy
  • Measure DEI

Get the senior leadership team aligned early
People pay attention to what senior leadership pays attention to. It becomes quite obvious how important DEI is based on the frequency of conversations from the senior leadership team, their engagement in initiatives, and in the reporting structure. Leaders must be held accountable for DEI to be successful long-term.

Ideally, DEI is a part of the senior leadership team. More often, DEI is buried in the HR organization where they have less positional power and influence. Making sure every senior leader is on board with DEI is the critical first step to building a successful program.

DEI without senior leadership engagement rarely is successful. It is a short-lived initiative that can often be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t let excuses like industry diversity or apathetic statements about DEI prevent the organization from taking more action.

Once the senior leadership team understands DEI’s importance, strategy is critical. DEI is a journey not a destination, and strategy is step one.

Have a strong DEI strategy
Diversity, equity, and inclusion terms mean different things to different people. For some, diversity is specific to categories of different races, ethnicities, industries, genders, sexual orientations and disabilities. For others, it is more broadly defined by different perspectives and backgrounds. That is why every organization needs a strong definition that is clear, honest and easy to remember.

Consider asking these questions to facilitate a strong DEI statement:

  • Define what DEI means at our organization.
  • Why does DEI matter to our organization?
  • What actions will we take to improve DEI at our organization?

Listen, ask clarifying questions, and capture the essence of the why with your organization.  Remind people often of why this is a non-negotiable behavior and expectation. Letting seemingly little non-inclusive behaviors continue is not an option. Most often, education and awareness are pivotal first action steps. People cannot fix what they do not understand. And, systems must be addressed long-term to drive DEI.

Measure DEI
In business, organizations measure what matters. When organizations say that diversity, equity,  and inclusion are important to them, it is important to further consider “how are they measuring it?” 

The business case for diversity is not a secret. Harvard Business Review and other well-known trusted resources have measured ROI on diversity for some time.  

Here are some reasons why DEI is important:

Meet the organization where it is at. Dig in a bit deeper and break out the data by the employee experience. Consider all aspects of the experience from recruiting to hiring, to performance management to separations. Layer in the dimensions of diversity most important to your organization – race and gender are just two pieces of the puzzle. Make sure to cast a broader net considering disabilities, veteran status, age and sexual orientation as DEI progresses.

Consider these data points along the employee experience to capture based on diversity dimensions as a starting point:

  • Overall headcount
  • Hires
  • Turnover
  • Promotions
  • High potential
  • Salary or compensation ratios
  • Separations

Additionally, think about activity levels and perceptions that can be measured over time that are often leading factors for diversity, equity and inclusion:

  • Number of DEI events, programs, and/or training events
  • Pulse survey data attitudes and beliefs about inclusion
  • Community activities in diversity and inclusion

The data is just the beginning of the story. The data is the “what,” and the “so what?” matters much more. Once you have the data captured, think about how to tell the story. Consider facilitating a discussion with the leadership team asking:

  • What story is this data telling us?  
  • Where are the gaps?  
  • What dimensions of diversity are not improving or getting worse?
  • Where are we in comparison to the industry?
  • What areas can we improve realistically with our current resources?

Strong organizations committed to diversity, equity and inclusion hold their leaders accountable for diversity. They measure it consistently over time with the expectation that it will get better. It is not an overnight flip of the switch, yet over time, it builds positive momentum.

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