April 25, 2019

10 actionable ways leaders can prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion

Diversity is an asset to any organization that commits to it. For one, employees with diverse experiences are able to share new perspectives, leading to better and more innovative solutions. And by this point, you’ve (hopefully) read the studies showing that companies with more diverse populations are also more financially successful.

Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment is good for business, and it’s the right thing to do. But it can feel like an impossibly large task with no clear place to start—especially for young, resource-strapped companies. So we’ve compiled these expert tips for any leader seeking to hire, retain, and engage diverse talent.

  1. Assess the situation—and be honest with yourself. If you’re still small, take a good critical look at the groundwork you’ve laid (or haven’t) so far. Have your early hires contributed to a diverse and inclusive foundation? If you’re bigger, conduct an anonymous survey that gauges employees’ sense of belonging, psychological safety, and connectedness to the organization’s mission.
  2. Create a work environment that works for everyone. Gender-neutral bathrooms. Flexible scheduling policies. Inclusive food options. Social events that go beyond happy hour. These best practices can all go a long way toward employees feeling “seen” and welcome in the workplace, and don’t forget to start small. You can even make a meeting more inclusive by putting practices in place that encourage introverts to speak up. You don’t have to wait for an employee to ask for a change or accommodation – provide them up front to demonstrate your commitment to DE&I.
  3. Acknowledge and understand unconscious bias. Include unconscious bias training for all new employees—even if you’re not big enough to feel like trainings should be a priority. Don’t let this training be the end of the conversation, though: continue to identify ways that unconscious bias might be popping up in your company, and socialize clear ways to avoid these pitfalls.
  4. Eliminate bias from job descriptions. Eliminate language that favors certain groups over others. Some of these are obvious, like gendered pronouns, and some are harder to spot, like “energetic” and “fast-paced,” which favor younger candidates, or “rockstar,” which favors male candidates. Consider writing results-based job listings: abandon rigid experience requirements and focus on what you want your new hires to be able to achieve.
  5. Have multiple viewpoints in every room. In every meeting, ask yourself whether multiple viewpoints are represented. If not, reschedule the meeting with more stakeholders who could offer a unique perspective. It can be tempting to try to keep meetings small—meetings take up precious time. Expanding the attendee list pays off, though, when you’re adding a new point of view.
  6. Employee Resource Groups. Most companies think that ERGs are for big corporates. Don’t fall for that myth. Create employee resource groups around shared identities, experiences, and interests. These groups work best when they have goals that benefit both their members and the organization as a whole.
  7. Connect DE&I to your mission. Don’t let diversity, equity, and inclusion become meaningless buzzwords in your company. There are a lot of ways that you can tie these concepts to your mission—whether that comes to life in the product you’re building or something else—and they don’t need to be huge things. If you’re a tech company, for example, maybe it’s prioritizing accessibility while building your platform.  
  8. Focus on individuals. Remove “culture fit” from your hiring vocabulary. Your job is to create an environment where anyone can thrive. See your team as individuals, who are each capable of excelling in a workplace where their wellness is valued.
  9. Build diverse talent networks. In hiring, look outside your usual referral networks and build relationships that get you to diverse candidates where they are. Do the research to learn where potential candidates are forming online communities – you may find that traditional job boards aren’t your best strategy, and that you should instead be visiting campuses or showing up at events.
  10. Encourage communication around working styles. Give your team the tools to label their strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles and share them with each other. This might mean making a StrengthsFinders or DiSC assessment mandatory for every new hire, or just encouraging managers to set “communication ground rules” with each of their direct reports.

These crucial efforts aren’t “one-and-done,” nor are they the domain of a select few on your team. DE&I needs to be a consideration in every action taken and decision made, by everyone. That takes work and an authentic approach—these 10 steps will help you get there.

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