Various ethnicities together in the workplace

We’re All in This Together: Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Organization

Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are priorities for workplaces lately. Following trending stories on discrimination, more companies are taking steps to improve their diversity efforts, and for good reason. 

When discrimination makes the news, people expect businesses to act, making the legal and ethical cases for diversity unequivocally clear, but there is also the business case. For one, people want to support and work for organizations that share their beliefs and values, so making diversity initiatives a priority helps earn that support and loyalty. But it should be much more than making a media statement: to be effective, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts must be ongoing. 

Although human rights legislation outlaws discrimination against individuals and groups based on prohibited grounds like ethnicity or gender identity, it does not address equity or inclusion. In recent years, both aspects have become imperative components of a successful diversity program, meaning companies must go beyond the representation of people’s backgrounds. 

In practical terms, equity recognizes there are unique challenges and needs that vary among individuals, who therefore require different levels of support to access opportunities; by contrast, inclusion happens when those people feel valuable to the organization in all their uniqueness. When diversity efforts lack these essential components, they often fail. 

If your organization is serious about diversity, we are here to walk you through setting equitable and inclusive diversity goals and recognizing common program elements that could help or hinder your diversity efforts. 

The Pathway to Diversity at Your Company

To make sure you have the right policies in place and are on the right track to create a truly diverse, welcoming environment, our specialists suggest you consider the following ideas. While each company is unique, this list covers four good practices that are bound to make a significant difference for most organizations looking to improve their diversity. 

Set Qualitative, Not Quantitative Goals 

Goals give us something to work towards and help measure the effectiveness of diversity efforts, but you must identify the reasons for them. Diversity, equity, and inclusion can be challenging to measure and cannot be approached the same way as sales goals or quotas. Why not? Because their nature is substantially different. It’s hard to quantify how much people feel included; inclusion is perceptual, so it can vary greatly from person to person. 

Diversity goals must be meaningful and, to achieve that, you must look beyond the mere numbers and reflect on the reasons that drive your project. Setting diversity goals without articulating why you want to prioritize them in your company can lead to tokenism, and such efforts are likely to fail. For example, committing to hiring a certain percentage from a marginalized group may help you meet a quantitative target but, without a purpose behind that goal, those diverse employees are unlikely to feel included and may struggle to contribute. Similarly, without addressing equity, such as access to resources or the necessary education to develop the skills to advance in their roles, some of those new employees might get stuck in entry-level positions. 

In summary, without an inclusive work environment, they might feel like just another number rather than a valued employee, a sentiment that would make them more likely to quit, ultimately dooming your diversity efforts to failure. 

Assess Practices and Make Changes

A successful diversity program must include fundamental actions to supplement its goals. Begin by auditing your organization’s policies, practices, and procedures. Assess areas that hinder or do not properly address diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Revisit your organization’s purpose and ensure your mission statement defines your commitment to diversity and inclusion. From there, develop a strategic plan that aligns with your mission and purpose. This process should include identifying steps to meet your short- and long-term diversity goals. 

Recognize where inequities and discrimination could be present, such as outdated or discriminatory language. Look into how you handle coaching sessions, progressive discipline, and complaint resolution processes to ensure fair, unbiased treatment. Understand the difference between equality (which means treating everyone the same) and equity (which means treating everyone differently but fairly based on their individual needs). Keep those differences in mind when examining policies for challenges to disadvantaged individuals or barriers to equal opportunities. Pay equity does not mean that everyone earns the same, given that pay structures can differ based on seniority or merit, but employees need a fair opportunity and a clear path to earn raises and promotions. 

Also, it is a good idea to make sure policies clearly communicate how raises and promotions are awarded to mitigate the risk of unfair treatment and remember to revisit benefits to ensure they are inclusive and diversity-friendly. 

An employee is facing the camera, sitting at a desk and opening an envelope containing their pay transparency audit. They look very happy.

Employment Aspects of Diversity

Marginalized groups face numerous challenges at work. In addition to biases and discrimination, factors like location, education, and even disabilities are all significant barriers to gaining meaningful employment. It is important to consider these types of challenges when including diversity efforts in your recruitment process. If you notice current recruitment efforts have not expanded your talent pool, consider attending a job fair in a larger city, prospecting at a university known for diversity programs, or advertising to organizations that help with equitable employment.

Consider what makes you an employer of choice and how you demonstrate equity and inclusion to underrepresented groups. Do your benefits recognize domestic partnerships or other types of family relationships? Do you help with career planning and provide access to higher education for employees to achieve their goals? 

It’s possible to hire to meet diversity goals without discriminating as long as any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination under human rights laws do not factor into any employment decisions, meaning you cannot refuse to hire someone because they are not part of a certain demographic. On the other hand, it is not enough to just hire for diversity: again, you must understand the reasons why your company is going in that direction. 

The Key to Effective Diversity

An equitable workplace must ensure that all aspects of employment are fair and promote the development, advancement, and growth of underrepresented groups. In an inclusive workplace, employees feel that their contributions are valued and that they have an equal opportunity for promotions, professional development, and advancement. Look at who is being promoted and whether certain job roles lack diversity. Is there fair representation at all levels of employment? What does leadership look like, and how do employees reach those roles? How do you incorporate equity and inclusion into succession planning? Employees should feel like they have access to the same opportunities as everyone else, which may require individualized support. 

Technology has become integral to every part of our lives and can support diversity efforts by tracking demographics and statistics. A growing number of organizations use artificial intelligence to try to improve diversity, reduce biases, and reach a larger candidate pool. AI is often perceived as an impartial tool to help reduce biases in recruitment, compensation, and performance. However, be cautious of strictly relying on AI. It tends to replicate the biases of the people who create it, and those biases can become concealed in the presumed neutrality of an algorithm. To avoid that, always have a human review the AI suggestions and regularly check on the processes that involve such technology to make sure you identify and correct unwanted behaviours and results. 

An Inclusive Space

Inclusion means making employees feel they have a place in the organization and are valuable not only for their work-related contributions but for being themselves. Company culture is a key component for creating an inclusive workplace. When culture lacks inclusion, employees may not feel comfortable at work as their authentic selves, so they might try to hide or downplay certain aspects of their identity to make their differences unnoticeable. This is known as identity covering, and it can manifest as dressing differently than one’s cultural norms or not discussing personal relationships or family status in the workplace. This causes a lot of stress for employees. Because the environment is not inclusive, they exhaust their energy by not being themselves. 

Leadership plays a vital role in influencing a culture of inclusion. Leaders must become allies, supporting and advocating for others, such as speaking out against discrimination, educating others on differences, using inclusive language, and reminding others who do not. Allies demonstrate equity by becoming mentors and teaching the ins and outs of the workplace: for example, providing insight into company culture, introducing employees to groups or committees, and explaining how to access available resources, such as tuition assistance. 

Leaders are also responsible for preventing discrimination, and an effective way to do that is by offering training programs. Make sure your company provides content that covers key issues on discrimination, including offensive language, inappropriate comments, inadequate attempts at humour, and more. 

Diversity Is a Journey, Not a Destination, and HRDownloads Is Here to Help

An organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts only succeed when the goals are meaningful and everyone is committed to creating an inclusive workplace. These goals can be achieved by looking beyond the numbers and taking action to create a safe and welcoming workplace for all, providing employees with the personalized support they need to ensure their success, growth, and advancement, and making necessary changes to prevent biases and discrimination. And if this journey sounds too complex, you don’t need to worry: HRdownloads is ready to help you the whole way. 

Our HR experts are there to offer you support for your diversity projects. We offer HR software, HR content, HR support, and hundreds of online training courses that include training on discrimination, equality, and inclusion.  With a flexible and accessible platform devoted to education, you can assign and manage training and document completions at your fingertips, all from one secure platform. Book a free demo at a time that fits your schedule, and our team will provide a free, no-obligation quote tailored to your HR needs in as little as one business day.