Finding the DE&I balance that helps employees thrive and businesses succeed

There’s no doubt that diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has recently experienced a re-evaluation as companies grapple with everything from confronting political and legal concerns to meeting financial and productivity objectives. In some cases, organizations are rebranding the work in an attempt to shift the focus onto inclusion and away from diversity.

But research shows that it makes good business sense not to abandon the principles associated with DE&I. A McKinsey & Company study shows companies with ethnic diversity are 39% more likely to financially outperform those that have a less diverse workforce. Similarly, organizations with women representation of over 30% are more likely to financially outperform those with fewer women.

The key is to find a healthy balance between attracting and retaining a representative workforce while ensuring DE&I programs deliver the business returns that help companies grow and succeed. Here are some suggestions to consider when pursuing this goal:

Make a commitment. As with any initiative, DE&I is not going to achieve its goals if the commitment isn’t there. This includes investing financially, building a core team, providing them with resources and connecting with the work intellectually and emotionally. It also means taking the time upfront to explore what the program should look like today, how it differs from the past and where you want to start.

Build something relevant. Many DE&I programs were either launched or expanded in 2020. But times are different now. While some challenges remain the same, others like Covid-19 have morphed, and new concerns have made their way into our workplaces. One step is to get a pulse on what employees want, how they’re feeling and what’s on their minds. Frequent check-ins via quick surveys or focus groups will help build and sustain a DE&I program that is relevant and meaningful to the entire organization.

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Be realistic. Small changes can bring impactful results so resist the urge to “go big” right out of the gate. Whether you’re revamping an existing program or starting completely over, be realistic about what the team can accomplish. Some programs don’t get off the ground because they’re too ambitious and hard to wrap your arms around. Part of determining what the program will look like should be identifying immediate areas of focus and building a road map for longer-term goals.

Bridge differences. DE&I conversations can be sensitive and nuanced. There are likely employees that fall on different ends of an issue and everywhere in between. Bridging these gaps requires a skilled facilitator that can delicately guide conversations. Too often, companies think this role can be done by someone without formal training. They can end up alienating some (or all) employees — the exact opposite of what a DE&I program is meant to achieve. Take the time to find someone who fits the company’s culture and make sure to prepare them for sensitive issues that may be of special concern to your workforce.

Invite key stakeholders. It’s important to include representative voices from the beginning. If you’re trying to improve outreach to veterans, you need to have veterans at the table. They should be included throughout the process — when vetting a facilitator, developing survey questions, prioritizing initiatives, building the roadmap, etc. Inviting outside perspectives, especially those without institutional knowledge, can also be helpful, as they’re more likely to ask different questions that uncover new opportunities.

Keep it going. Once you’ve invested in the upfront work, it’s important to remain committed. One way to do this is by revisiting and revising the roadmap and continuing to ask employees for “feedforward” — or feedback that keeps things moving forward. This includes seeking their honest opinion on the workplace, the DE&I initiatives, the support from leadership and peers, and where they see room for improvement.

For DE&I to thrive and show meaningful returns, all employees need to fully embrace the work. By allowing them to safely advocate for what they need and being receptive to their input, you’ll build a program that greatly enhances employee engagement, retention and productivity so the organization can grow and flourish.

Megan McCann

Megan McCann
Megan McCann is the founder and CEO of McCann Partners.

Megan McCann

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