No, Your DEI Courses Won’t Create an Equitable Workplace — Here’s What Will Actually Help

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Wesley Cherisien19
May 18, 2024 at 5:11PM UTC

Most organizations earnestly try to foster diversity, yet most of their efforts are aimed in the wrong direction. They default to required DEI training and diversity hiring initiatives — yet to really make a change, organizations should focus more on ensuring a diverse candidate pool for promotion and growth opportunities. 

Progress toward improved diversity in the workforce is still slow. Almost 75% of board members in Fortune 500 companies are white men. People of color lead only 19 out of the 500 companies. A study involving companies in the USA with 100 or more employees found only a 0.3% increase of black men at the management level from the 1980s to 2010s. The same study revealed that white women progressed at a much higher (but still relatively low) rate, with 7% of women at the management level.

Championing organizational diversity seems to be less of a priority than winning market share or reducing operational expenditures. Yet these things really should be regarded as mutually significant. 

Companies with higher levels of diversity tend to have better financial performance; a study involving 1,000 companies in 15 countries showed a positive relationship between diversity at the executive level and financial performance. In 2019, the top quartile companies in the cultural diversity index outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36% in profitability.

A question arises: how can I effectively improve organizational diversity in my company? 

1. Set quantifiable targets towards diversity and track achievements.

As a sign of commitment, businesses need to treat organizational diversity how they treat operational and financial metrics. A goal of a diverse workforce must be quantifiable and be checked over time to monitor progress. The target that companies set must also be multivariate and go beyond just gender and ethnic diversity (there are over 34 types of diversity data points to measure against).

Accenture, a consulting giant, provides an excellent example of setting a practical diversity goal. By 2025, Accenture plans to achieve a gender-balanced workforce. As of now, the company boasts 42% of women on their board of directors. 

How to implement this in your company: If a gender-balanced workforce sounds too revolutionary for your company, you can always start small. Set up a quantifiable goal such as promoting x (n) number of middle management women to top management by y (target date). With quick wins for deserving middle management leaders, this approach can increase organizational engagement and receive buy-in from your company's stakeholders.

2. Cement capabilities for diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Leaders must fully educate employees within the company on the benefits of having a diverse workforce. A vision for inclusion and diversity will not come to realization without participation at all levels. Although management sits at the core of the diversity effort, it takes all people supporting the vision to make it happen. Employee-led engagement groups can be one way to cement the employee's ability to respond to diversity. 

Nestle, a consumer goods behemoth, has organizational diversity because of its employee-led engagement groups. The company fosters a culture of support and empowerment through unconscious bias training and diversity for mid-manager/staff level employees. The initiatives materialize the concept of inclusion and diversity beyond the conceptual conversation at the executive level (as it directly involves employees). The company now claims that 87% of employees from diverse backgrounds who participated in the group are now more engaged.

How to implement this in your company: Link the diversity goal to your business goal and educate employees on how it affects the customers/consumers. Sure, creating online courses about diversity and requiring employees to attend can help, but take it a step further by making it a well-known company goal.  By doing so, people in your company will consider organization diversity as one of the business priorities and be more engaged in taking part. 

3. Promote workplace flexibility.

Some demographic groups such as new parents, disabled people, military spouses, foreign workers, and caretakers are not always able to commute due to geographical location or obligations outside of work. Promoting workplace flexibility, such as hybrid work and remote work, will allow employees in those demographic groups to access jobs they traditionally could not access, and this will pave an additional way for a more diverse organization. 

Quora, a California-based Q&A platform startup, is a prime example of workplace flexibility. The company recently announced its decision to move to an entirely remote-working operation. This decision came to fruition due to the Covid-19 pandemic and addressed their workforce's specific needs. CEO of Quora, Adam D'Angelo, noticed cases where employees had to give up their jobs due to their partner's relocation or employees forced to leave the US due to their visa and decided to take action. Workplace flexibility will allow employees from diverse backgrounds to thrive while working from home and stay within the company despite circumstances outside of work. 

How to implement this in your company? If implementing full flexibility in how you do work seems like a daunting idea that changes work dynamics, you can start small by identifying departments in your company whose work allows for workplace flexibility. You can also move to a partial flex schedule and monitor how your company progresses through the change.

Diversity and inclusion training has its place, but companies that look to make a lasting impact in diversity efforts must take a closer look at empirical data to ensure they are hitting the mark. Your workforce must be a mosaic of age, race, culture, and gender across every organizational level. We must educate our workforce and take personal actions to evolve and improve diversity in our workplace. Falling short of this will set back any progress toward a truly diverse organization. The first step is studying your organization's demographic data and finding areas where different groups lack equivalent representation.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for how companies can actually create an equitable workplace? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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