By Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics
From a business perspective, there is a need to expand diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the workplace. But why are these elements important?
Diversity of thought spurs business discussion and creativity, helping organizations stay resilient through difficult times such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. Diversity also widens employee and managerial perspectives, allowing people’s life experiences to be taken into account, which in turn enhances productivity and innovation.
DEIA Is More Than Just Fulfilling Legal Quotas
The effectiveness of DEIA in organizations has often been questioned; it is often seen as a way to adhere to legal quotas. For instance, critics argue that the word “diversity” is misleading and has not created tangible benefits in the workplace.
Simply focusing on diversity to address company culture (or a lack thereof) assumes that all cultures are equal and that all ethnic groups unilaterally perform the same in the workplace.
However, this mentality paints ethnic groups into a corner. This type of single-minded perspective often overlooks the possibilities that including DEIA can bring to a workplace and can be damaging to organizations by hampering productivity.
DEIA Should Be Considered from a Broader Perspective
To eliminate single-minded perspectives and include DEIA in workplace culture, DEIA needs to be considered from a broader perspective. There are four basic components to DEIA:
First, diversity means removing the notion in people’s minds that all workers act in the same way and perform the same. Some people who cannot be their true selves at work often morph into what they perceive to be an acceptable substitution.
Second, thinking in terms of equity is essential, because equity helps organizational employees and managers to understand other points of view. Equity is critical to employee health, and the stress caused by a lack of workplace equity can lead to health problems.
Third, inclusiveness is a measurement of the impact made by businesses and addresses to what degree systemic change has affected the workplace environment. Measuring inclusivity includes incorporating everyone’s opinions through surveys, listening sessions with key stakeholders and mentor/mentee programs.
Fourth, accessibility means providing resources to employees with developmental, physical or learning challenges. For example, an employee with visual impairments may require special technology tools to perform his or her job properly.
Ideally, DEIA should be the springboard to develop new programs and create a truly inclusive workforce.
Shifting Demographics Will Influence Future Workplaces
The demographics of our country are changing. In fact, minorities may become the majority of the U.S. population by 2045. More individuals are identifying themselves as multi-ethnic, which means they have two or more cultural connections.
However, diversity is more than simply seeing a group of people of various ethnicities in the workplace. A diversity of experiences, education and geographic locations are equally important to develop an equitable, inclusive work culture.
DEIA can influence an organization’s progress toward its business goals. A more inclusive workforce makes employees happier and healthier, but it can also make communities better.
Improving DEIA in Organizations
I have over nearly 30 years of experience in organizations. Based on my experience, here are several ways to advance workplace DEIA via hiring, training, communities, leadership and measurement:
- Hiring – Hiring strategies should include implicit bias training, so hiring managers and HR personnel are aware of personal biases that can affect the interview process. For example, certain organizations may consider a candidate’s degree from a certain college as an advantage, while degrees from lesser-known colleges and universities can be a disadvantage to other candidates. In addition, hiring strategies need to be more creative, expand to marketing via various platforms (including conferences, websites and social media), and show true representation of the organization. Hiring should also include a plan to retain employees after they are hired.
- Training – Advice from DEIA experts needs to be infused into any orientation program at a company. This way, new hires are aware of the organization’s expectations to create a fair and equitable workplace. In addition, existing employees need to be regularly trained on the value of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. Ongoing training creates a sustainable office culture that allows team members’ contributions to be respected and recognized.
- Communities – DEIA practices at work should also flow into homes and communities. Transforming what we do, think and say outside of work can have a monumental effect on the overall climate of a city or town. There should be listening sessions with key stakeholders to encourage candid feedback about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility challenges, and stakeholder plans should include repercussions for not meeting DEIA goals.
- Leadership – Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility need to be at the forefront of any organization, especially its leadership. Employees need to see company leaders endorsing organization-wide DEIA commitments. Ideally, organizations should hire an officer to create a fundamental understanding of DEIA policies and practices in the workforce, and all levels of management should commit to creating an inclusive workforce.
- Measurement – Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility processes need to be tracked before, during, and after company activities. In addition, companies need an accurate and reliable method to collect key DEIA data, so that best practices can be developed. This data also needs to be accessible to everyone, both internally and externally. Data evaluation should incorporate reverse engineering to create key milestones and business objectives. It’s important to develop sustainable strategic planning and implementation, which can include an overhaul of employee management systems and factors such as compensation and individual treatment in everyday workplace settings.
Successful DEIA initiatives need to be verbal, measurable and time-bound. But it’s necessary to create a culture of belonging in the workplace for everyone.
Businesses can dismantle old DEIA practices by incentivizing employees at all levels. However, improving diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in workplaces is unlikely to happen until there is an urgent need for businesses to spur innovation.