diverse coworkers in a meeting room

What Is DEI in the Workplace?

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. DEI practices in an organization include any policy or practice designed to incorporate and include people of various backgrounds and identities in the culture and community of the workplace.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are often used interchangeably, but they are, in fact, three distinct parts:

1. Diversity involves having a workforce of people of different backgrounds (gender, socioeconomic status, age, ability, etc.) and national origins. It also includes promoting the perspectives and needs of these varying groups.

2. Equity refers to the fair treatment, access, and advancement for every individual in an organization. While an organization may have a diverse workforce, it can still struggle to promote disadvantaged groups due to issues such as traditional job selection criteria and/or implicit biases.

3. Inclusion involves encouraging everyone—regardless of background or role—to be active and equal contributors to workplace matters. An inclusive business is able to create conditions where everyone is treated respectfully and feel psychologically safe.

Why Is DEI So Important in the Workplace?

DEI is not just nice to culture or policy to have; it’s a requirement in today’s workplace. DEI practices help team members become aware of and more effectively manage invisible barriers, biases, and microaggressions—all of which can occur in the workplace. Examples include the following:

DEI initiatives deal with real issues that either elevate or hinder the experience people have at work. A strong presence of DEI helps everyone feel safe, respected, and connected, and it produces better business outcomes:

  • Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than their competition.
  • Inclusive teams have also been found to make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. These business decisions include hiring and staffing, policy changes, resource allocations, proposals, etc.
  • When team members believe they and their peers will be treated fairly, staff members are 9.6 times more likely to anticipate and enjoy going to work. They are also 5.4 times more likely to want to stay longer at their organization.

What Are Examples of DEI at Work?

Examples of incorporating DEI principles in the workplace include:

  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or networks within a business. These groups are comprised of like-minded individuals and allies working together to find support and foster community. Group identities may entail women, parents, people with disabilities, military veterans, people who identify as LGBTQ, and BIPOC individuals. These groups may meet weekly or monthly to discuss and safely share their experiences or issues they face. Ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs.
  • DEI training that focuses on how implicit biases can affect various workplace scenarios. A strong DEI training program will help team members identify and manage those biases. DEI programs should also address how to build and contribute to a culture of integrity and trust across teams, departments, and identities. Weaving actionable strategies into DEI training initiatives is crucial to ensuring the right change happens and is sustained.
  • Inclusive job ads that avoid using terms that show bias against a particular group. An organization with a DEI focus should take the time to periodically audit its job postings and ensure the following kinds of language are avoided because of what it might imply to an applicant:
    • “She” or “he” can imply that a specific role is only appropriate for a male or female. The employer instead uses “you,” “they/them,” or “the candidate.”
    • “English native speaker” may imply bias against immigrants. These terms should be replaced with statements such as, “fluent in English” or “proficient in English.”
    • “Energetic” or “who can give 110%” may imply ageism—that the company is searching for a young employee. Or the terms may imply the employer is looking for individuals who do not have families.

Keep these considerations in mind as you seek to identify and secure the best candidate for the job in an inclusive way.

Indian white collar male worker in wheelchair having cheerful discussion conversation with his female asain chinese colleague coworking at walkway corridor stock photo


How Do You Promote DEI at Work?

While the various elements of DEI initiatives are important, DEI must be woven into the fabric of the organization to ensure meaningful change and consistency. Here are three ways to promote DEI, successfully execute on a DEI strategy, and embed it in programs and the culture of the organization.

1. Establish a Standard DEI Curriculum

Good DEI programs are built around practical and relevant curriculum and may include topics such as:

  • Unconscious and implicit bias
  • Stereotypes
  • Microaggressions
  • Allyship
  • Neurodiversity
  • Accountability
  • Empathy
  • Isms (sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, etc.)

DEI curriculums vary across organizations, and they’re primarily dependent upon the workforce and experiences of team members.

It can be helpful to lean on suggestions from leaders and individual contributors about training priorities. This data will guide the development of a curriculum that reflects the values of the organization and needs of the workforce.

A DEI training curriculum should be part of the onboarding requirements.

2. Integrate DEI into Leadership Development Programs

Research reports that 75% of businesses do not link DEI to leadership development. Instead, DEI is treated as a compliance issue only. This is problematic because the approach trivializes the importance of DEI—rather than viewing DEI as an integral part of the employee and human experience, it frames DEI as a box that only needs to be checked off.

In addition to the standard programs being led by a Chief Diversity Officer or Human Resources department, DEI should also be part of leadership development. This will:

  • Establish DEI as a company value or priority that is integral to the business’ success, as well as the leader’s success.
  • Help leaders understand how they can create conditions for DEI in their own teams.

3. Facilitate Ongoing, Two-Way Feedback

A key part of DEI initiatives is recognizing that individuals face different challenges that will not be consistent within the same gender, race, or sexual orientation.

Establishing open lines of communication and two-way feedback will ensure that individuals have the opportunity to voice their concerns, ask questions, and contribute to the conversation. This fosters empathy, open-mindedness, understanding and ultimately change.

Conduct DEI discussions in:

  • A group setting
  • An individual setting via one-on-one meetings
  • Anonymous surveys

Providing multiple methods for communication and feedback can help individuals feel more comfortable disclosing information, such as critical details that may reveal any DEI gaps. When constructive and courageous conversations occur on a consistent basis, it builds trust and creates a strong DEI presence.

There really is no conclusion to DEI initiatives, strategies, and practices. A DEI curriculum and strategy will constantly progress and evolve, especially as the workforce shifts and grows.

For more guidance on driving DEI practices that benefit everyone, lean on CMOE’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workshop.