The year 2021 will bring us new challenges (hopefully none as challenging as those we faced in 2020), but it will also bring with it new opportunities and renewed hope. Promising new vaccines are now being given in the hope of ending the pandemic that rages on. Despite the fears, illnesses, and death, many lessons have been learned for us to move ahead.
In 2020, the world was presented with many lessons centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), with race equality rising to the top of social, political, and organizational conversations and initiatives.
In light of that, it's not surprising that many organizations have been establishing, re-examining, and ramping up their DEI initiatives. Listening to employees with different backgrounds and perspectives to promote understanding and awareness has become a top priority.
The new year has brought a renewed commitment by many companies to foster a workplace environment and culture where employees can be themselves and do their best work — regardless of their gender, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
Several events in 2020 sparked meaningful conversations centering around racial bias and social injustice, calling upon businesses and organizations to do their part in taking significant action. However, LinkedIn data shows that companies began to talk about diversity in earnest in June 2020, but those discussions started to decline just a few months later.
Companies committed to DEI in the workplace must be catalysts for progress by ensuring those crucial discussions resume and continue in 2021. If they're genuinely dedicated to DEI, those companies will ensure that their DEI initiatives extend beyond the hiring process and provide equal opportunity and fair treatment of employees throughout every facet of employee's experiences within the company.
Here are six steps that companies can take to support DEI in the workplace.
It is the responsibility of companies and their managers to provide fair opportunity and compensation for each employee. Managers can leverage people analytics to identify which employees are underpaid for similar roles and responsibilities. These analytics can help managers pinpoint any pay gaps within their team, and company leadership can assess patterns within various departments to find the root cause of underlying issues. These insights can then help identify patterns or trends where particular groups of employees, for example, people of color, are being underpaid within certain business areas.
Being aware of and acknowledging a variety of upcoming religious and cultural holidays is one way to build awareness of diversity and adopt greater inclusivity within an organization. When closing out a call or team meeting, leaders can ask how people are planning to celebrate the holiday if the audience isn't too large. The company intranet can also help employees become aware of multicultural holidays or religious celebrations. Companies should be respectful of these days when scheduling meetings or events and understand that employees have different needs that may require flexibility.
A key part of diversity is learning from different experiences, cultures, and values. Diversity has been likened to focusing on all 64 squares on a chessboard instead of just seeing one aspect of the board. In the context of the workplace, it's similar to focusing on only one particular demographic or a single department or team.
A diverse cross-section of talent allows a broader perspective, which will increase creativity on teams. If a team is homogenous, someone of a different gender, cultural background, or age can be invited to give their read on an initiative or project.
Much has been written about diversity in teams positively impacting creativity and innovation, making a case for an inclusive culture only stronger. Multiple perspectives inspire novel thinking, connect thoughts in new ways, and encourage different problem-solving approaches.
To better understand what's going on beneath the surface, companies can encourage their people to share their feedback. Using surveys, leaders can be armed with the information needed to make smarter decisions and reduce or eliminate discrimination or biases within particular areas or departments of the company.
Anonymous surveys soliciting employee feedback can help build a case to take immediate action on more pressing issues and help develop long-term strategies. Employees should be encouraged to participate in surveys and transparently communicate how they're feeling.
Unconscious bias refers to the associations made between different qualities and social categories, such as race, gender, or disability, and are judgments made without conscious awareness. These preferences or stereotypes are automatic and are a major contributor to a lack of workplace diversity.
An example of unconscious bias is "name bias." This is the tendency people have to judge and prefer people with certain types of names – usually names of similar origin to their own name. This bias is one of the most widespread biases in the hiring process.
Company leadership can start addressing this by helping employees understand how unconscious bias impacts individuals and what actions continue to reinforce these biases. Managers can build awareness and address unconscious bias by encouraging employees to review, question, and analyze their own personal biases and assumptions.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts don't succeed overnight. It can take months to make effective structural changes to workforce strategies and systems, especially as companies face new challenges around hiring and managing their employees. Cultural shifts take time, meaning organizations must set benchmarks and track their progress to see how their efforts are moving the needle. Tracking progress not only shows leaders what strategies are working and which ones are falling short, but it also helps to hold them accountable in reaching their long-term goals.
DEI is more than corporate-speak to the most responsible and forward-thinking companies and organizations. In 2021, corporate leadership has the opportunity to promote DEI in the workplace like never before. Employees are expecting it, and they deserve no less than leadership's best efforts.
Jack Wolstenholm is the head of content at Breeze.
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