Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace – An Update for 2022

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been in the workplace vocabulary for decades. However, it is only in the past several years that we have seen DEI emerge from an HR-stewarded initiative to one which has captured the attention of the C-Suite as a corporate priority. In 2022, across industries and around the world, leaders are recognizing that a workplace which supports and inspires all employees to operate at their best, is good for business.

The Business Case – Diverse Organizations Still Perform Better

Studies continue to confirm organizations with a diverse workforce outperform their less diverse counterparts. They also attract more customers, generate greater revenue, and earn higher profits. According to a survey of research by Instride.com (2/2021): Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets (Harvard Business Review); diverse teams are 87% better at making decisions (People Management); and diverse management teams lead to 19% higher revenue (Boston Consulting Group).

DEI Requires C-Suite Focus, Out-of-the-Box Thinking, and Tracking Over Time

Some business leaders have been quick to issue statements espousing a commitment to DEI but slow to dedicate time and resources toward building a truly diverse and inclusive work environment. The C-Suite must apply the same skills they use to tackle other business issues to DEI, identifying barriers and developing action plans to overcome challenges.

Mitch Berger, IMSA Search Global Partners USA Managing Partner and CEO of Howard-Sloan Search, brought in Fostering Healthy Solutions (FHS), a DEI consulting firm headed by mother-son team Dr. Anita Foster-Horne and Shan Foster, to guide company-wide DEI planning, education, and program implementation. FHS also worked with IMSA Search Global Partners. “As executive search consultants, we can help our clients incorporate DEI into their own leadership strategies,” says Berger. “Thinking outside the box, developing new approaches, creating diverse and inclusive cultures attracts the best talent.” Dr. Foster-Horne adds, “Companies cannot sit back and let DEI practitioners or HR managers do the work. Hiring a DEI director or trainer are good first steps. But the conversations, change plans, and implementation must be owned from the top and sustained over the long term.”

Action Learning Teams, Metrics Drive Change

Bringing together different voices within a company is crucial to solving the DEI challenge at the organizational level. Action learning teams are cross-functional groups of people, across departments and levels, who may not have worked together. They learn from each other, represent a variety of perspectives, and create innovative solutions acceptable to all stakeholders.

To truly create the workplace of tomorrow, companies must set goals and establish metrics to track progress and indicate whether a program is having the desired effect. “Outcome” metrics, such as how many members of distinct minority groups are employed and at what level, can reveal bias as well as track diversity in departments and management. “Process” metrics identify problems in processes including hiring, evaluation, pay equity, and promotion by tracking indicators such as salary differentials in comparable jobs as well as how rapidly diverse employees are promoted. Programs can be modified depending on what the metrics reveal.

Millennials Expect Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

FHS’s Shan Foster emphasizes the importance of DEI for every company: “Today’s talent is coming to the table asking DEI questions – where are your DEI priorities? Millennials have intentionality and express their views without hesitation. They are willing to walk away from a job if the company values clash with their personal values. 

A company’s ratings by employees on sites like GlassDoor, make a difference to potential applicants. Employee referrals, often the best source for new candidates, reflect more diversity when the workforce is diverse. “Hiring practices must be in place which reach beyond the traditional sources to identify top-quality candidates of all genders, ethnicities, and abilities,” adds Foster.

Creating Safe Spaces is Essential, Everyone Needs Training

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports more than 55% of current managers are not trained to adequately manage staff on issues regarding discrimination in the workplace. Training is essential if DEI issues are to be surfaced, discussed, and resolved. Conversations about implicit bias, discrimination, and understanding root causes can be difficult, so creating safe spaces for honest expression is key. DEI training provides for this. Mitch Berger describes the work of FHS within his own company: “Training sessions provided safe spaces to discuss topics in a vulnerable and profound way. All voices were encouraged, and the conversations progressed honestly, thoughtfully, intelligently.”

Most top business schools today integrate DEI teaching across their curriculum, so future leaders will understand and embrace the necessity for anti-racist, anti-discriminatory, inclusive leadership. Many of today’s C-Suite executives were not exposed to these concepts and thus need training. Shan Foster shares, “One of the most common mistakes is when C-Suite and business leaders exempt themselves from the training. We say, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ So yes, EVERYONE needs training.”

Importance of Sociocultural Diversity in Multi-National Corporations

In a recent article, DEI was reported to be “an American thing.” (hbr.org 1/2022) However, as businesses are increasingly international in both operational location and target markets,

DEI initiatives are vital to build awareness and understanding of regional and local cultures in which companies operate. For multi-national corporations, with internationally diverse management teams, employees, and customers, demonstrating a commitment to DEI can be a business boon.

Ensuring companies are diverse, inclusive, and equitable at all levels and across all divisions is an ongoing process. Leaders and their teams must be open to constant assessment of progress against goals, and when a program is not working, chart a different course. When leaders listen to their teams, when everyone in the company has a voice, then all will be able to bring their full true selves to work and succeed.