As a DEI consultant, I have worked with countless leaders across all industries whose hearts are in the right place. They want to enact DEI-centered changes and make a positive difference for their marginalized and underrepresented employees. They want to elevate voices and create a workplace that is welcoming and equitable. But...they don't always know where to begin.
With so many potential paths to follow and actions to take, they may end up floundering or making changes that are not overly effective. To provide a little guidance to these leaders, I’ve put together a list of 6 straightforward, DEI-centered actions they can follow. Keep in mind, these suggestions may or may not be right for your organization, and it’s always a good idea to confer with a qualified DEI consultant before taking action.
Assess the organization’s current state
This is a logical starting point, since it will give an overview of what your company is doing right and what could be improved. Collect data such as:
- Demographics of employees, including race, gender, and age
- Stats on hiring, promotions, and terminations over the past year
- Employee satisfaction surveys, specifically regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Data on employee turnover, especially among marginalized and underrepresented groups
It is essential to get input from as many people within the organization as possible. Make sure to convey that everyone’s voice matters, and all ideas, perspectives, and complaints will be taken seriously. One-on-one interviews or focus groups can be a great way to gather thoughtful feedback. Here are a few questions to consider:
- What do you think our organization does well in terms of DEI?
- In what areas do you think our organization could improve?
- When have you felt that yours, or someone else’s, voice wasn’t heard?
- How can the workplace be more accommodating?
- What suggestions do you have to make our organization more inclusive?
Assemble a DEI committee
Consider putting together a DEI committee to discuss potential changes. This committee should be made up of a diverse group of employees and leadership. Some responsibilities of this committee could include evaluating the results of the DEI assessments, developing DEI-centered initiatives, strategizing future actions, and measuring the effectiveness of changes.
Keep in mind: starting a DEI committee is not enough. This group must be equipped with adequate resources and be taken seriously by company leadership and employees.
Educate leadership and employees
It’s important to educate everyone in the organization about DEI issues and why they matter. Scheduling training sessions and workshops for leadership and employees can be a great way to build understanding and empathy. This is NOT something that can be done once and checked off the list. True education is continuous in nature and ongoing. Consider working with a DEI practitioner to develop your company’s DEI training program.
Get other leaders on board
If your company’s leadership is not all-in on DEI initiatives, it will show. How can you expect employees to be energized or supportive of DEI-centered changes when the leadership is lukewarm or disinterested? Rally company leadership! Convey the importance of leading by example when it comes to DEI, and give some examples of actions leaders can take such as educating themselves on DEI topics, seeking perspectives and ideas from employees of all backgrounds, acknowledging shortcomings, communicating to employees (in emails, team meetings, etc.) about DEI topics and trainings…the list goes on.
Take action and measure progress
After taking the above actions, you should have a good understanding of areas that need improvement. Use this knowledge to collaborate with your DEI committee to enact a comprehensive, DEI-focused action plan. Make sure the plan centers around SMART goals (goals which are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely) so you can easily measure progress.
Measuring progress is essential to make effective changes. Develop a system to track and report on your progress toward your goals. Consider gathering feedback from employees throughout the process to ensure your changes are having the desired effect. And don't be afraid to adjust your action plan accordingly if things aren't working out as planned.
As a leader, there are several steps you can take to enact DEI-centered changes in your organization. It’s not enough to support DEI work in theory. Anyone can post their support of marginalized or underrepresented groups on social media or in an email, but it takes real, strategic actions to make a meaningful difference. This work isn’t always easy, and there is no finish line, but it is absolutely vital for creating an equitable and inclusive workplace.