The Impact of Meaningful DEI Initiatives in the Workplace

There’s a lot of discussion in the HR sphere about best practices to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. Chatter around organizational DEI goals and the strategies to hit them are shared widely, hoping to drive change. But it’s important that these aren’t surface-level changes just to tick a box. Meaningful DEI initiatives are essential to creating a healthier, happier, and stronger workforce. Let’s dive into what separates the good DEI initiatives from the lackluster ones, and the direct impact meaningful DEI initiatives have on your workforce.

The Rise of BLM and DEI

First, let’s reflect on the last two years and how they’ve pushed of DEI to the forefront of HR strategy. In May of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was thrust center-stage, sparking a more honest discussion about race – both in the US and around the world. In the weeks that followed, in the wake of a wave black squares, corporations – particularly American-based brands – looked to publicly affirm that their company values aligned with equity, diversity, and anti-racism.

It came in the form of social posts, emails to staff, and bringing in consultants for some one-off unconscious bias training. All excellent starting points that should have been the springboard into a deeper conversation and assessment of how to truly enshrine diversity and inclusion as core to company culture. But instead, at many companies, the promise of change was largely empty. Even with the best intentions, little meaningful action was taken beyond these first steps. Why was that?

The public displays of inclusivity were often just that – and meaningful, widespread change wasn’t made internally, making these initial steps feel hollow. Especially for Black, Brown, and Indigenous employees. Many corporations tackled their new diversity initiatives with a checklist, and the lack of deeper change that followed made the impact of these initiatives fall flat.  Research has found that while 83% of employees say their organization values diversity in the workplace, just 1 in 10 feel that their employer demonstrates the importance of DE&I through action.

Making DEI Initiatives with Intention

Darnisa Amante-Jackson, president and co-founder of the Disruptive Equity Education Project, said it best: “To treat diversity, equity, and inclusion work (DEI) as a to-do list with a finite start and finish will only result in the stunted growth of the very culture you are hoping to manifest. It is not sustainable, and there are better ways to address equity so that it not only sounds but is authentic.”

To truly do the work required to create meaningful DEI initiatives, it must be spearheaded and championed by company leadership. Executives must evaluate how diversity, equity, and inclusion impact the way they lead the company. They must consider how DEI initiatives can be implemented in a way that resonates with every employee, regardless of their job function. Leaders will have to ask critical questions about their company’s culture, hiring process, and how they plan to hold themselves accountable in reaching their DEI goals.

But this work is worth it. Effective and meaningful DEI initiatives pave the way for creating a more engaged, more productive, and thriving workforce. And there’s ample evidence to support this.

Research from the McKinsey Institute shows that organizations with a high degree of ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. Furthermore, companies with highly diverse leadership teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

But it’s more than just diversity. Inclusion matters just as much. When employees feel socially supported and included by their coworkers, they are significantly more engaged with their work. When people feel they are a part of a group, they are more motivated, positive, and productive. These positive feelings beget more positive outcomes: socially integrated employees have higher job satisfaction, stronger commitment to your organization, and are less likely to quit compared to disengaged employees.

And then there’s the matter of equity: creating a level playing field for every candidate and employee to prove themselves and advance their career. And equity is more than just equality. Equality suggests that all employees should be treated identically, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or identity. And in a perfect world, that would be enough. But unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect – minorities are significantly underrepresented and live the realities of unconscious bias. Equity, on the other hand, is centered on recognizing these differences and accounting for them.  If equality means equal opportunity, equity means proportional representation for those same opportunities.

Meaningful DEI Drives Success

When your leadership team creates DEI initiatives, it’s important that they are both meaningful and measurable. By creating targets, gathering data, and assessing your progress, you’ll be able to better able to understand the change you’re driving and the impact it has on your company.

With meaningful DEI initiatives, you’re making a commitment to your employees. That who they are as a person – their whole and honest self – matters, and that you strive to create work environment that supports, encourages, and respects them. And the result is a workforce that is deeply engaged, innovative, and committed to your organization in return.