The true meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion(DE&I) in the workplace is often misunderstood and assumed to be learning about other cultures or creating gender equality; however, this is just scratching the surface of the true definition. The beauty of diversity is that every one of us is unique and adds varietyin the workplace – for example, we come with different upbringings, personalities, and strengths and none of these things are physical! We assume that accepting diversity means accepting the things that we see, such as ethnicity and gender but truly embracing diversity is when you seek to understand each individual in your team for who they are, the value they add, and what makes them tick. 

Equity is about providing the support that each person needs fairly so that no individual is discriminated against.

Inclusion is then the ability to accept everyonefor the differences they bring, without allowing your personal biases to become barriers to appreciating this diversity and equity.

So why is this important and beneficial in business?  Research shows that employees that are part of diverse teams and feel included are more productive and engaged. Having diverse teams in your business also helps expand thinking, problem-solving skills, and innovation. A culture of equity and inclusivity is also good for attracting and retaining talent.

“This simultaneous approach to interventions should also give you a chance to identify exciting “storytelling” opportunities across all levels of the organization.”

Besides these business benefits, the intention behind any diversity, equity,and inclusion initiatives you may implement, must be authentic and win the hearts and minds of your employees, to be truly effective.

In a nutshell, diversity, equity, and inclusion are about changing mindsets and clarifying values that guide how you will do business going forward. This is no small task and requires the entire organization to embark on a meaningful journey as teams and individuals.

The best place to start is with what’s right in front of you, your workforce.  Conducting a dipstick survey gives insight into your employees (including leadership), and current understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean. This dipstick would need to be positioned correctly and communicated as an exploration exercise to lead into the bigger diversity, equity, andinclusion strategy to come.

Once you’ve gained theseinsights you can then be more deliberate with your focus on how you formulate your strategy and initiatives.  I believe in the “Outside in and inside out” approach. 

This approach involves starting with organizational-wide communication and education while simultaneously working on individual initiatives to shift mindsets.  For example, at the organizational level, your communication and education strategy could start with covering general concepts and principles on diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as the benefits and intentions of the organization. This level of communication will need to be ongoing as you make progress with all other initiatives taking place. 

Concurrently, you could run initiatives at the teamlevel, that touch the departmental communities and empowers teams to explore the diversitythey share and how these differences can benefit them collectively. This also builds trust, equity, and psychological safety in the team as they embark on this journey together.

The individual-level initiatives should start with your leaders, and these should include self-awareness and education through the classroom, online, coaching, learning apps, etc. This is where the real change happens and involves reflection and vulnerability. Topics such as personal biases, self-beliefs, upbringing, values, etc.,and how these impact our behaviors in the workplace, are some examples of what should be explored.

This simultaneous approach to interventions should also give you a chance to identify exciting “storytelling” opportunities across all levels of the organization.Storytelling is known for its power in creating relatability and connection with meaningful topics.

To gain buy-in and sustain the shifted thinking of existing leaders and employees in the organization, everyone must beheld accountable for their behaviors, decisions, and their impact of them. This can be done byincluding “Embracing Equity and Diversity” as a key leadership competency and ensuring that leaders are committed to the actions defined. These actions should then form diversity, equity, and inclusion measurables that can be recognized through bonuses or incentives.

The diversity, equity,and inclusion journey must be visibly felt and led from the top of the organization.  It cannot be lip service and is a journey with no real end as it becomes part of the heartbeat and culture behind every decision, piece of communication, and action that is experienced in the business. This is when you’ve achieved true equity and inclusion.