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The People & Culture Platform | Culture Amp
Starting your DEI journey
Donovan Chiu

Donovan Chiu

Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

“Today, diversity and inclusion efforts are a given,” writes a Forbes Insights report. In their survey of 321 executives working for large global enterprises, Forbes reported that nearly every company in the survey (97%) had formal diversity and inclusion strategies in place. Despite these promising statistics, Harvard Business Review found that 75% of global employees from underrepresented backgrounds reported that they didn’t feel like they’ve personally benefited from their organization’s DEI initiatives.

Meanwhile, in the EMEA region, Russell Reynolds Associates found that despite 63% of European executives reporting that their organization has a DEI strategy, 20% of these organizations are still in the early stages of their DEI journey and treat DEI as a compliance issue. More than a third of organizations (37%) have not even begun their journeys.

Mercer found that many organizations have not yet prioritized DEI in the APAC region, making DEI a critical opportunity for attracting top talent and stakeholders. In addition, PWC’s 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarking Survey found that ​​83% of organizations in APAC feel that DEI is a stated value or priority area.

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that companies worldwide recognize the importance of DEI but are still struggling to understand what it takes to embark on a successful and meaningful DEI journey.

In this blog, which is based on the webinar “DEI toolkit: Starting your Diversity, equity, and inclusion journey,” we’ll go over the basics of DEI and sketch out a general roadmap that can help guide your DEI journey. We’ll also offer best practices that you can implement in your organization at any stage to help secure DEI success.

Understanding the basics of DEI

Before setting out on your DEI journey, it’s important to ensure that you understand what DEI is and align your understanding of its three core components: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here is how we define and differentiate them:

  • Diversity is defined as the range of human differences, including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and age. For most organizations, diversity is the first step to DEI, as it addresses who employees are, but not how their work experiences differ.
  • Equity is the concept that all employees deserve access to the same opportunities to grow, develop, and achieve while also acknowledging that there are advantages and barriers faced by certain groups that create imbalances. As not everyone comes from the same starting point, equity recognizes that organizations need to adjust practices to meet people where they are.
  • Inclusion is the act of ensuring that employees of all identities feel welcomed, valued, and actively engaged. An inclusive workplace ensures that each individual feels like they’re a part of the collective and that each member is given the same rights and opportunities.

Two other key concepts are necessary for understanding DEI. The first is belonging - whether or not an employee feels secure, supported, and empowered to be their authentic self at work. A key outcome of inclusion, “belonging” directly impacts how engaged and committed someone feels at work.

Finally, there’s intersectionality. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, intersectionality is defined as: “The complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

In other words, different aspects of a person’s identity interact and intersect in unique ways. These different identities can reduce or compound the (dis)advantages somebody faces at work and in society. Building a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive world requires policies and practices that acknowledge employees’ whole selves.

In that sense, intersectionality can be thought of as a critical framework that organizations should apply to every DEI endeavor.

Now that we’ve established the basic foundation of DEI, let’s go ahead and map the DEI journey.

Mapping your DEI journey

5 steps to create your DEI roadmap

A “typical” DEI journey consists of five “phases,” or “stages.'' An organization looking to take on DEI can be at any one of the following stages:

Pre-Data

At this stage, there is very little collected data or employee feedback on DEI. Most organizations will find themselves at this pre-data phase. They will usually stay in this phase until someone in the organization (typically HR) takes a proactive step to make DEI part of its culture and priorities. In the pre-data stage, the organization has yet to secure executive buy-in from senior leaders.

Explore

Once executive buy-in has been secured, an organization moves into what’s known as the “explore” phase. At this point, organizations will start collecting data and employee feedback. However, many will struggle because they don’t know what questions should be asked or what data or metrics are relevant.

This part of the journey will usually consist of collecting demographic information from employees and running surveys to understand their employees.

Adapt

Once your organization regularly collects data from your employees and understands the employee experience, your organization can move into the “adapt” phase. In this stage, organizations begin to seriously engage with their DEI data and assess their current policies and programs. Organizations may start to build out a DEI strategy and draw up an action plan that addresses high-impact areas and issues.

Assess

As organizations continue to mature their DEI strategy, they’ll move into the “assess” stage, where they actively measure their DEI programs’ return on investment (ROI) and whether their actions drive a positive change to the organization.

Advance

Once organizations have established proficiency across the earlier stages (Pre-Data, Data, Assess), they can proceed to the “advanced” phase. At this point, an organization can expand its DEI approach to other aspects of the employee experience, such as performance management and employee development.

It’s important to note that there is no “right” or “wrong” place to be in your DEI journey because every organization is unique and has to start somewhere. Some organizations may find themselves moving along this journey sequentially, while others may get stuck and need help to move forward.

All that being said, this roadmap is meant to be a general overview of a typical DEI journey and should not be taken as specific instructions that guarantee DEI success. The key is understanding where you are in your DEI journey, where you want to go, and what the path forward requires.

Best practices to take on your DEI journey

DEI isn’t the responsibility of one person or team, and we shouldn’t treat DEi that way either. Rather, DEI is a responsibility that should be collectively shared and prioritized by every employee within your organization. As you go through your journey, consider the following best practices:

  • Understand who your employees are. Accurate information and data on your employees are necessary for setting a solid foundation for any DEI work. Keep in mind that data from human resource information systems (HRIS) may not always be accurate. Incorporating self-reported demographics can help mitigate the shortcomings and fill in the gaps existing in your HRIS data.
  • Conduct Inclusion surveys to understand the employee experience differs across demographics. Pay close attention to participation rates, large spreads in scores, and areas that are known to typically affect people from underrepresented backgrounds, such as “voice” and “fairness.”
  • Choose the right methodology for your organization. Every organization is unique, and what works for one company may not work for the other. For instance, you may find that starting with an engagement survey before sending out a complete inclusion survey works best for you. Other organizations may find that regular pulse surveys are more suitable for their company.

Whichever approach you choose, setting clear expectations with your employees on why and how the company will use the data will ensure that you are building is sufficient to take meaningful DEI action.

Putting your DEI roadmap together

As you go through your DEI journey, remember that data is the foundation for taking meaningful action. Conducting surveys and collecting feedback is key to understanding what your employees are going through, what initiatives will be most impactful for driving equity and inclusion, and measuring the success of your programs. With the right insights, you can map the way to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

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