4 tips for creating an equitable employee experience
Following the upswell of racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, companies around the world made renewed commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But effecting real change takes more than a pledge; it requires significant investment and ongoing work. It also requires going beyond recruiting diverse talent. It’s just as important to foster a work environment where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.
That’s where equity comes in. Unlike equality, which means treating everyone exactly the same way, equity recognizes that different people have different needs and experiences, and allocates support and resources accordingly. If we extend that logic to the workplace, equitably designed employee policies make a point of identifying different team members’ barriers to success and helping them overcome those challenges, so they can be on the same playing field as their more privileged colleagues.
In addition to being the right thing to do, equity is also a business imperative. Organizations with diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultures are three times more likely to be high performing, two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, and eight times more likely to have better business outcomes.
At Culture First Americas 2022, our Equitable Design Lead for People & Experience, Thushyanthi Muruges, sat down with Lead People Partner, Kerri Fazzino, and Director of Global People Operations, Michelle Saurel, to talk about Culture Amp’s ongoing efforts to build an equitable workplace. Here are the top takeaways from their conversation that you can take back to your organization.
Four tips for creating equitable employee experiences
Below, we summarize four top tips that Thushyanthi, Kerri, and Michelle shared during the session.
1. Define and work from a set of principles
You can’t foster an equitable employee experience if the processes and design thinking you apply to policy development aren’t themselves diverse, equitable, and inclusive. As Thushyanthi explained, at Culture Amp, we follow a set of four intentionally developed principles to ensure equity in the work we do:
- Consent must be authentic. We're mindful of the implicit and explicit power dynamics whenever we make requests of our employees.
- Always consider intersectionality. Whatever we do, we ask ourselves how it will affect marginalized, intersectional identities. “How will Black women experience this?,” “What is the Indigenous perspective?,” and “Have we accounted for accessibility?” are common questions among our team.
- Nothing for you, without you. Our methods and solutions are guided by the views and experiences of the people they support.
- Iterate and drive impact. We learn and make adjustments as we go. Progress is more important than perfection.
These principles help ensure that the work we spend our time and energy on contributes to truly equitable outcomes rather than tokenistic diversity initiatives. “Building a framework like this can help your organization bring in an equitable lens when you are building your policies and processes,” Thushyanthi said.
2. Integrate equity into audits and data collection
After carefully building equity into your processes, you’ll also want to consider how equity factors into the ways you collect and analyze employee data.
At Culture Amp, we run Equitable Design and Impact (EDI) audits multiple times throughout a single performance review cycle to ensure it’s fair in terms of how we think about internal mobility, compensation, and performance. Running the audit multiple times is purposeful in that it challenges us to keep the EDI lens in mind and dissect how we make our performance decisions in real time.
“[We] do real-time investigations of the results that come up,” said Kerri. “We'll recommend corrections and incorporate this into our discussions and our calibration sessions, so EDI is always a part of the conversation that we're having.”
Simply put, Culture Amp is never looking backward at an audit to improve a future performance review cycle – we move to make an impact right away.
Employee surveys can also be invaluable when it comes to uncovering inequities, but only if you are collecting proper, detailed demographics that help you understand all the ways your employees identify. This realization led us to reevaluate and expand the self-identification questions in our HR information system to include identifiers like caregiver status and non-native English speaker. Then, to ensure those additional specifications translated well globally, we worked as a team to develop descriptions of each category and explain the reason behind our asking.
“In the end, it really improved the [employee] experience because we actually saw an uptick in how [employees] were self-identifying,” said Michelle.
3. Center – and trust – your employees
In line with our “nothing for you, without you” equity design principle, employees must be at the center of and driving the change you want to enact at your organization.
This can be as simple as listening to employees and acting on what you hear. When Michelle was conducting Culture Amp’s annual benefits review, she took into account information from across Culture Amp’s teams to ensure she was looking at the company’s benefits package from many diverse perspectives. That led to her learning from Thushyanthi that a common theme surfacing in Culture Amp’s employee resource groups (ERGs) was a desire for more access to mental health programs. This prompted Michelle to work with Thushyanthi to research and advocate for adding Modern Health, a wellbeing platform, to Culture Amp’s suite of benefits tools.
Likewise, Kerri’s team takes their cues from employees to manage Culture Amp’s Global Accommodations Policy and Camper Emergency Support Policy. The former guides the team to work collaboratively and creatively with employees to ensure they are provided with the support they need to succeed in light of any disabilities. The latter policy provides leave and financial resources to employees in crises. It was put in place following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and has since expanded to include services for employees experiencing domestic violence or trans violence, impacted by a natural disaster, or in need of reproductive health services in U.S. states that have reduced access in the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, to name a few.
Both policies are privacy-forward, and there are no barriers to entry, meaning that employees don’t need to provide proof of hardship or a formal diagnosis to start either process. They are only expected to share what they’re comfortable with, and managers are only looped in on a need-to-know basis.
“We trust our employees at face value when they come to us, and we balance that with the local, state, and federal jurisdictional requirements,” Kerri said. “We try to be creative and meet employees where their needs are.”
4. Break down silos and work as a team
Finally, when you want to enact policies that support an equitable employee experience, remember that it should be an all-hands-on-deck undertaking.
“It’s one thing to build equitable programs, but it’s another to operationalize it,” Thushyanthi said. “That’s why bringing in the People Operations team early in the process is so important."
It’s one thing to build equitable programs, but it’s another to operationalize it. That’s why bringing in the People Operations team early in the process is so important.— Thushyanthi MurugesEquitable Design Lead, Culture Amp
That’s because even the best-laid policies will run into backend complexities when you go to put them into practice. Technology considerations, laws and regulations, and existing practices and protocols all need to be taken into account, and that’s hard to do from a single vantage point.
Sometimes, it’s simple but crucial things – like when Culture Amp went to operationalize our new accommodations policy. For the policy to be successful, we had to work cross-functionally to ensure our HRIS was updated to accommodate a folder system for private employee information that managers can’t access.
“My team can design these pie-in-the-sky ideas for policies, but [Michelle’s] team brings in that practical side around what’s actually feasible at the moment with the systems, processes, and even laws that we have to comply with,” Thushyanthi said.
Remember: progress over perfection
The world changes fast, and so will your employees’ needs. It’s important to be nimble, flexible, and always think about how to fill the gaps. But don’t let equity’s ever-changing face stop you from moving forward. Incremental improvements and recalibrations are part of the process toward real and lasting impact.