By: Ber Leary on December 1st, 2021

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Diversity Equity and Inclusion: The HR Leader's Guide to DE&I

Diversity & Inclusion

Helios HR has been helping businesses develop positive cultures for over twenty years now. In that time, we have noticed a change in attitude towards Diversity Equity and Inclusion, or DE&I.

DE&I used to be an aspiration, something businesses hoped to achieve someday in the future. Today, companies understand that DE&I is a mission-critical priority, one that needs urgent attention. 

Companies that are diverse, equitable and inclusive tend to fare better than those that are not. An overwhelming body of evidence proves this fact. For example:

Plus, there is greater scrutiny than ever. Fortune now includes diversity data in their 500 list, which allows both customers and job candidates to identify organizations with an inclusive culture.

In this guide, we’ll look at how to build a DE&I strategy that attracts candidates, engages employees, and encourages a positive culture. But first, let’s look at the current challenges in Diversity Equity and Inclusion.

Table of contents

    1. What is the current state of Diversity Equity and Inclusion?
    2. Getting started with Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiatives
    3. How to develop a DE&I training program
    4. Bring your DE&I strategy to the next level
    5. Where to get help on DE&I initiatives

1. What is the current state of Diversity Equity and Inclusion?

Underrepresented groups had made substantial progress in the 2010s, with most DE&I metrics moving in the right direction.

Download the DEI Checklist

Unfortunately, COVID-19 had a devastating effect on DE&I progress. For instance, many female professionals dropped out of the workplace to focus on personal duties such as homeschooling. Meanwhile, minorities were more likely than majority groups to be furloughed or let go.

Some of the data from this period is quite stark:

These issues can have an outsized impact on pay equity. Here's an example of how the pandemic might impact your DE&I progress:

Imagine you hired two equally qualified candidates in 2019, one male and one female. By the start of 2020, both candidates were at the same job level and receiving the same salary.

Now, imagine that the woman had to take time off during the pandemic to care for an unwell relative. While she was on leave, her male colleague worked on some projects and earned a promotion (with raise). 

The woman's total lifetime earnings will now be substantially less than her male colleague, even though they had been at parity. What's more, he will have opportunities to progress even further, while she has to work on catching up. 

Employers that are committed to DE&I need to think about this in the coming months. The pandemic disrupted millions of promising careers across the country. How do you help people get over it? How do you restore a level playing field? 

Related reading: How to Get Leadership Buy-In for a DE&I Initiative

2. Getting started with Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiatives

It’s hard to know where to start such a big DE&I initiative. That’s why the best place to begin is by performing a detailed analysis of your current state.

How to analyze your current DE&I progress

DE&I affects every aspect of your organization. For that reason, you will need to conduct multiple analysis exercises and examine the employee experience from every angle.

Conducting this kind of analysis can be labor-intensive, and it requires someone who knows what they’re looking for. Often, it’s best to bring in an external HR consultant who can give you an objective overview of your business.

Here are a few of the types of analysis you’ll need before commencing your DE&I initiative:

Compliance review

Every organization has obligations under federal law, as well as applicable state and local laws. All of these compliance obligations lead to HR paperwork, and you can use this paper trail to analyze major DE&I issues in your organization.

Look out for things like:

  • Number of compliance violations in the past year
  • Demographic breakdown of complaints
  • Recurring issues among complaints
  • Whether complaints were resolved to the employee’s satisfaction

Remember, laws related to DE&I are only the minimum requirements for employers. This is the most basic level of being an inclusive workplace. If you really want to meet DE&I standards, you will have to keep looking deeper.

Policy review

Policies can sometimes create issues for employees in a way that could be considered discriminatory.

For example, the COVID-19 crisis caused major disruption to childcare, which forced many people to seek alternative arrangements. Some employers refused to alter their remote working or flexible hours policies, which forced some parents to leave the workforce. This burden fell disproportionately on women.

A policy review involves looking at the complete employee policy framework, which means reviewing documents such as:

  • Employee handbook
  • Standard employment contract
  • Policy communications from management
  • Enforcement advice to managers

You’ll need to review each of these documents and ensure that they are not only fair, but equitable. Your policies should recognize the fact that different employees have different needs.

Culture review

Organizational culture defines the Inclusiveness element of DE&I. Culture is all about how people communicate, collaborate, and bond with each other. If that culture discriminates against or excludes certain groups, then you might have a toxic culture. This kind of culture leads to bullying and harassment, which in turn leads to staff turnover and lawsuits.

Organizational culture analysis is not an exact science. You’ll need to talk to the team, discuss their experiences, and find out what it’s really like to be an employee. You can do this in several ways, such as:

Cultural analysis can sometimes have blind spots. For instance, an 100% Caucasian team can’t tell you if the culture is welcoming to people of color. It can help to bring in an outside consultant to give a fresh perspective on your organizational culture.

Recruitment process review

Recruitment is probably the most important part of your DE&I strategy. A great recruitment strategy will help you build a more diverse team, which means you will then have a broader range of voices in your future hiring decisions.

But first, you must ensure that your recruitment process is making everyone feel equally welcome. Some of the questions to ask here include:

  • Where do we draw applicants from?
  • Do we use inclusive language in all recruitment-related communication?
  • Are there any barriers that might prevent someone from applying?
  • Are we receiving applications from a diverse range of candidates?
  • Is there diversity on the final shortlist of candidates?
  • Do we have a range of voices in our recruitment process, and are those voices empowered to give constructive feedback?

Getting this step right is an important step towards building a pipeline of diverse candidates, which is the keybuilding a diverse team.

Engagement analysis

Engagement and culture are closely linked. A strong office culture will usually result in high levels of engagement and productivity. Cultural friction, on the other hand, will start to impact each employee’s engagement level.

Engagement surveys can help pinpoint issues that arise from a dysfunctional culture. You can ask employees to rate statements on a scale of 1 to 5, such as:

  • Jokes based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and other protected classes are not tolerated at this company
  • Our company values people with differing talents, skills, and backgrounds
  • Harassment and discrimination are never tolerated in our organization
  • People of all backgrounds and cultures are respected and valued at our company
  • My manager promotes a culture of diversity

Questions like these will help you pinpoint engagement issues that are specifically related to DE&I.

Retention review

Staff turnover is the ultimate sign that your organization has a DE&I issue. If people face harassment, exclusion or bullying, they will quit. They may also quit if they feel that they lack support from management, of if your policies seem to favor one group over another.

Whenever anyone quits, you should try to dig as deep into the why of it as much as possible. Some tools you can use include:

  • Exit interviews: Be sure to sit with each leaver and get their feedback on the push factors that drove them away.
  • Demographic analysis: It’s also a good idea to take a bird’s-eye view of leavers. Is there any identifiable group of people who are quitting, such as a particular race or gender?
  • HR record review: Finally, be sure to review HR records to see if the leaver raised any issues or complaints. If so, then it’s worth establishing whether this complaint ultimately led to their resignation.

Staff turnover is a serious concern, especially if you’re losing valuable employees. Gathering data on the people exiting your organization will help you identify problems and make a plan to improve retention.

DE&I training needs assessment

Finally, you’ll need to think about training and coaching. Your analysis so far should give you some idea of where your team might need additional DE&I coaching.

You can also dig deeper into training needs with exercises like:

  • Individual interviews: Talk to people within the team and assess their knowledge of DE&I issues.
  • Questionnaires: Give online quizzes to find out if people understand the main DE&I issues within your team.
  • Focus groups: Bring teams together and allow them to talk about their experiences within your organization in a safe space.

Training is a vital part of your DE&I strategy. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at how to build a training program that supports your DE&I goals.

Download the DEI Checklist

3. How to develop a DE&I training program

A DE&I analysis may reveal some uncomfortable truths about your organization. Companies often discover problems such as:

  • Microaggressions are a normal part of the culture
  • Bullying, discrimination and harassment are not being dealt with
  • Recruitment processes are biased
  • Leaders tend to favor a particular group
  • Certain groups of people feel excluded or ignored
  • Exit interviews cite a hostile organizational culture as one of the main reasons for leaving

All of these problems have one thing in common – they’re all caused by people on the team.

That’s why training is such a vital element of any DE&I strategy. A lot of discriminatory behavior occurs simply because people don’t understand why their behavior is problematic. For instance, people often commit microaggressions when they don’t understand another person’s lived experience.

There are a number of training tactics you can use, such as:

DE&I training

You can start by offering everyone a baseline level of DE&I training. This kind of training, which you can deliver in-person or via eLearning, looks at the main elements of DE&I, such as:

  • Internal DE&I policies
  • Definitions of harassment and bullying, including exclusionary behavior
  • Workplace ethics
  • How microaggressions work
  • Conscious and unconscious bias
  • Inclusiveness and team cohesiveness

This kind of training ensures that everyone is on the same page. It also helps to ensure that people understand relevant HR policy, which will improve the chances of people sticking to those policies.

Respectful workplace training

Respectful workplace training goes a step further and helps people develop the skills they need to create a more inclusive environment.

This training is often delivered in a workshop format, which allows employees to talk about real-life examples they face in their environment. The attendees can work with the tutor to develop best practices that work for them.

Topics covered in this training typically include:

  • Respectful communication
  • Identifying bias
  • Challenging harassment and bullying
  • Making ethical decisions
  • Supporting a safe working environment

Respectful workplace training is useful for mangers, employees, and everyone who plays a role in your organizational culture.

One-to-one coaching

DE&I training isn’t always plain sailing. Some people won’t connect with the training; others will simply refuse to engage.

You can head off these problems by offering these employees one-to-one coaching. Such coaching can achieve goals like:

  • Helping them see their own biases
  • Explaining how diversity doesn’t damage their own prospects
  • Talking through issues they might not have personally experienced, such as microaggressions
  • Encouraging them to see their own role in DE&I progress

Some people may request this kind of additional support. For instance, senior managers might request one-to-one coaching so that they can be better leaders.

In this case, you can combine coaching with some reverse mentoring, which is when a more junior employee offers guidance and support on difficult issues.

Group discussions

Group discussions are not appropriate for every culture. You need an open, trustful team where everyone is on the same page about DE&I principles. Otherwise, the conversation might not be as positive as you might hope. 

That's why large group discussions are often a next step after extensive training and coaching. If you're satisfied that your team is in a good place, you can bring people together to talk about their experiences and identify areas where your team can do better. 

Some things to remember if you're organizing a group discussion:

  • An experienced facilitator can help keep the meeting productive and respectful
  • A clear agenda also helps keep things on track
  • Everyone should have a chance to speak – no one person or group should dominate

If these sessions are well-run, they can be a vital chance for employees to share their experiences and talk about ways to make a more positive culture. They can also help you to gather data on next steps for your DE&I strategy.

4. Bring your DE&I strategy to the next level

Your DE&I analysis will give you a good idea of where you stand. You’ll have a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll know which areas require the most urgent attention.

Training and coaching will help to bring your team on board. They can then start acting on creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture.

The next step after that is to tackle structural issues that are holding back your DE&I progress. Here are a few action plans that your HR consultant might suggest.

Reconfigure your HR team

The human resources team plays a vital role in building an equitable and inclusive workplace. They implement rules, settle disputes, oversee recruitment, and help deliver relevant training. If your HR team isn’t designed for DE&I success, the rest of your organization doesn’t stand a chance.

But HR teams often struggle to help companies realize their DE&I strategy. This can happen for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Lack of diversity: A diverse HR team is better at responding to employee queries. They are also more likely to identify DE&I issues before they arrive. If your current HR team lacks diversity, you may need to think about a reshuffle.
  • Lack of resources: DE&I projects often require a lot of hands-on attention. Your HR team might simply be too busy with day-to-day admin to give DE&I the focus it requires. In this case, you’ll need to bring in additional help, either in the form of a DE&I consultant or an HR consultant who can help lighten the daily workload.
  • Lack of expertise: Executing a DE&I strategy requires a lot of HR expertise. A small or inexperienced HR team might not have the professional knowledge required to deliver your strategy. If so, then you’ll need to bring in an outside expert to offer guidance.
  • Lack of proximity: Sometimes, the HR team is simply too far away to intervene in DE&I issues. This is a growing problem in an age of remote and hybrid teams. Your team will need to get better at managing DE&I initiatives through digital communication platforms.
  • Inadequate processes: HR professionals must ultimately comply with the internal procedures agreed upon by the leadership team. If those processes are flawed, then you can’t deliver an inclusive organizational culture. In this case, you’ll need to get urgent leadership sign-off on processes that work.

Your HR team is your secret weapon in the fight for Diversity Equity and Inclusion. If the HR team is fully supported and adequately staffed, they can help deliver a positive organizational culture for all employees.

Reduce bias in the hiring process

Your hiring process is your connection to the outside world. If you have an equitable, unbiased hiring process, you’ll be able to build a diverse and inclusive team.

There’s no guaranteed way to make your hiring process bias-free, but there are some things you can do to make things more objective:

  • Cast a broad net for talent: The way you advertise your vacancies might, in itself, be biased. For example, if you advertise in publications with a majority white readership, then you may not hear applicants of color. Look at new channels for getting the word out. Also, try to leverage your internal referral process to access a more diverse range of candidates.
  • Bring diverse voices into the process: Your candidates might be diverse, but what about your selection panel? Look at everyone involved in recruitment, from job design to screening to interviewing, and make sure that there is a good level of representation throughout. If you don’t have a diverse hiring team, you won’t be able to make diverse hires.
  • Strip applicant data from applications: Bias can start at the top of the resume. Studies show that applicants white-sounding names are 50% more likely to receive an interview callback than other equally qualified candidates. Blind applications can help address this issue. Try stripping all personal details from the resume so that selectors make their decision based on skills and experience.
  • Use AI, but beware: Applicant Tracking Systems can do a great job of sorting candidates with some level of objectivity. Beware though – all computers reflect the biases of the humans who programmed them. Double-check all data to ensure that the algorithm isn’t perpetuating discrimination.
  • Measure and verify: Keep a close eye on applicant data. In particular, watch demographics for:
    • Initial applicants
    • Applicants that progress to screening
    • Screened applicants that go to first interview
    • Interviewed applicants that receive an offer

If your hiring data skews in favor of one group, then you may have a structural DE&I problem.

Establish employee resource groups (ERGs)

DE&I is a collaborative effort. To make your strategy a success, you need the whole team to get involved and commit to building a more inclusive workplace. Equally, you need to gather feedback from your team and help them steer your strategy.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are a great way of doing this. An ERG is a group of employees with similar characteristics or who face the same kinds of professional challenges. There groups can be a vital source of support and membership. They can also provide the HR team with critical feedback on your DE&I progress.

Here’s how to make such a group work:

  • Help each group develop a structure: ERGs may have different levels of formality, depending on the size of the group. Larger groups will have a charter with clear objectives, plus a defined leadership structure. Collaborate with representatives to find an ERG structure that works.
  • Appoint an executive sponsor: ERGs work best when they have some support from senior leadership. An executive sponsor can help by giving in-depth answers to the group’s questions. The sponsor can also speak up on behalf of the ERG during strategy meetings.
  • Collect and collate feedback: These groups can be a vital source of feedback, especially if the members feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Listen to the outcomes of ERG meetings and incorporate this data into your DE&I strategy.
  • Report back with your results: When employees contribute to a consultation group, they do so in the hope of driving positive change. That’s why it’s important to let the group know about the actions you’ve taken based on their feedback. When an ERG drives meaningful change, it helps to legitimize that group.

ERGs are a huge step forward in your DE&I strategy, especially if these groups have committed executive sponsors. But there is still a long way to go in your journey.

Address pay equity issues

It’s illegal to pay people different salaries because of their gender, race, or other protected characteristic. And yet, there is a very pronounced wage gap in this country. For every dollar a white man earns, a Black woman earns $0.63c, while a Latinx woman earns $0.54.

Pay equity is about understanding that this issue is about more than just salary bands. There are structural issues that cause women and minorities to be underpaid, time and time again. Issues such as:

  • Opportunity bias: Professional opportunities can be surprisingly arbitrary. The boss might invite someone to golf because they “look like a golfer”. As a result, that person gets an opportunity to run a project, which eventually leads to a promotion and a raise. DE&I-first companies have to tackle this problem and ensure everyone gets a fair shot at opportunity.
  • Work-life pressures: Social structures outside of the office can have a big impact on overall levels of pay. For example, women often find themselves responsible for the majority of childcare and family care. If employers don’t support their work-life balance, it can lead to long-term career setbacks.
  • Entry barriers: Sometimes, a person might not even join the industry. This often starts in college, where people avoid certain qualifications because they feel that they would be unwelcome in that job. Employers can play a role by reaching out to young people and graduates and offering them a chance to gain some experience.

You can’t have diversity and inclusion without equity. Everyone needs to feel like they are equally valued in the team, which means giving them an equal chance to earn what they deserve.

5. Where to get help on DE&I initiatives

Diversity Equity and Inclusion is a business necessity. Without a top-tier DE&I strategy, you will struggle to attract and retain the people you need to build a great team. 

That's why it's a good idea to call in the experts. At Helios HR, we have over 20 years of experience in helping teams develop a culture that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

Want to get started? Book a no-obligation consultation call today and find out how to launch your next DE&I initiative. 

Download Your DE&I Checklist