Leks Drakos is a content writer for Process Street, based in Kent, UK. He has a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Kent, and has been published in magazines like Alliterati, INK, and Friction.
While the concepts of DEIA may seem very similar, it’s important to be aware of the subtle differences between each term. For example, it is entirely possible to be a diverse and accessible organization, without being inclusive.
To start, I’m going to outline what each term means and how they differ from each other. Then I’ll look at some effective ways you can make your workplace a safer and more welcoming environment, not just for your employees, but for your customers as well.
In the workplace, diversity involves hiring a wide range of diverse candidates. While it’s good to ensure you have multicultural employees, you also need to have diversity across the spectrum: age, gender, sexuality, language, ethnicity, race, and so on.
Hiring diversely isn’t the be-all and end-all, though. Once hired, you need to make sure your employees have a culture that recognizes and appreciates their diversity. There’s still a lot of stigma attached to “diversity hires,” which prevents them from advancing as quickly. Coworkers may see them as less qualified and only hired as a “box-checking exercise.”
Equity is often confused with equality, and, again, they sound similar, but have a key difference. Where equality is about offering everyone equal opportunities, equity is about leveling the playing field.
To reference a rather exemplary graphic on equity, three people of the same height are standing on a sloped platform trying to see over a fence. The first person is on even ground, allowing them to see easily. Because of the slope, the second person is slightly lower, causing them to struggle to see. The person at the end of the slope can’t see over the fence at all and requires an extra platform to bring them up to the same position as the others.
This is equity. It’s recognizing that not everyone has the same starting point, and sometimes it’s not enough to say everyone has the same opportunity; action must be taken to facilitate that.
Inclusion is the next step. An inclusive environment means that all of your employees feel valued and accepted without having to conform to a particular standard.
For example, changing dress code requirements so Black people aren’t restricted from natural hairstyles, or adding a wider array of religious holidays to the company calendar, and specifying pronouns in email signatures are all examples of creating an inclusive environment.
An accessible environment means that all of your employees can access your company’s facilities. You may think of ramps, automatic doors, and Braille signage when it comes to accessibility, but those are only the most obvious solutions.
You also need to take into consideration invisible or non-physical barriers your employees might face.
For example, an employee with Autism may struggle with sensory overstimulation in crowded, busy offices. Is the font used in written communication readable for those with dyslexia? Are meeting materials distributed in advance so employees can read and process them at their own pace?
All of these things impact accessibility.
Why it matters
To truly benefit your workforce, and the people you serve, you need to address every aspect of DEIA. Diversity is nice, but if those employees don’t feel able to participate, or aren’t able to access the same opportunities, your company is not only failing its potential but failing its people.
Implementing a DEIA strategy can feel like a monumental undertaking - and if you try to tackle everything at once, it certainly will be. Keep in mind while you’re developing these new policies that it’s okay to start small.
Look at your immediate concerns and how to solve those first. What are the needs of your current staff and are you meeting them? How do your customers feel about your responses to their issues?
DEIA strategies you need
Bias is a normal part of how we perceive and process the world. This can be either positive or negative; we’re more willing to forgive someone we have a positive feeling toward than a stranger or someone we don’t agree with, for example.
While we may be aware of some of our biases, a large number of them will be things we think or believe unconsciously. To change your company culture for the better, though, you need to examine the biases you hold and acknowledge them before you can start correcting them.
Designate a committee
Creating a specific committee or task force to implement DEIA procedures is a good idea for several reasons, but most importantly, it doesn’t add extra pressure to employees with an already full workload.
Second, this allows the committee to specialize. They can devote their whole focus to improving company policies and cultivating a more inclusive environment for everyone. It also provides a contact point for employees experiencing problems with discrimination or accessibility who may not feel comfortable speaking to their manager or HR.
In setting up your committee, you do need to make sure that it is diverse, inclusive, and accessible, as well.
Effective mentor programs are beneficial to all employees, but studies have shown that they are particularly helpful in boosting retention and representation of marginalized groups by up to 24% compared to lower results from diversity training alone.
Mentees overall report greater confidence, job satisfaction, and positive feelings towards their company. Having a mentor guarantees the employee has someone in their corner willing to advocate for them, which can be vitally important to marginalized groups.
With a mentor who understands their individual needs and challenges, employees feel more secure and comfortable in their positions within the organization, particularly if their managers aren’t familiar with the complexities of their experience.
Diversify your hiring practices
The first thing to do is include diversity in your company materials. In company pictures, promotional materials, job advertisements, show the diverseness of your workforce. This will show marginalized applicants that your organization is a welcoming and safe space, increasing the likelihood they will apply.
Second: evaluate the wording of your job postings.
- Look out for gender-coded words that may indicate a role is more suited to a particular gender.
- Remove nonessential requirements and generalize areas where training is provided.
- Eliminate loaded words like “young,” “athletic,” or “recently retired.”
- Re-think requirements like “native English-speaker,” “require own vehicle,” or “able-bodied.”
- Highlight benefits like flexible work practices, health insurance, or parental leave.
- Make your communication clear, simple, and readable.
Finally, switch to blind applications. This practice helps you evaluate a candidate’s skills and experience without the added bias of assumptions you might make based on a person’s name, age, or even the school they attended.
At Process Street, during our weekly marketing meeting, we always have a “kudos” section. This is a space for everyone to recognize and appreciate great work from our colleagues. This empowers all of us to take an active role in our colleagues’ success and removes the hierarchy of performance feedback.
Since this happens during a regular meeting, we also have a record of who’s being recognized and why, which can be used to highlight whether some people are being overlooked more than others. For example, if the male writers are constantly receiving kudos, but the female writers aren’t mentioned for the same accomplishments, leadership can quickly address this.
This sort of linear recognition strategy also creates a more supportive company culture. We each know who is excelling in a particular area, who may be struggling, and who is learning a new skill so we can help each other in the best way possible.
It enhances the whole team.
Ask, learn, and evolve
Ask experts for advice. Ask your employees what they need. Accept that you will make mistakes. No one is perfect, and there will always be things that don’t occur to you because they’re outside your experience.
This is why communication is so necessary. Communicate with your leadership and communicate with your team. It’s only through open and honest communication that positive change can happen.
Finally, realize there is no “end goal” here. You will never be finished trying to make your organization more accessible, more inclusive, more equitable, and more diverse. Innovations will pop up that should be implemented; new barriers and factors will be brought to your attention.
Be flexible and be adaptable. Be open to making changes, and instill in your leadership the positive results of these changes. As with anything, creating a specific culture in an organization has to come from the top down.
Once you’ve taken the first steps to create an environment that embraces the DEIA principles, though, maintaining and improving it will only become easier. As a result, your company will become stronger, more innovative, and more productive.