Ultimate guide to diversity, equity inclusion, and belonging in the workplace
Creating a company culture where diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is infused throughout is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s essential to business success and employee affinity. In fact, in a racial justice and equity survey
Benevity conducted in 2021, 83% of people said they wanted their employer to prioritize addressing racial injustice.
And in a McKinsey & Company survey, 51% had quit their jobs because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.
This shift toward DEIB — along with the impact of COVID-19 — has changed the way corporate social responsibility (CSR) leaders run their programs.
They’re looking for ways to build a stronger connection between their companies’ DEIB initiatives and their CSR activities.
So, here’s a guide to help you better understand DEIB and how you can start taking action.
What is diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB)?
You may know it as DEI, EDI or even DEIJ (the J stands for justice). But since we’re talking about DEIB, it’s important to understand what each element in the acronym stands for so we don’t dilute the meaning.
Let’s start with some definitions:
- Diversity is all about what makes people unique. It covers differences in race, social identity, gender identity and expression, neurodiversity, abilities, ways of thinking, communication styles and more.
- Equity recognizes that because each individual has a different set of circumstances, they should be provided with specific support. The goal is to enable everyone to have equal outcomes. (Not to be confused with equality, which means each individual or group is given the same resources or opportunities.)
- Inclusion addresses people’s differences and informs the way you create policies and practices. It also means listening to diverse perspectives.
- Belonging is the feeling of security and support someone has when there’s a sense of acceptance and inclusion in a group. It’s when an individual can bring their authentic self to work. Belonging is the result of inclusion efforts.
What's the difference between DEIB and CSR?
DEIB initiatives have historically focused on companies’ internal operations.
They’ve included things like policies and procedures, employee resource groups, and events to engage people in important topics around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Driving these initiatives forward has typically been taken on by the HR/people/culture team.
CSR, on the other hand, has focused more on companies’ external social impact. It’s included helping employees or the company give, volunteer or benefit the community in other ways.
These programs have usually been run by a CSR team or even corporate communications.
However, the line between these two functions is beginning to blur, and more companies are seeing benefits from having them work together.
How is DEIB evolving in the workplace?
It’s no surprise that companies are being challenged to be more intentional about their DEIB strategies, both internally and externally.
Traditionally, and even today, many DEIB efforts have been primarily for show or to fix issues as a Band-Aid solution.
Now, companies are being encouraged to think more holistically — organization-wide and more deeply to include their policies, systems, products and services.
It’s less about quotas (“let’s hire five women”) and more about the employee experience (“what is it like to be a woman at this company?”).
This means looking at how you’re recruiting candidates, how long they’re staying, who’s being promoted and what systems you have in place to help all people thrive.
DEIB applies to those you serve as well, including customers and even the causes you support. Are your products inclusive? Does your marketing accurately represent our world?
See how Blend, a leader in cloud banking software, implements diversity, equity and inclusion to impact consumer banking.
- What are the benefits of DEIB in the workplace?
DEIB benefits companies and their employees in various ways, from being a lever in the scramble for talent to helping people feel a sense of purpose at work. It’s also the right thing to do. It levels the playing field with intentionality to include historically excluded groups. Consider some of the primary benefits:
- Bigger talent pool
When your recruitment strategies consider diversity, you’ll naturally create a broader talent pool. And the more options you have, the better the candidates you’ll find!
- Increased employee engagement and trust
Employees want to see themselves reflected throughout their organization — in their leaders, mid-level managers and junior employees. When you have a diverse team who strives to create a culture where everyone belongs, people will feel a sense of connection and trust, and they will be more engaged at work.
- More innovation
Often, the things you’re doing now aren’t what will be needed to keep your organization moving forward. Although homogeneous teams may feel easier and more effective, multiple studies show that diverse teams perform better because they process information more carefully and come up with more creative solutions to problems.
- Better decision-making
Every individual has unique experiences and insights. So, when you’re thinking about marketing campaigns, or you’re creating products and services for a specific target market, gathering input from people in that population is vital for making smarter decisions.
- Boosted sense of purpose
Taking action on DEIB issues can help everyone feel valued for who they are, which leads to an increased sense of purpose and safety at work.
What are some challenges bringing DEIB into the workplace?
While incorporating DEIB into the workplace reaps many benefits, it can present challenges along the way.
Here are two common challenges:
- Getting buy-in
Sometimes a company and its leaders are simply not ready to start their DEIB journey, and it’s likely because they don’t understand why it’s important. Aside from it being the right thing to do, there is tons of data to back up the impact of fostering a diverse workforce where people feel they belong.
Tip: Start building your business case with the latest data and insights from Harvard Business Review and Edelman.
- Resistance to change
Like with other changes in an organization, people may resist new practices because it’s uncomfortable for them. It may also be hard for people to examine their own privileges and biases. They may even see it as a threat to the privileges they receive in the workplace.
Tip: If you experience resistance, it’s a great opportunity to encourage your people to challenge their assumptions and biases and think about the differing experiences their colleagues have at work and out in the world. Also, recognize that each person’s learning journey looks different — but adopting DEIB practices will be much easier when your leadership team is on board.
What is leadership's role in DEIB?
There is no one-size-fits-all model for creating DEIB in the workplace.
But, typically, it needs to start from the top, become infused in the middle and be driven from the bottom up.
At the highest level, your leaders will need to buy into and understand the value of DEIB and be willing to advocate for the work environment they’re creating.
Then, they’ll need to commit to taking action — whether that be empowering and supporting others in working toward specific goals, activity promoting DEIB efforts or demonstrating to employees it matters by getting involved.
Along with that, your leadership team should reflect the diversity they want to see at all levels of the organization. When a leadership team all looks or thinks the same, there can be a disconnect between them — who make the high-level decisions that affect DEIB — and those with marginalized or different identities.
How do you start building a DEIB culture from scratch?
If your company doesn’t already have DEIB built into its culture, start by
- understanding the leadership team’s motivations
- What are their goals for introducing DEIB practices?
- Will DEIB include your products and services?
- Then consider the needs of your people and any gaps in the employee experience.
Understanding this will give you a full picture of all your stakeholders’ needs, how DEIB can benefit your business and where you’ll need to begin.
You’ll also want to start connecting with interested and like-minded employees.
There’s a good chance you already have groups of colleagues who are connecting about certain DEIB topics.
Especially over the past few years, we’ve seen employee resource groups driving change at their organizations and out in the world, and their influence needs to be woven into every aspect of the business.
Want to see this in action? See how GoPro integrates diversity, equity and inclusion throughout their business and creates social impact.
What are some strategies to promote DEIB in the workplace?
Although DEIB must ultimately be company-deep, and it needs buy-in from the top, everyone has a role to play in promoting it.
Here are a few key strategies for infusing DEIB in your organization:
- Review your talent acquisition and retention strategies
Look at your recruitment, hiring, promotion and employee retention practices. Having leadership support that enables you to attract diverse talent can affect many of your DEIB efforts. You’ll want to work with leaders to set goals and determine what resources may be needed to achieve them.
However, attracting diverse talent is not enough. Next, look at how well you’re retaining people. Are you creating an inclusive culture where people want to stick around? If they do stay, are you providing opportunities for them to get promoted? Do they feel valued for their work, and do they have a sense of safety and security in a workplace free of microaggressions?
- Examine your current culture and encourage openness
Companies who are successful on the DEIB front integrate it into their DNA. For them, it’s not an exercise in checking off boxes or filling quotas — DEIB is something they seek to live out every single day.
Are empathy and openness valued at your company? By stripping away our preconceived notions about one another, by cultivating a self-awareness where we each challenge our own biases and by looking at power structures, we can begin to show up for our peers and these initiatives.
To help your people with uncomfortable situations, especially with respect to DEIB issues, here a few questions they can ask themselves:
- Why am I feeling this way?
- Where does that feeling come from?
- Is it real or is it perceived? Is it based on any biases?
- Is this a behavior or thought process I need to unlearn?
- Review how your company operates
Think about how your company shows up in your internal services, in your policies and procedures, and for your external communities. Ask teams across the business questions like:
- Are our products accessible?
- Does our marketing represent the diversity of the real world?
- How might people with various backgrounds and abilities interact with our brand and its products or services?
How do you start having difficult conversations in the workplace?
DEIB conversations can be challenging — both for a company broadly and its employees personally — especially when it’s all new.
So, to get everyone started you absolutely need buy-in from your leadership team.
They have the power to normalize these challenging conversations. When people see their leaders opening up and encouraging others to do the same, they’re more inclined to show up ready to engage.
So, to get everyone started you absolutely need buy-in from your leadership team. They have the power to normalize these challenging conversations.
When people see their leaders opening up and encouraging others to do the same, they’re more inclined to show up ready to engage.
You could start with private conversations at the leadership level.
Then you could consider bringing in a professional to help host discussions, with the goal of normalizing the topics and developing the company’s vision for what talking about DEIB could look like.
Next, leaders could talk about these topics in a company-wide webinar.
Once that foundation is set, you can cascade the conversations throughout the company in a variety of ways.
Part of our journey at Benevity included a series of five table talks hosted by our Black Employee Network in 2020, which was designed to facilitate meaningful dialogue and create space to explore, listen and share reflections while supporting and learning from one another.
They were based around topics like allyship, Black history and the Black experience at work, and we continue to have these conversations.
Based on our learnings, we created a guide on how to foster inclusive spaces to facilitate these important conversations.
Employee resource groups (ERGs) are also an incredible resource when it comes to hosting DEIB conversations.
Watch our Building a Culture of Equity and Inclusion webinar to hear how three purpose-driven companies are empowering their ERGs, creating space to have challenging (yet critical) conversations and fostering equity and inclusion along the way.
How do you ensure your hiring practices promote diversity?
The idea that companies can’t find top talent across many diverse pools is more myth than reality. If your company is having challenges in finding diverse, quality candidates, take a look at where you’re creating talent pipelines and putting your energy.
You can consider partnering with nonprofits or creating referral programs to ensure you have a diverse pool of candidates.
In your talent acquisition strategy, you’ll need to actively target individuals from specific groups — otherwise it will be harder to create a diverse workforce. For example, how are your job descriptions worded?
Benevity did a small experiment where we changed the wording for a role on our technology team. The number of female applicants increased by 20%.
Also, if the recruiters in your networks aren’t connected to diverse groups of people, referrals to your talent pools will be fewer and more homogeneous.
How do you keep DEIB as a focus and not as a passing fad?
One key way you can keep up the momentum of DEIB while managing other priorities is by working with a third-party organization who can help you set goals and hold you accountable.
Whatever stage you’re at in developing your DEIB strategy, they’ll work with you to create a plan that’s both impactful and achievable.
Internally, you can find ways to embed DEIB into the business.
Benevity recently appointed our first VP, Inclusion and Impact to help create and maintain our DEIB strategy, support our employee resource groups and more.
Watch this video for more insights from Jerome Tennille, Manager Social Impact and Volunteerism with Marriott International, who suggests working with third-party organizations to meet your goals and stay accountable.
How will DEIB and CSR work together going forward?
While we can’t predict the future, one thing seems sure: CSR and DEIB will continue to evolve together.
Both serve to make an impact, and we’re already seeing how they can complement each other strategically.
For example, your CSR team can support your company’s DEIB goals through community partnerships.
The causes your company chooses to support will matter, as will partnering with community-based organizations to help diversify your talent pipeline.
Conversely, many ERGs will already have a DEIB focus and will have established community relationships. CSR teams can tap into those relationships to help work toward their own goals.
Want more ideas? Download this guide to see how you can use your CSR program as a DEIB catalyst.
Then, listen to or read about Alliant’s social impact strategy and how their program manager sees DEIB in the future.
A few final words
Once again, the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2022 shows that companies are the most trusted organizations, and people look to their employers to speak out on societal issues and help them make an impact.
Embedding DEIB into your corporate culture is one of the best ways to step up and help make a difference — benefiting not just your people, but society and your business.