People & Leadership

Tips for implementing effective DEI strategies

These days, the workplace is awash with acronyms. Between ESG, ESS, WFH, and TGIF, it’s tough-going to keep up with the lingo. So, let’s introduce another, why don’t we? Please welcome DEI – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

While DEI has been around for years, many organisations are still sorely lacking in their efforts to achieve a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. Some have implemented programmes that are said to eliminate bias, encourage diversity, and promote a culture of inclusivity, and although these much-lauded programmes have their benefit, they often fall short at the implementation phase.

There’s a compelling argument for making it work, however. According to Deloitte, organisations that prioritise DEI are six times more likely to be innovative and anticipate change, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. That’s because DEI increases organisational agility, enhances employee engagement, and improves the employer’s ability to attract and keep talent.

So, how does one go about fostering a true culture of DEI? Can leadership alone solve this problem? The answer, simply, is no.

Break the bias

A recent study from LinkedIn showed that 50% of workers between 18 and 28 had left jobs in tech and IT because the company culture made them feel uneasy or unwelcome. We hear you asking, “In this day and age?”. Sadly, yes. Too many organisations remain indifferent about bias in the workplace, which is the very reason DEI initiatives are now squarely in the spotlight. These organisations are being forced to look at their DEI strategies and find ways to implement them correctly and quickly.

Employing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce is only the first step in the process. Companies must focus on creating a culture that supports their DEI efforts, too. Here are some things that can be done to help:

Say what you do and do what you say.

Communicate what it is that your organisation has done, and plans to do, to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Then walk the talk. If you are committing to considering diverse candidates for roles, providing equal opportunities for advancement, and paying employees equitably, you need policies in place to back that up. Employees will quickly pick up on insincere DEI promises, which can result not only in high staff turnover but also in a sullied reputation.

He called me a …

Prejudicial behaviour in the workplace might not be as simple as name-calling, but it remains rife across organisations and perpetuates as there is seldom any accountability for it. Employees who voice their concerns are often disregarded, which results in even further discomfort for them.

It is essential that an open line of communication exists through which employees can express their concerns without fear of retaliation or marginalisation. Policies addressing the consequences of prejudicial behaviour should also be put in place and policed regularly in an organisation wishing to retain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce.

Here’s what we’re doing…

Be transparent about what you are doing to meet your DEI requirements. It’s essential for all staff to know what the plan of action is, and what it will look like throughout. Be transparent about your progress, as well as your pitfalls. You’d be surprised at how much valuable input you can get from your diverse workforce when you’re honest about where you are.

Get the buy-in.

Leaders must understand why DEI is important and recognise the benefits for their workforce. If senior executives don’t have a thorough understanding of why DEI is important, they may be reluctant to support the policies that foster an inclusive workplace culture. Furthermore, they won’t be able to accurately communicate to employees the sincerity of their efforts.

Educating executives on how DEI can help them reduce staff turnover, make the organisation an attractive place to work, and even encourage innovation, could persuade them to support DEI initiatives.

Programmes and processes for the people

Once you have buy-in from your leadership and staff alike, you need to implement policies, processes, and programmes that support them as they navigate their way through the DEI waters. Here are some of the things you need to consider:

It’s all systems go.

Ensuring that your organisation is ready to implement the required DEI policies is critical. You can have the best intentions, the support of your leadership, and the buy-in of your staff, but if your organisation isn’t primed for change, there’s no way to succeed.

Organisational readiness requires investment in both people and the process of the DEI strategy, as it is not the responsibility of a single person or leader, but rather that of the organisation as a whole.

Over and above organisational readiness and executive commitment, it is essential to measure certain metrics to ensure that you are tracking the impact of your DEI efforts. It’s important to look at:

  • The talent management process. An eye must be kept on critical lagging indicators such as hiring, promotion, advancement, and attrition trends. Doing so will help identify potential emerging/best practices within specific teams.
  • Employee engagement. This is to determine the extent of the workplace culture of inclusion. Analysing data that you have gathered through your HR and payroll tools, as well as your open channels of communication, will help you gain insight into where you need to make changes and how well you are faring in developing a DEI culture.
  • Ongoing training and awareness initiatives. DEI training programmes are designed to bring awareness to issues in the workplace that make achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion difficult, such as unconscious and implicit biases, cultural awareness, stereotyping, and prejudiced behaviour. Immersive training experiences leverage virtual reality to help people experience the behaviours and biases that impact underrepresented populations. By “walking a mile in their shoes”, people can experience discrimination or inappropriate behaviour so they are better equipped to identify bias when they see it.

Back it up with transparent policies.

Transparency into the policies and processes is essential to DEI in the workplace. For example, are the policies for reporting incidents, harassment, or bias clear, understood, and applied consistently, regardless of the offender? Or do employees have to search high and low to learn about these processes?

Let the machines do it.

Investing in technology can help you navigate the ins and outs of your DEI strategy, keep you on track, and alert you when things are amiss.

Many companies are turning to diversity and inclusion software to help their DEI initiatives. Sage offers businesses one such solution: Sage 300 People, an advanced all-in-one payroll, HR and Self-Service software. Through a Sage 300 People HR Equity Management Module, businesses can benefit from a step-by-step guideline for implementing all components of Employment Equity in their companies, develop numerical goals and targets, and print statutory equity reports for the Department of Labour. It assists you in monitoring and evaluating your equity plans against your goals and targets on a dashboard, and offers other features to help you stay on top of your DEI plans.

Explore Sage 300 People

Time to DIY your DEI

Armed with this information, the benefits of creating an inclusive culture and implementing an effective DEI strategy in your organisation should seem obvious. Although it can be a daunting and challenging task for many businesses, it’s important to remember that getting DEI right is a journey of 1,000 steps.

The first step is to get everyone onboard, educate them on how DEI fits into the overall business strategy, and empower them to take ownership of their role in promoting equity and inclusion.

Identify where you’re at on your DEI journey today and use that as your benchmark. Then set specific goals and identify measures you can implement to take you closer to that goal. Along the way, measure your progress and redefine your strategic priorities to ensure relevance.

Supporting your employees with open channels of communication, giving your leadership the requisite immersive training, and investing in effective tools and technologies to track your efforts will certainly set you up for FTW (for the win)!