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The acronym DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is circulating rapidly across workplaces around the globe. We know DEI is something to strive toward, but do we really understand what it means, or more importantly, how to implement a DEI plan effectively?
Diversity in the workplace implies an organization is made up of people with varying qualities and backgrounds, like religion, age, sex, race, ability, or educational qualifications. Equity means that equal opportunity is provided to all persons, and inclusion is about involving and valuing the opinions and contributions of all employees.
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The benefits of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace are numerous. Aside from the desire to adhere to Canadian laws or build a brand consumers will stand behind, it is well documented that diverse and respectful teams can bring about gains in several business areas such as employee retention and engagement, idea generation, product development, talent acquisition, and so much more.
However, diverse and inclusive environments cannot just be wished into existence. They must be planned for and created with intent and action. In fact, an effective DEI strategy often requires change within several areas of the organization. So, where do you begin?
1. Commit to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
To implement true DEI, commitment to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of the organization must come from the executive and management teams. Send the message you believe your organization is stronger when different values and voices are included in key discussions and decision-making processes. Better yet, form a diverse leadership team.
2. Promote a culture of respect and inclusion
A commitment to DEI means a commitment to all persons, but particularly those who have historically been under-represented or excluded such as Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, people of different faiths, races, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, and women. Employers must train their employees on workplace discrimination and harassment, but they can also create an environment where all persons are able to share their ideas, beliefs, and skills. For example, managers should be trained to make sure staff feel welcome and are being included and recognized for their contributions.
3. Examine and break down barriers
Understand the organization must actively examine and identify barriers within the company that prevent diversity. Many companies accomplish the task by forming a diversity committee to think through the various barriers to DEI and recommend possible solutions. Requesting employee feedback is another useful way to learn what is blocking DEI. Barriers that exist may be systematic, such as policies that need to be re-examined. They could also be in the attitudes or thinking processes of employees, in physical structures or language that is used, or in available supports or education available.
4. Modify your policies and practices
To provide people with equal opportunity within your workplace, many of your current policies and practices may need to be modified. Are your hiring practices fair? Are you welcoming persons from diverse backgrounds or people with disabilities in job postings or on your website? Are you posting jobs on multiple platforms to reach more diverse talent pools? Did you know certain wording in job postings may deter particular groups from applying?
Have you examined your company’s performance management or advancement policies and procedures lately? Do they provide equal opportunity when it comes to rate of pay, overtime, hours of work, holidays, benefits, shift work, discipline, performance evaluations, and advancement opportunities?
Are you flexible when it comes to different religious or spiritual practices? Do you use gender neutral language?
There is a lot to unpack here, so consider it all carefully. There are likely improvements you can make based on barriers you have identified in Step 3 and some of the questions above.
5. Provide accommodation
Organizations must make sure they are upholding their duty to provide reasonable accommodation during all stages of employment to those who require it, upon request. For example, you might allow scheduling flexibility for an employee who needs fulfill family responsibilities like childcare drop off. You might need to provide information in an alternate format for an employee who learns differently to ensure they receive the same information or opportunity as others.
6. Implement ongoing learning
Not only should you train staff members about the principles of DEI, it’s a great idea to provide continuous learning on various diversity initiatives. A key barrier to inclusion or an open and respectful work environment is often a lack of understanding on a topic, or a lack of exposure to a different background. There are many ways to bridge these gaps: learning sessions, interactive workshops, team building sessions, external partnerships, and more. Get creative.
7. Keep the lines of communication open
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are challenging topics that can bring forth strong feelings. It is advisable to provide employees with a safe space to discuss any concerns or questions they may have about company policies, their personal situations, or barriers they are facing with being included or treated fairly. Managers should be accessible to employees for private discussions. Just remember the word privacy is key when it comes to sensitive employee information.
As with any other important endeavour you undertake, implementing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy requires commitment, planning, and sustained effort. Patience and flexibility will also be needed as employees adapt to new information and processes.
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