Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 101: How to Make a Difference

Creating a supportive workplace for all employees is both a critical and sensitive topic. We’ve identified a few best practices that engage participants and deliver real results.

We firmly believe that every leader—from the very top of the organization to the first-time manager—must strive to create a welcoming and supportive workplaces for all employees. DEI is comprised of three elements:

  • Diversity of people and perspectives. Often, this comes down to hiring/promotion practices, and can sometimes be referred to as a “pipeline problem” (i.e. “We don’t get enough female applicants), when really, it’s a failure to build the right pipeline (i.e. a degree from Stanford, MIT, or Harvard isn’t a “skill”). What skills are you actually looking to acquire by hiring from those universities? Do those skills really not exist in people from other backgrounds?
  • Equity in policy, practice, and position. This involves taking a look at the systems in place and evaluating whether they’re biased towards a certain type of individual. For instance, if you’re grading employees on a scale of 1-10, you might not have realized that “10” is associated with genius and exceptional talent—which, according to research, activates a bias in favor of men. If you were to switch to a scale of 1-6, “6” doesn’t have the same connotations as “10”, which reduces the bias.
  • Inclusion via voice, power, and culture. This can span a lot of areas—for example, feeling more included at work because there’s someone in leadership that looks like you—but you can start with simple practices that increase psychological safety on your team. Check-ins, project pre-mortems and blameless retrospectives, and “skateboarding” all help create a culture in which people feel they can take a risk (whether that’s sharing a new idea or bad news) without fear of judgement.

Best Practices for DEI Change Pilots

While we’re definitely not claiming to have all the answers, we’ve found the following tactics increase DEI change pilots’ success:

  • Be proactive. Often, underrepresented minorities feel they have a limit to the amount of social capital they can spend (e.g., “I found it difficult to ask for a raise, because I felt like I had already asked for so much”). That risk can be diminished when they’re explicitly asked or expected to contribute, or to provide a MVP, for instance—so actively seek out input, rather than waiting for it to come to you.
  • Avoid DIY Equality. At the same time, be careful about promoting concepts like “leaning in” and affinity groups led by underrepresented minorities, which puts the pressure on the wrong group to make change. It can turn into a lot of unpaid extracurricular work that doesn’t always result in any formal (or even informal) reward.
  • Tap into managers. As the ones making hiring and promotion decisions and testing new ways of working, leaders model inclusion (or not). Tracking down and cultivating champions among managers is key to increasing DEI.
  • Measure impact, not activity. Rather than making goals like “spin up six employee resources groups,” set goals around what impact you want to make, like “interview a 50/50 split of women to men for next leadership role.”
    • Are there diversity issues to address? → “We need more of X in leadership.”
    • Are there business challenges to address? → “We need more innovation in our products” OR “We need to match the composition of our customers internally.”
  • Don’t get lost in legislation and training. The most effective programs spark engagement rather than requiring participation. Encourage cross-functional collaboration that increases contact with women and minorities, and tap into people’s desire to look good to others.

To learn more, watch this webinar about encouraging deep diversity within your organization from Kim Perkins, NOBL’s resident Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology.

Published August 12, 2019