What was it like the last time you got together with a close group of friends? Likely, you were relaxed and open – contributing to the conversation by sharing your experiences and actively listening as others provided their perspectives. You didn’t worry about your opinions resulting in judgement and you probably generated energy from the experience, rather than feeling depleted from being calculated and guarded. The people around you involved you in the topic and demonstrated appreciation for what you had to say. You would probably say you felt you “belonged”.
This experience can either be present or absent from a workplace and ultimately speaks to the level of inclusivity of the work environment.
To frame it another way, are you able to freely express ideas and opinions at work?
An employees’ ability to answer “yes” to this and other similar questions can help paint the picture of just how inclusive your work environment is.
This last year called for renewed focus and prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). And for good reason. In addition to the compelling social and business cases for DE&I, research continues to show the growing impact that inclusion at work – which includes fostering a strong sense of belonging - has on engagement overall.
Specifically, research released in Newmeasures’ 2021 State of Engagement Report1 found that “belonging” strengthened as a key driver of engagement – moving from the fifth strongest driver in 2019 to tying as the third strongest driver in 2020 (tied with “senior leader vision” and “confidence in leadership”). “Equal Opportunity to Succeed” also emerged as the sixth strongest driver, again speaking to the importance of strengthening DE&I and integrating principles of inclusion into company culture.
Research also shows that inclusive workplaces are six times more likely to be innovative and twice as likely to meet or surpass financial goals2. Employees who feel able to bring their whole selves to work are 42% less likely to plan on leaving for another position within a year2.
Throughout 2020, Newmeasures worked to equip organizations to take data-informed action and implement new structures for measuring DE&I progress through listening strategies. We saw increased requests for DE&I-focused pulse surveys (which enable organizations to track shifts at a regular frequency), as well as requests to add DE&I as a dimension to an existing engagement survey.
Organizations who take a comprehensive approach by evaluating the sum (diversity, equity, and inclusion as a whole) as well as the parts (diversity, equity, and inclusion as individual concepts) can achieve the transformative outcomes necessary to drive change.
What we learned: 2020 Perceptions of DE&I
Commitment to Diversity
Employees report relatively strong agreement that diversity is important and valued at their organization, but when employees are pressed to respond specifically about their leadership’s commitment to diversity, this agreement is much lower.
This can possibly be attributed to the gap between words and action. Employees might understand that diversity and equity are values of the organization, but they might not see leaders having tangible conversations about this value regularly.
Highest and Lowest Scoring Newmeasures DE&I Items
Higher scoring DE&I items indicate that employees feel treated with respect from coworkers (regardless of background or identity), and they can be themselves in the workplace without fear of judgement or isolation from others.
The lowest scoring item indicates improvement is needed when it comes to policies and programs promoting diversity (e.g., recruitment, training, mentoring). This is likely a lower scoring DE&I item for a couple of reasons. It could be due to the fact that policies and programs are not promoting diversity, or it could simply be due to issues in transparency.
We have worked with many organizations that have taken a detailed approach to partner with experts to construct successful programs that support DE&I, but the communication surrounding how these programs work is lacking. If these programs are in place and do support DE&I, it is critical to educate managers and equip them to have conversations to promote these programs and share what they are doing for underrepresented populations.
Learn more about our DE&I findings, including insights that surfaced in comparing 2019 and 2020 perceptions, in the 2021 State of Engagement Report.
Tips for DE&I Action
At the end of the day, one question remains: where do we go from here?
To help organizations navigate the path forward, check out the best practices and recommendations below, related to key areas of focus that surfaced on DE&I topics . And remember, this is everyone’s responsibility and we are all called to act.
DE&I is central to acquiring talent and to serving your clients - it should be part of your business strategy. Prioritize your path to building a more inclusive environment by encompassing the objective in your organization’s strategic plan and defining metrics for success. Allocate the appropriate resources and ensure high levels of visibility to execute. An important resource is securing executive sponsorship and ongoing collaboration. This signals to employees just how important this is to the organizational mission and will push the organization closer to achieving DE&I objectives.
Consider expanding involvement by asking all senior leaders to consider how they can tie DE&I objectives into their key metrics and meeting agendas as an effort to embed DE&I into the organization’s strategic fabric.
Assess the makeup of your organization and consider gaps in demographic representation. Integrate practices supportive of DE&I into the recruiting process; for example, implement gender-neutral job descriptions and secure partners who specialize in generating a diverse talent pipeline. Ensure representation at all levels of the organization by evaluating your performance management system to verify an equitable approach and regularly review outcomes for accountability.
Implement job shadowing and internal mobility programs that encourage candidates to learn about opportunities and network with those who could provide coaching. Start an internal talent network to track the career aspirations and experience of current employees in order to proactively consider them for future openings.
Environments that invest in the development of their people broadcast the message to all employees that ‘you are valued’ and ‘this is a place where you can grow’. When individuals feel their career aspirations are seen and supported, they feel they belong and are more likely to make impactful contributions. Ensure equitable access to these programs and resources.
Additionally, more targeted than mentorship, sponsorship can also be a valuable tool in promoting growth of high performers and integrating a DE&I lens to your succession planning tactics. Sponsors are leaders with influence who leverage their professional capital to advocate for a particular individual and assist them in achieving their career goals. Consider a sponsorship program that assigns sponsors to those with aligned skills.
Tuition reimbursement programs, an internal curriculum of development courses and access to external training can all be effective development offerings. Furthermore, share the career pathing stories of leaders within the organization to inspire and inform.
Trust is essential to an inclusive environment. Facilitate trust between leaders and employees, as well as between peers, by developing a clear set of company values that prioritize honesty, respect, and compassion. Train leaders to communicate openly – especially when the topic involves decision making or change – and encourage channels of two-way communication. Demonstrate that the topic of inclusiveness is not taboo by asking leaders to create platforms for discussion and share their own experiences. When concerns are raised, address them, thank the employee for raising the issue, and share learnings where appropriate. Foster connection within working groups to strengthen collaboration and belonging.
Hold a team or department focus group and ask for suggestions for building a more inclusive environment, providing opportunities to share both publicly and privately. Take action on areas of focus that emerge to reinforce commitment. Conduct inclusive leadership/management 360 feedback surveys to gauge perceptions and focus in on areas of opportunity.
No single part of the organizational system or employee lifecycle can “fix” DE&I in an organization. It takes a system-approach to build best-in-class DE&I. An employee’s perceptions are impacted and shaped during each phase of the lifecycle – through onboarding, training, promotions, leaves of absence, and, ultimately, their departure. Do not take a unitary approach and think about one part of the system in a vacuum. Evaluate the components holistically to consider if inclusivity is integrated at all points in the system and make improvements where necessary.
Are selection criteria created using sound scientific practices that do not lead to discrimination? Are training courses offered at various times for those operating on a flexible schedule? Does your onboarding program provide an overview of how to access helpful resources so all audiences feel seen from day one (e.g., ergonomic set-ups, benefit offerings, etc.)? Do you have a re-entry program for those returning to work after an extended leave absence? Is inclusion integrated into performance measurement efforts? Are inclusive initiatives considered during job design?
Build a culture of continual feedback and demonstrate gratitude for the perspectives that are shared to reinforce that you want employees to be open. Proactively seek out ideas and opinions from a variety of stakeholders and integrate insights into the decision-making process. Transparently share ideas that are collected to encourage collaboration and communicate how you reached a decision leveraging input, when provided. Provide opportunities for employees to get involved in evolving your culture to be more inclusive.
In addition, remind managers that diversity can sometimes be invisible. When they are seeking out ideas and opinions, some diverse individuals (e.g., neurodiversity) might be overlooked. Intersectionality is also a critical consideration because no individual has the same experience. There are layers of differences that can emerge from gender, culture, race, background, disability, disadvantage, privilege, class, and general experience. Ensure all voices are heard to create strong representation of voice.
Ask managers to map out their process for making key decisions and integrate a step that includes soliciting input from others, ensuring representation. Implement a listening strategy that provides a platform for feedback throughout the year. Set-up channels for ideas specific to building an inclusive environment or implement a task force employees can contact or join.
Affinity Groups or Employee Resource Groups are useful ways to provide employees with similar interests or backgrounds and opportunity to network, locate support, and influence change. However, it’s important to ensure those leading the charge are appropriately compensated for their work on these strategic initiatives (through time and/or money) as well as equipped with the resources (e.g., a budget) needed to take action. Often, underrepresented employees are tasked with leading DE&I initiatives, and this can add a great deal of extra work to their plate! Ensure enough employees and leaders are involved so this load does not fall on underrepresented groups. They need to be involved, but they do not need to carry the burden.
Looking to diversify your talent pool? Want to pilot a new, inclusive benefit or offering? Leverage your internal DE&I networks for recommendations and feedback. Involve representatives from these groups in key decisions related to people and culture.
One of the most important indicators of engagement is whether an individual ‘feels valued’. This same principle is central to feelings of belonging and inclusion. How to achieve this outcome varies as the factors that make each person feel valued can differ – but there are some best practices that commonly help move the needle.
Ensure managers meet with their direct reports on a regular basis to just check in and see how they can help. Provide reward and recognition for key contributions and facilitate team-based and peer-to-peer recognition. Advocate for the work/life balance needs of your team and get to know colleagues’ personal interests. Provide opportunities for growth, development, and learning.
We all require slightly different conditions to take care of ourselves, our families, and to do our best work. What we need can be influenced by our age, health, socio-economic status, gender, and more. The benefits an organization offers speaks to how well they understand the needs of their people and to the perceived value of employee contributions.
Start by ensuring a comprehensive benefits package is in place to address the varying needs of your workforce. Stay up to date on trends to ensure your organization remains competitive and is positioned to attract and retain top talent, while providing a supportive environment. Seek to optimize your benefits offerings to reflect and reinforce the inclusive workplace you are building.
Remember that justice and fairness perceptions are extremely motivating (or demotivating when they are harmed)! Evaluate your processes, programs, and systems to ensure an unbiased and fair approach. Review metrics for accountability and implement plans to address gaps. Communicate the philosophy behind your compensation programs, performance management process, and other systems to ensure transparency in how decisions are made and instill confidence in their fair nature.
Additionally, ensure policies create space for all individuals by examining the language, requirements and how these might impact different populations (e.g., dress code guidelines, flexible work arrangements and paid time off allotments).
Create an annual review period where programs are analyzed and findings are communicated back to employees. Look for opportunities to improve programs year-over-year integrating ideas from your employee base or key stakeholders. Focus on transparency and educate people when it comes to DE&I initiatives within your organization.
Ready to measure DE&I at your organization to take more informed action? Contact Newmeasures.
- Hanscom, M., Buehler, L. Newmeasures’ 2021 State of Engagement Report. (2021). 10.
- Hamill, L. (2019). What An Inclusive Workplace Actually Looks Like, And Seven Ways To Achieve It. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2019/02/04/what-an-inclusive-workplace-actually-looks-like-and-seven-ways-to-achieve-it/?sh=68ef4250316b