Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion In HR

A closer look at DEI best practices in the modern workplace.

by Aimie Ye, SEO Manager @ GoCo - January 27, 2021

While improving diversity, equity and inclusion has been a goal for most HR managers for quite some time, 2020 has presented a major opportunity for change in the workplace. The ongoing tragedies of racism in America were further illuminated this summer — and employees worldwide are engaged in debates and discussions around racial justice.

In efforts to bring about much-needed change and to tackle the pervasive patterns of inequity as a whole, HR pros are wondering how to begin advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations. The role of HR has never been more important, as HR has an obligation and opportunity to lead a revolution within businesses. We’ve created a comprehensive guide to accelerating DEI efforts and equitable hiring in the modern workplace.

Let’s start off with some stats:

  • Approximately 70% of diverse companies are more likely to lead and capture new markets. Capturing new markets means stronger business performance and revenue.
  • 20% of LGBTQ+ Americans have experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the job application process

We could go on and on with the statistics, but the bottom line is this: diverse businesses are more creative, more profitable, and more likely to capture new markets — and we have work to do to better to support DEI in the workplace.

What is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become an increasingly larger focus in the workplace. Employers and HR managers are actively working to create change in spite of historical injustices at work. DEI is a crucial component in a successful organization, and it is created on the belief that all people, regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, and many other factors, can succeed professionally and personally. Let’s break it down.


Diversity is the practice of including and involving people with differences in a specific setting. In the workplace, this translates to including and involving people of different races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, genders, and many more characteristics that define that person


Equity is promoting justice and fairness within all procedures, processes, and distribution of resources within your organization. It ensures that each and every person, or in HR’s case employee, has access to the same opportunities. Equity recognizes the advantages and barriers that exist and are deeply rooted in our society. Acknowledging all that isn’t equal and creating a plan to address imbalances is the basis of equity.


Finally, inclusion is about ensuring that every team member is valued, welcomed, and included in your organization. It refers to how individuals feel as part of a larger group. You can have diversity in the workplace without being inclusive, which results in marginalized identities feeling left out, unincluded or unsupported. Inclusion does not occur naturally with diversity, and is equally as important for HR managers and employers to focus on.

What are the benefits of DEI in the workplace?

  1. Improved Employee Engagement. When your employees feel included in the workplace, regardless of their background and characteristics, they tend to be much more engaged. Higher employee engagement positively impacts overall business profitability, team morale, and retention rate.
  2. Stronger Creativity. With a DEI focused organization, you’re likely to have better luck with new ideas and innovation outcomes. Harvard Business Review discovered that diverse businesses were also the most innovative.
  3. Stronger Profits. In addition to happier employees and more creative ideas, DEI is beneficial to your business results as well. More diverse companies report higher earnings.
  4. Larger talent pool. If your goal is to hire a variety of people from diverse backgrounds, your talent pool widens and you’re much more likely to attract additional interested and qualified applicants.
  5. It’s just the right thing to do. Aside from the other added benefits, accelerating DEI in the workplace is socially responsible, and can be part of how your company lives out and demonstrates its values.

Types of Diversity

While your talent is diverse in nearly every way, here are some frequently mentioned types of diversity in the workplace.

  • Race. Racial diversity means including, involving, and acknowledging people with diverse inherited physical traits. It also means being color-conscious while supporting differences in the workplace. Examples of races are African, Latinx, Caucasian, etc.
  • Ethnicity. Ethnic diversity means including and involving people with a diverse set of traditions, ancestry, language, history, society, and more. Examples of ethnicities are Hispanic, Asian, White, Black/African American, etc.
  • Gender/Sexual Orientation. Diversity in gender and sexual orientation refers to inclusivity and involvement of all variations of gender and sexual orientation, regardless of how one identifies.
  • Age. Age diversity means working with, hiring, and involving people of all ages and generations. For example, GenZers, millennials, GenXers, Baby Boomers, and other generations would coexist in the same workplace.
  • Culture. Cultural diversity is when population differences are represented in the workplace, and includes people with varying practices, values, religions, traditions, and more.
  • Physical Attributes and Abilities. Physical ability diversity aims to represent people with various levels of physical attributes and abilities, including disabled workers. Physical ability diversity should aim to dispel misconceptions about people with different levels of physical abilities and result in a more equitable work environment.
  • Veteran Status. Hiring, including, and fairly treating people regardless of veteran status is also crucial in the workplace. Giving veterans equal opportunity in the workplace results in a more inclusive and productive workplace culture.
  • Education Level. There is a growing and necessary trend to hire people from different educational backgrounds for roles that may have previously been designed for people with a specific education level. Involvement and inclusivity in education levels allows for innovation, creativity, and problem-solving that may not be achievable otherwise.

Diversity in the workplace encompasses far more than just race, gender, and age. In fact, it encompasses more than the list we’ve included above as well. The goal of accelerating diversity in the workplace is to allow individuals to contribute unique experiences, ideas, and stories, regardless of who they are and how they got there.

A strong HR manager includes diversity and inclusion initiatives in their plans and their day-to-day activities. Most successful DEI initiatives include similar best practices, including:

  • Fair treatment of all team members
  • Equal access to opportunity and promoting opportunities for staff and leadership development to ensure a diverse workforce prepared to meet current and future needs
  • Active recruitment and promotion of a diverse workforce reflective of the populations it serves
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • A focus on innovation, creativity, and different perspectives
  • Flexibility and responsiveness at the organizational level
  • Conflict resolution processes that are collaborative
  • Proactive measures to retain a diverse workforce
  • Evidence of leadership’s involvement and commitment to diversity
  • Representation of diversity at all levels of the organization, from C-level executives to specialists
  • Representation of diversity among internal and external stakeholders
  • Diversity education and training

Every organization will differ in their approach to a DEI framework, but these are some strong points to stick by. This framework enables HR managers and employers to evaluate/re-evaluate their current state and plan improvement initiatives.

You know the work needs to be done, but where do you begin? It can be daunting to take on the task of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workforce when there is a lot to tackle. We’ve broken down a few core categories and have included actionable steps to better support and expand on these goals. Keep in mind that this is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of other things to be done continuously — but this can be a great starting point for re-evaluating and addressing DEI in your workplace.

Review Your Recruitment Procedures

Strong DEI efforts start with recruitment. As an HR professional, you must constantly evaluate your recruitment procedures to ensure not only that potential candidates are provided equal opportunities, but also that you are looking in diverse places for new teammates.

  • Adjust recruitment procedures to provide expanded access to ethnic minorities in efforts to reflect the ethnic composition of your customers
  • Adjust recruitment procedures to provide expanded access for applicants of different age groups. This could include physical job boards, online job bulletins, community centers, and more.
  • Implement bias interrupters in your hiring policies to ensure that BIPOC, LGBTQ+, etc. will not suffer from discrimination in your company
  • Revise job listings to remove discouraging language
  • Use software instead of people where it makes sense to screen applicants
  • Reduce hiring from referrals and word of mouth
  • Utilize a static set of interview questions and ensure they are free of nuances that only certain interviewees will understand
  • Ask applicants to omit names and schools from resumes
  • Take thorough notes during interviews so you have information, instead of impressions to go by

Read more about reviewing existing recruitment procedures in our guide on How HR Can Support BIPOC in 2020.

Support Anti-Racism & Color-Consciousness

HR plays an important role in eliminating racism in the workplace, this year more than ever. In the wake of COVID-19 and the ongoing tragedy of racism and the murder of black people, HR professionals are in the spotlight like never before. Racism and discrimination are still happening in the workplace, even in 2020. Here are some sobering facts:

  • 43% of Americans have seen or experienced racism at work
  • Black individuals specifically are twice as likely to be unemployed, and earn nearly 25% less than white peers
  • Hiring discrimination against Black Americans hasn’t improved in more than 25 years
  • Companies with diverse leadership are 33% more likely to see above-average profits

For a more detailed look at these stats, check out our Infographic on HR’s Role in Supporting Black Lives and Anti-Racism.

Change starts in the workplace and can shape the future of inclusion, representation and upward mobility for BIPOC and other under-represented populations for generations to come.

Here are some actionable steps you can take to make a difference.

  1. Involve leadership. Provide leadership with statistics on why diversity makes good business sense, and be ready to demonstrate that your employees need to hear an anti-racist stance from executives.
  2. Open up a dialogue. Whether it’s a dialogue on why Black Lives Matter or a dialogue on anti-racism in general, open conversations on what your organization, leadership, and employees can do to better support initiatives. Demonstrate that you understand white supremacy culture is predominant in America, and that you take decisive action to combat it.
  3. Invite employees to weigh in. Whether you start a forum, an anonymous survey, a chat room, or anything else, ask your team:

    1. How can we hire more diversity?
    2. Are we paying BIPOC fairly?
    3. Do all team members have the same growth opportunities?
    4. Are we listening?

    Modern HR technology like GoCo can help streamline your employee survey workflows so you can focus on high-value initiatives and change.

  4. Review and customize your existing policies. Policies must change as your organization changes. Evaluate all of your policies around anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, compensation, awards and recognition, training, dismissal, dress code, and more. GoCo’s HR Support Center can help you review workplace policies to better support anti-discrimination and anti-racism efforts. Additionally, make sure you understand how to address workplace compliance issues raised by race, protests, and politics. Download the full guide here.
  5. Be color-conscious. From hiring new talent to inclusion efforts and maintaining employee relationships, HR needs to be color-conscious in order to effectively lead strategies to support racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity at work. Read our full article on why racial colorblindness hurts your employees.

Learn more about actionable tips for supporting BIPOC and Anti-discrimination in the workplace.

Support the LGBTQ+ Community

In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sex and gender orientation. Whereas previously Title VII of the act did not explicitly include “sexual orientation” in its terms, the High Court’s ruling provided clarity that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

This ruling came as a significant victory for the LGBTQ+ community, and it protects gay, lesbian, and transgender workers from being discriminated against. What does this mean for HR, and how can you continue to support DEI in the LGBTQ+ community? Here are some considerations and actionable steps.

  1. Review your employee handbook. Make sure that your handbook is not only compliant with changing laws, but also reflects your cultural values of inclusion to protect your employees. With HR software like GoCo, you can easily update or add new employee handbooks, and send out e-documents within minutes for acknowledgement.
  2. Re-evaluate employee policies. Similar to your handbook, ensure that employee policies encourage team members to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Look back at policies that may disenfranchise people, including dress code and anti-harassment policies. GoCo’s HR Support Center also provides on-demand help from certified HR pros to help you ensure your policies are inclusive.
  3. Update your DEI mission statement. It’s a great time to review and update your organization’s DEI mission statement, or craft a statement if you don’t already have one. Enable new hires and existing employees to understand how important inclusivity is to the company, from gender/sexual orientation to race. Ensure that your policies accommodate the needs of trans and non-binary persons as well. Ask questions like: Have we considered adding a unisex option for the bathroom? Are we using preferred pronouns and names? HR software like GoCo makes it easy for employees to select their preferred pronouns and names they are most comfortable with.

For a full list of considerations and ways to support your LGBTQ+ candidates and employees, read our guide here.

Give Parents a Hand

DEI means providing equal opportunity and being understanding of working parents as well! When schools across America sent kids home this year, parents began pulling overtime at home and in the workplace. HR departments have a unique opportunity to strengthen the workplace culture, particularly for parents struggling to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Here are a few ways you can better support your working parents:

  • Empathize. Let your employees know they are more to your business than just a means to an end. Give them space to explain their struggles and to accommodate them.
  • Allow for flexible work schedules. Flexible work has taken on a whole new meaning this year, and this could be a game-changer for parents. If it makes sense for you and your employee, allow them to work earlier or later hours, or even work a compressed schedule. Using a set number of hours for a workweek is an antiquated way of measuring productivity. Set realistic KPIs and objectives to continue to measure outcomes without forcing employees to work a specific schedule.
  • Stay on top of local school regulations through COVID-19. Employers who are aware of local updates can help reduce employee stress around the current state of education.
  • Ask employees what they need from their employer. Not all parents will benefit from a cookie-cutter support system, so ask parents what they need to be successful. Some employees may need help with acquiring learning supplies, while others may need help with equipment. Invite employees to voice their concerns to find the best solution possible.

Companies and HR departments should recognize that offering parents support in tough times contributes to stronger DEI, better performance, and happier employees. Review the full guide on How HR Can Support Parents during COVID-19 here.

Stop Women from Leaving Your Workforce

Over 860,000 women left the workforce in September of this year — a number 4x the rate of men who left the workforce. Gender DEI initiatives should be equally as important as others on your list. Particularly in 2020 with the coronavirus in full force, the persistent wage gap makes it an “obvious” choice on which person should bow out of the workforce. Additionally, the stereotypes that women should be primary caregivers remain present in today’s society.

Women leaving the workforce is a crisis for your business and for DEI because it impacts everyone. Having more women in the workforce directly correlates with higher employee engagement, retention, and stronger financial results. Here are some tips for retaining women in your workforce.

  1. Offer flexible work hours or WFH options. Offering flexible options helps your female employees maintain a healthy work-home balance, even if they are taking on household responsibilities. If your employees prefer working early mornings, weekends, or evenings, see what you can do to help.
  2. Integrate activities and mentorship programs for women empowerment. Let female employees know they’re respected and heard. Review your leadership and development programs to make sure that women are provided equal opportunities for growth and learning as men.
  3. Hold mandatory gender equality training in the workplace. Sexism and discrimination continue to run rampant in the office — women and minorities in your workforce may be discouraged to stay. Make sure to hold mandatory training for respect in the office. Microaggressions like interrupting someone when they speak or even sexist jokes can add up to an unproductive and frustrating work environment for women.
  4. Close the gender pay gap. Women earn about 80% of what men make in the same age groups and positions. Review your compensation packages and make sure your female workers are offered the same salary as males.

HR managers should recognize that providing better resources, DEI support, and empathy for women is necessary for a stronger future. See the full list of tips and stop women from leaving your workforce.

Honor Mental Health

Nearly 80% of people living with mental illness have felt negatively impacted by the current pandemic. Additionally, 40% of U.S. adults recently reported struggling with mental health or substance use, according to the CDC. Supporting employee mental health is crucial for accelerated DEI in your organization. Here are some ways to celebrate and support mental health this year.

  1. Invite team members to a guided group meditation on zoom.
  2. Promote your company’s mental health benefits and your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  3. Offer reimbursement for mental health applications.
  4. Have leaders share their own mental health journeys.
  5. Educate your team with statistics on mental health, and break the stigma.
  6. Listen to your employees by creating a space or chat for your team to share experiences.

Your team’s overall efforts around positive mental health are important for diversity and employee happiness. Working remotely can leave your employees feeling more lonely and helpless than before.

Read HR’s guide to honoring mental health here.


If you’ve taken away only one thing from this guide, we hope it’s the fact that diversity, equity & inclusion efforts come in many different forms, all of which can be beneficial to your workplace and your bottomline. It simply isn’t enough to be passive. Your incredible workforce is filled with people from all walks of life — people of different generations, genders, sexual orientation, race & ethnicities, backgrounds, and struggles. But that is precisely what makes your organization special, productive, and happy. HR is tasked with the continuous job of evaluating and re-evaluating company norms, imbalances, guidelines, policies, and attitudes to ensure that every individual is included and involved. While this guide certainly doesn’t cover every initiative in a DEI framework, it is a great starting point for doing better in your organization.

If you are ready to take your DEI efforts to the next level, GoCo is here to help. Our HR Support Center includes on-demand access to support from certified HR professionals to help you with anything from policy and job description customization to harassment training. You can access training videos, guides, checklists, legislation updates and more at the click of a button.

Additionally, GoCo’s Magic Docs feature makes it easy to update existing policies, add custom fields for e-signatures, and send out company-wide updates to your employees to notify them. See how GoCo can help today!

See how GoCo can simplify your HR