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How to Create a DEI Policy for Your Workplace [+Template]

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

by Jennifer Kiesewetter - November 9, 2022

HR departments increasingly understand that embracing and advocating for workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) not only drives profits and performance but it attracts top talent while keeping employees engaged. More employers now see that they must decry the ongoing tragedies of racism and inequality in America.

In an often-cited study, McKinsey found that more diverse leadership teams are 25 percent more profitable than companies that don’t prioritize diversity. Meanwhile, HR expert Josh Bersin has found that companies promoting DEI initiatives increase employee engagement 2.6 times while improving retention. And, according to a recent Boston College study, 99 percent of Gen Z respondents said that workplace diversity is important, with 87 percent saying it’s “very important,” showing employers the youngest working generation’s expectations.

CultureAmp recently found that the greatest DEI drivers include:

  • Having a diversity, equity, and inclusion policy
  • Implementing a strategic plan when considering DEI initiatives
  • Using DEI data to make business decisions

Despite this compelling evidence favoring DEI workplace initiatives, employers often struggle with creating and implementing DEI workplace policies. Keep reading to learn more about how to create a DEI policy for your workplace.

Download the free DEI Policy Template

What Is a DEI Policy?

Before jumping into drafting your DEI policy, let’s take a step back for a moment and look specifically at what a DEI policy is. As you know, DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. But let’s break down each one.

  • Diversity refers to including and involving people of different races, ethnicities, ages, sexual orientations, genders, religions, languages abilities, socio-economic statuses and many more characteristics that define that person. Diversity can also mean differences in backgrounds, experiences, thoughts, and opinions.
  • Equity refers to “fair and just practices and policies that ensure that all employees can thrive. Equity is different than equality in that equality implies treating everyone as if their experiences are exactly the same.” 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.
  • Inclusion means ensuring that every team member feels valued, welcomed, and included in your workplace. 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.

A diversity, equity, and inclusion policy is a foundational set of policies and procedures for your organization, stating your commitment to DEI initiatives while establishing complaint procedures for employees regarding discrimination, unfair treatment, and other similar complaints. Additionally, you should address how you’ll continually monitor your DEI policy, make changes when needed, and benchmark your DEI policy’s effectiveness.

Let’s now look specifically at how to turn your good intentions into meaningful (and trackable) actions.

What Should Be Included in a DEI Policy?

Here are four topics to include in your DEI policy:

Define your organizational values and strategic goals.

State your commitment to workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Identify which organizational goals you’d like to achieve through your DEI initiatives, such as increasing representation at leadership levels or providing additional training and education for underrepresented employees.

Address how you’ll implement DEI initiatives into your recruiting practices.

Describe how your organization will implement DEI initiatives into your recruiting, hiring, and onboarding practices. Here are some examples:

  • Describe how you’ll use gender-neutral terminology in your job ads.
  • Strive to recruit an applicant pool, with 25 – 30 percent coming from diverse backgrounds
  • Include diverse leaders in the interview process
  • Conduct standardized interviews, limiting implicit bias when recruiting
  • Train your team on DEI when recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding

Discuss how your professional development programs embrace DEI initiatives.

State how your training, education, and professional development programs include your DEI initiatives. For example, discuss your commitment to growth for all employees. Include mentoring and advocate programs. Build targeted leadership programs. Give managers and leaders tools to develop their teams.

Describe how you’ll implement workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Finally, be transparent in how you’ll implement your workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. For example, describe how you’ll create a culture of inclusivity. Talk about your DEI guiding principles. Emphasize your commitment to continued progress. Discuss how you’ll measure your success.

How to Implement Your DEI Policy

Let’s look more specifically at how to implement your organization’s DEI initiatives.

Get organizational stakeholders involved.

When implementing your DEI policy, be sure to get buy-in from leadership. Participation increases when you have managers and leaders onboard. Further, it’s easier to communicate your organization’s commitment to implementing DEI policies.

Measure where you stand.

It’s challenging to plan where you want to go without knowing where you currently stand. Get feedback from your employees on how your organization currently embraces DEI. Where do they see the need for improvement? How do they want additional support?

Also, examine your recruiting policies. Are your job ads gender-neutral? Do you recruit from underrepresented candidate pools? Are your interviews objective?

Understanding where your organization stands will help you determine where you want to go for DEI success.

Outline Your Goals.

Create a framework for your DEI policy, outlining your goals. Address your organization’s DEI philosophy. Reinforce your commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. Define your DEI goals, across the organization (from recruiting to professional development and everything in between).

Develop an Action Plan

Based on your philosophy and goals, it’s time to develop an action plan. Here are some examples to consider:

  • What efforts are required to achieve your goals?
  • How will you integrate these actions into your ongoing operations?
  • Who will be responsible for implementing these actions?
  • How will you continually communicate these goals (and your progress) to current and future employees?
  • How will you measure your success?

5 Common Challenges Employers Face When Implementing a DEI Policy

Creating a DEI policy is not without its challenges. But knowing what may lie ahead can help you strategically plan.

Here are five common challenges employers face when implementing a DEI policy:

  1. Lack of involvement (or prioritization) from leadership.
  2. Assuming one person can implement the policy. (Hint: This is a team effort).
  3. Limited budget or resources directed towards creating and implementing your DEI policy.
  4. Failing to get consistent feedback from employees.
  5. Not knowing what to measure (or how to measure) progress and success.

Creating and implementing your DEI policy should be a continual work in progress. It’s not a one-and-done task. You’ll need to tweak and improve your DEI policy as you implement, measure, and seek feedback.

Working off a DEI template will also give you insight into what you want to achieve for your organization. Download our DEI policy template today to help you get started.

Want to learn more about how to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace? Take a tour of GoCo today.

Paving the Way For Progress: Tips From Pioneers in DEI

We recently asked 12 DEI experts: “What is one step companies can take to build a culture of DEI in 2023?” Their responses were varied and thought-provoking. Let’s dive in and unpack the various ways employers can go about creating an inviting environment for everyone.

Embed a Systematic Approach to Learn About Differences

Building a DEI culture takes time; it has to be intentional and consistent and employing a systematic approach will help the culture strengthen.

One approach that can be leveraged to create a DEI workplace culture is through spaces to learn. Such intentional space creation hones in on DEI learning objectives for the team or organization to make them more meaningful and relevant to the business.

Use calendar events to highlight diversity celebrations. Creating your learning spaces through calendar events ensures they are top of mind. Make them engaging by bringing people together and having conversations about the events.

Learning about others creates a deeper understanding and appreciation of their differences and it supports a feeling of belonging across the organization.

Simone Sloan, Executive Strategist at Your Choice Coach

Be Mindful of How Your Identity Is Perceived

Building a culture of DEI at work really begins at the individual level. This means everyone, from executives and board members to managers and individual contributors, can make a difference.

A good place to start might be to thoughtfully consider what aspects of your identity might cause you to be unaware of your actions toward others. Consider elements of your identity, such as gender, age, neurodiversity, culture, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and how they shape who you are and how you interact with the world.

Do you often speak up first in meetings? What kind of atmosphere does that create? How can you make room for voices and perspectives that are not usually heard? This kind of individual intentionality can lay the groundwork for better relationships and have a ripple effect of more creative and effective business solutions. This is a mindful journey of enlightenment and support that starts from within.

Deborah Miller, CEO & Founder at PersonaGrata Consulting

Audit Your Company Culture

You can gain an understanding of your company culture by carrying out a detailed audit. I would recommend interviewing your underrepresented employees to have a clear view of what is and isn’t inclusive about your company culture.

Review exit interviews, promotional rates, rewards, and retention across diverse groups; this will highlight what you need to focus on fostering an inclusive and fair organization. Without understanding what to correct, you may end up making changes that are not effective for building a culture of DEI.

Alicia Richardson, Lead DEI Consultant at SyncD

Uncover Possible Internal Issues

In the recent past, most companies have spent millions of dollars because they value creating cultures of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), yet they have seen very few results.

In cultures of belonging, people feel safe, secure, and supported, which decreases turnover and increases productivity and retention. One step a company can take to achieve equity and belonging is to assess its culture by surveying and listening to its team members from marginalized and minoritized communities to determine the gaps. By this, I mean you cannot solve a problem you don’t know you have.

However, when leaders encourage their team to share their concerns, listen and take action to find solutions, they build trust. Once you have recognized the problem and taken steps to solve it, you can track and measure your DEIB progress.

Lyna Nyamwaya, Sr. Education Consultant at Bold Impact Group

Keep Pleasure as a Goal for Collaboration

Sustainable excellence in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is pleasure-centered, even in the workplace. When changing workplace culture, we often hear how this work “takes time.”

However, taking a pleasure-centered approach to DEIB can allow us to develop more positive associations with the new orientations that we have with our colleagues, peers, and leaders.

The beauty of finding and acting from an organizational pleasure center is that your work will not only do good at your organization, but it will also feel good to do work that is authentic to the practitioners and to the learners they lead.

Confronting institutional resistance to change can be as simple as pointing out the many ways we stand to benefit as individuals and as an organization should we focus our priorities on those changes which amplify our collective pleasure. While it may well be true that change takes time, ‌time flies when we are having fun!

Sonia David, President & CEO at Sonia M. David

Practice Inclusion With Regular Workshops

You are what you repeatedly do! To break this cycle, one needs to take time for reflection and discovery, without which conscious change is impossible. Running regular sessions at work on various topics around diversity can help create a culture of safety, where unconscious biases are realized, doubts about intersectionality are cleared, and practices to make inclusion real are developed. Commitment comes from finding your “why,” and these workshops create that space of why it’s important for me to drive inclusion.

Sandra Colhando, Co-Founder at TransforME Learning

Unlock Empathy to Amplify Inclusion

Creating an inclusive workplace culture in this digital age is a major challenge for organizations. For leaders to do this, they have to understand people’s different backgrounds, which goes beyond what we can say in words.

Virtual reality (VR) allows leaders to unlock empathy, so they can build an ethical, collaborative, diverse, and meaningful work environment that supports innovation and growth. VR inspires individuals to think beyond their physical surroundings while simultaneously immersing them in narratives on a level never previously possible; this technology creates a space for a genuine connection unlike any other.

In addition, it has tremendous potential for team building among all members, so everyone feels included, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups such as women or people with disabilities.

Vivian Acquah, Inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate at Amplify DEI

Let Go of Your Ego

Equity work is expansive, nuanced, and personal. None of us have all the answers. To lean in and engage in meaningful and impactful DEI work, we must practice cultural humility, and vulnerability, and be humanity-centered.

We need to listen, engage, accept the truth of multiple realities, and understand that this work needs to be collective and collaborative. Don’t let your ego impede your DEI efforts.

Casey Tonnelly, Anti-Racism Coach & Consultant at Beyond Thinking

Clarify Why You Want to Address DEI and Collect Data

It is important to get clear on why the company wants to address DEI culture in the workplace. What is the desired outcome? Many companies want to take some basic steps to address DEI, but don’t go deep enough to affect organizational change in the entire company.

This is a form of what we often refer to as “simply checking the box.” This oversight often leads to employee turnover, among other issues.

One step to go deeper, to make adjustments that matter, is to collect data to determine the current culture and DEI climate of the company. Measure the data by multiple demographics to get more complete information: by department, age groups, race and ethnic groups, gender, and tenure with the company. Also, be sure to ask questions that address employee engagement and not just satisfaction.

Kim Ellet, President & Certified Professional Coach at The Growth Coach Atlanta

Assess Readiness for DEI Work

Assessing an organization’s readiness and implementing change gradually is key to DEI success. An important dimension of assessing an organization’s DEI readiness is evaluating the leadership team’s commitment and willingness to model inclusive behaviors and set an appropriate tone.

This is the tough part of the process, and any individual leading DEI initiatives should begin by establishing a safe environment, avoiding triggering conversations about race and privilege, and inspiring the team through storytelling and continuous engagement within the safe space.

This is not to diminish the importance of having a target and metrics for DEI work; it is simply to say that there must be an emphasis on having the right foundation that maximizes success, minimizes resistance, and sustains the changes achieved.

Zahra Abdullah, MBA, PCC, Founder at Authentic Leaders

Hire for a Sustainable DEI Culture

One step companies can take to build a culture of DEI is to keep a consultant or hire for an in-house DEI position to help manage and support the company’s DEI performance goals.

The reality is, DEI requires a lens of intentionality that can feel overwhelming if you are also responsible for other important business functions. Having someone with the expertise whose sole responsibility is to progress the company along in reaching its DEI goals is one of the best first steps a company can take to ensure a successful and sustainable DEI culture.

Ciera Ellison, Founder at CiCe Consulting

Practice Compassionate Curiosity

One thing that companies can do to build a culture of DEI at work is to establish and nurture a culture that is integrated with the concept of “Compassionate Curiosity.”

When something seems odd or different from what you would expect of an employee or team member, always remember to practice some compassion and try to get curious. Don’t make assumptions and listen to understand, rather than trying to be understood.

We all just want to be given the grace to be heard and to have been afforded a little benefit of the doubt when we are struggling. We should be allowed to show up, just as we are. A Compassionate Curiosity mindset shift will transform your organization’s culture and help make it an inclusive community of humans.

Khushboo Chabria, Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager at Neurodiversity Pathways

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion FAQs For HR

What Are the Benefits of DEI In the Workplace?

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.

More 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.

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.

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 interested and qualified applicants.

It’s 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.

What Types of Diversity Should HR Consider?

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 the 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 include 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 allow 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.

How Can HR Departments Support DEI In the Workplace?

HR departments should include 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 its 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.

How Can HR Incorporate DEI Into 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 an effort 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

How Can HR Support Anti-Racism?

HR plays a more important role than ever in eliminating racism in the workplace. Consider these 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

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.

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.

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.

Invite employees to weigh in

Whether you start a forum, an anonymous survey, a chat room, or anything else, ask your team:

  • How can we hire more diversity?
  • Are we paying BIPOC fairly?
  • Do all team members have the same growth opportunities?
  • Are we listening?

Review and customize your existing policies

Evaluate all of your policies around anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, compensation, awards and recognition, training, dismissal, dress code, and more. Make sure you understand how to address workplace compliance issues raised by race, protests, and politics.

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.

How Can HR Support the LGBTQ+ Community?

In June of 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 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.

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.

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.

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?

How Can HR Support Women In the Workforce?

Over 860,000 women left the workforce in September of 2020 — 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.

Offer Flexible Work Hours or WFH Options

Flexible options help 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.

Integrate Activities and Mentorship Programs For Women’s 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.

Hold Gender Equality Training

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.

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.

How Can HR Be Mindful of 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.

  • Invite team members to a guided group meditation on zoom.
  • Promote your company’s mental health benefits and your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • Offer reimbursement for mental health applications.
  • Have leaders share their own mental health journeys.
  • Educate your team with statistics on mental health, and break the stigma.
  • 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.

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