Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Workplace: Where Do I Even Start?

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As leaders within your workplace, it’s hard not to hear about DEI initiatives on a daily basis. You’re probably asking yourself, “What value would diversity, equity and inclusion bring to my company?”  

It’s a great question. Many assume that in order to be considered a DEI-friendly company, you need to hire and promote individuals of a different race, gender, religion, etc. While to some degree this is true, let’s unpeel what we’re ultimately talking about a bit further.  

First and foremost, a focus on diversity within companies is really about bringing in diversity of thought – or in other terms, global thinking. It brings different experiences and thought processes that can assist companies to be more creative, courageous, strategic and actionable. For a company to stay relevant and ahead of the competition, it is vital for them to introduce diverse thinking to encourage innovation, and having a diverse workforce is one of the fastest ways to do that (stats below).  

Let’s think about this from another lens. We all were raised with our own DNA and our own set of “parental values”.  Those values and how we make decisions, what we want to champion, how we engage with others, etc. were formed throughout our childhood. So, we all bring somewhat of a diverse outlook as a starting point into our workplaces. 

The “same” part is we all tend to be similar in the lifestyle and region of which we were raised, which over time creates a need for fresh, relevant content. As our world becomes more global, so should our thinking when bringing in talent from other countries, different genders, religions, etc. to enhance and diversify our overall lens on business. 

Diversity and attracting diverse talent are a very important part of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy. However, there are still barriers that diverse talent can experience with efforts to equity and inclusion. No matter where you are in your understanding of DEI, it’s important that we briefly review what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a term used to describe programs, policies, language and communication that encourage representation and participation from diverse groups of people, including people of different genders, races/ethnicities, abilities and disabilities, religions, cultures, ages, and sexual orientations. This also includes people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills, and expertise, for one example veterans. DEI was expanded from D&I “diversity and inclusion” to encourage companies to put an emphasis on creating a belonging environment and reflect a growing focus on equity. Research has found that having diverse viewpoints at all levels of an company improves financial results, organizational and team performance, innovation and other areas of the business.

Like any business strategy, a DEI strategy needs to have a set of performance goals, indicators and responsibilities for everyone involved. A realistic timeline of check-ins and analysis of the strategy needs to be set in place as well. Investment is needed for DEI training, DEI facilitator/director, DEI committees, etc. Company performance needs to consider employee’s engagement, retention, satisfaction, and employee participation in decision-making. There is direct correlation between these metrics. Referencing the article How to Measure the Business Value of Diversity & Inclusion by Rebecca Schulte states “According to McKinsey & Company’s 2018 Delivering through Diversity report, stated companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability. Additionally, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.”

Changing Demographics in the Workforce

Attracting and retaining talent has been an economic challenge for quite some time now and COVID has only created more employment challenges. According to EMSI’s recent economic report, The Demographic Drought, the U.S. will face a deficit of six million workers and 85 million jobs will go unfilled. One reason for this is due to lack of population growth – the fertility rate in America has been below the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman since 1971. Additionally, Baby Boomers who shaped and designed our current workforce norms and who created a prosperous economy are retiring and leaving the workforce at exponential rates.

The workforce is also changing. Millennials are defined as being born between 1981 and 1996 and represent America’s largest generation. Millennials also currently represent the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. With Generation Z starting just after 1996, with the oldest Gen Z-ers being 25, they are on track to being the most diverse and educated generation yet. Generation X-ers were born between 1965 and 1980. As more Baby Boomers leave the workforce, with over three million boomers retiring in 2020, in comparison to the average two million in years prior, companies will need to shift their talent attraction efforts and strategy. Not only is it vital that companies create a customized DEI strategy, but companies will also need to update their overall hiring processes.

Steps to Obtaining Diverse Talent

The first step within your DEI journey is to create a mission statement, purpose statement, and goals with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. A good way of understanding your current company is to first conduct a workforce audit by looking at who is currently absent from your workforce, boards and volunteers, and partner with organizations who can recruit and reach that diverse talent.

Once you identify what is missing and begin hiring talent utilizing your DEI strategy, it will also be important to identify key people who can act as allies and/or “diverse thinking champions” who can help recruit and mentor diverse leaders. Leadership acting as allies in workplace communities is a key part of an overall DEI strategy.  

Leaders can act as allies by not only acting as mentors but can also confront discriminatory behavior when noticing it, whether it is targeted to a specific employee or just said in a general setting. Leaders can prioritize creating an inclusive organizational climate, by creating inclusive policies and using inclusive language. This will encourage inclusivity throughout the organization.

This will further lessen feelings diverse talent can have of being marginalized. This will allow diverse talent to thrive because they will spend less energy monitoring their emotions and putting both their passion and creativity into your company. This is an equitable approach versus equality approach because it suggests that organizations create ally/advocacy groups and strategy dependent on the specific group targeted. Inclusive policies and language, as well as, leadership acting as allies, can be strategies for all diversity groups but need to be specific and explicit to each group.

Ready? Your next critical step is to fiscally plan and INVEST in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ideally this would include not only creating a DEI plan, but also identifying a team to help champion and support these efforts. One of the key drivers of a successful DEI strategy is accountability. If leadership hasn’t bought in, it will not work.

Inclusive environments foster innovation and allow all employees to thrive. Creating a comprehensive DEI strategy is not only supported by research but will make sure that your company will not only survive but thrive both current and future economic challenges. We are here to help. Tap into our resources for a step-by-step talent plan along with a curriculum built for inclusion. ERG is excited to bring this new initiative forward to help all companies grow!


Lorissa R. Bañuelos serves as the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director for Employment Resource Group, Inc. (ERG), an executive search firm based in Appleton, Wisconsin. At ERG, Bañuelos works collaboratively with companies to develop and integrate DEI strategies, initiatives, programing, and practices. Through teaching, research/discovery and advocacy, Lorissa assists companies to better understand global perspective.

Prior to ERG, Lorissa served as Marketing Manager/Community DEI Liaison for the Greater Green Bay Chamber, where she played an integral role in promoting the economic development efforts of the Chamber, as well as championing DEI best practices and strategy to members throughout Greater Green Bay. Bañuelos is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, with a degree in Business Administration.  


Email: lorissa@ergsearch.com
Phone: 920.996.9700
Connect with Lorissa on LinkedIn

The Demographic Drought: How the Approaching Sansdemic Will Transform the Labor Market for the Rest of Our Lives | READ MORE
How to Measure the Business Value of Diversity & Inclusion | Rebecca Schulte | READ MORE
Delivering through Diversity | McKinsey & Company (2018) | READ MORE
Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins | READ MORE
Confronting Subtle Workplace Mistreatment: The Importance of Leaders as Allies | READ MORE

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