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Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace

28 Jul
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Workplace diversity has evolved from a buzzword to a strategic necessity for today's businesses. The benefits of an inclusive work environment are extensive and well-researched. However, many leaders don't understand the true value of diverse hiring practices, or they lack the skills to implement effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Read on to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion, including the essential elements needed to create meaningful organizational change that improves business results and employee outcomes.

Promote diversity through DEI initiatives

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are often lumped together into one concept. Although all three ideas are related, they represent distinct values that are worth exploring individually.

DEI Initiatives: Diversity including sexual orientation, gender identity, and more

Diversity refers to who is included in the workplace. There are many dimensions of diversity—race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity are most commonly considered.1 However, committing to diversity in other dimensions such as physical ability, neurodiversity, geographic location, educational background, parental status, spiritual practices, and recreational habits can also be a source of strength for businesses.2

DEI Initiatives: Equity

Equity is about promoting fair treatment, access, and opportunities for all while realizing that people start on unequal footing. For example, do all employees have the same advancement opportunities based on skills and abilities, regardless of individual characteristics? Is disability inclusion taken seriously or brushed aside as too expensive?

Equity issues play out in pay and compensation, promotion practices, childcare benefits, maternity and paternity leave, and mentorship programs, amongst other areas. An organization won’t reap the benefits of diversity without an equally strong commitment to equity.3

At first glance, it’s natural to conflate equality with equity, but that’s a mistake. Equality is treating everyone the same. If a company decides to treat all its interns equally by not paying them, it’s stacking the deck in favor of privileged applicants before even starting to evaluate resumes. Equity is more nuanced and considers a person’s circumstances to promote fair outcomes.4

DEI initiatives: Inclusion

The final element of DEI is inclusion, which refers to valuing and welcoming employees for who they are. Inclusive workplaces give all employees a voice and a sense of community. For example, employers may provide access to programs such as employee resource groups to promote gender diversity and development opportunities in ways that cater to and promote employees' unique strengths.

The benefits of a diverse workforce

Although almost everyone can appreciate the value of fairness for its own sake, companies that succeed in incorporating DEI into their culture are more likely to succeed in the marketplace as well. According to Forbes, diverse companies generate 33% more EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization).5 Diversity and inclusion represent an area where social and financial good overlap through the following mechanisms:


Bringing diverse perspectives to the table fosters innovation. If you’re trying to solve a problem for someone, but you don’t understand their perspective, you aren’t likely to succeed.

A diverse team brings a variety of life experiences and viewpoints that allows them to consider multiple possibilities and develop better solutions.6 Research from the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry has found that diverse and inclusive companies are 87% more likely to make better decisions and 75% faster at bringing products to market.7

Employee engagement and retention

When an employee leaves, it costs the company an average of 50% to 250% of that employee's annual salary. Disengaged employees are also expensive, costing companies an average of 34% of their annual salary in tardiness, missed workdays, and decreased productivity.8

Fortunately, companies with a diverse and inclusive work culture experience 35% more employee engagement and have 20% more employees who plan to stay with them long-term.9 DEI initiatives make all employees feel valued for their unique contributions, and employees who feel valued are more likely to be invested in their organizations.


In addition to attracting and retaining top talent and being more innovative, truly diverse and inclusive companies have a better reputation among customers, shareholders, employees, and vendors. The professional services network Deloitte reports that companies with a poor DEI reputation are likelier to have a weaker brand and higher customer acquisition costs.10

For example, in 2022, a Wells Fargo shareholder filed a lawsuit against the company for damaging its reputation and the value of its stock by holding fake interviews to fulfill internal diversity requirements with no intention of hiring any of the candidates. Following a New York Times article that exposed the practice, the company's stock dropped more than eight percent.11

Elements of a successful DEI initiative

Unfortunately, simply hiring a DEI coordinator and holding unconscious bias training isn’t enough to create meaningful, organizational-level change. To successfully create cultural competency in the workplace, your DEI efforts must include the following factors:

Deep understanding of root causes

Every organization is different, so you’ll need to understand the company-specific DEI challenges and opportunities in yours. Analyze relevant data, such as the percentage of women and people of color in leadership roles, the diversity of your employees versus the diversity of your applicant pool, and employee turnover.12 You should also solicit employee feedback through surveys, meetings, and exit interviews to find and address the root causes of inequality.13

Leadership buy-in

No matter how well-planned and executed a DEI strategy is, it can’t succeed without engagement from senior leaders. Though it may seem counterintuitive, making an emotional appeal may be the best starting point for securing leadership buy-in. Discussing situations in which leaders have personally witnessed people being treated unfairly can be a good opening to bring up diversity, equity, and inclusion.14

To ensure commitment from senior leaders, several strategies can be employed. First, encourage leaders to actively advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the organization. This can involve their participation in DEI initiatives, speaking about the importance of diversity at company events, and becoming vocal advocates for inclusive practices.

Second, help leaders perceive workplace diversity as a key business function rather than a mere checkbox.14 Emphasize how diverse teams and inclusive cultures contribute to better business outcomes, increased innovation, and improved employee engagement.

Third, raise awareness among senior leaders about the risks of inaction regarding DEI. Highlight potential consequences, such as reputational damage, difficulties in attracting and retaining diverse talent, and missed opportunities for growth and innovation.14

Lastly, offer concrete action plans and strategies for implementing DEI initiatives. Providing measurable goals and clear steps will increase senior leaders' support and investment in DEI efforts, fostering a workplace culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.14

Meaningful metrics

As with any business strategy, you need to measure the success of your DEI program. Measuring your progress against your goals allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of your program and identify areas where you need to make changes.

Some metrics that provide insight into your DEI progress include:

  1. Diversity metrics: Track the representation of diverse talent at various levels of the organization, including leadership positions.
  2. Inclusion initiatives: Measure the participation and engagement levels in inclusion efforts, such as employee resource groups and mentorship programs.
  3. Employee engagement: Conduct regular surveys to assess how employees feel about the company's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and identify areas for improvement.
  4. Performance evaluations: Review performance evaluations to ensure that they are free from bias and that employees from diverse backgrounds are receiving fair and equitable assessments.

By tracking these metrics and regularly evaluating your DEI initiatives, you can identify areas of strength and areas that require additional attention and resources.

Inclusive workplace culture: A shared responsibility

Creating an inclusive workplace culture is a shared responsibility that demands commitment and action from every level of the organization. For this endeavor to succeed, senior leaders must be at the forefront, visibly championing diversity, equity, and inclusion while actively implementing inclusive practices. Regular diversity training and educational programs play a critical role in raising awareness about unconscious biases and fostering cultural competence among employees.

Employee resource groups provide valuable forums for employees to connect, share experiences, and passionately advocate for diversity and inclusion within the organization. By supporting and promoting these groups, the company demonstrates its commitment to valuing diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

To ensure a level playing field, inclusive hiring and promotion practices should prioritize skills, qualifications, and potential over traditional criteria. This approach enables diverse talent to be recognized, excel, and advance within the company, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and dynamic workforce.

Empowering employees to speak up is fundamental to creating an inclusive culture. By establishing open channels of communication and anonymous feedback mechanisms, the organization fosters a psychologically safe environment where employees feel comfortable addressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Acknowledging and celebrating diversity within the organization is equally crucial. Through events, workshops, and cultural festivities, the value of diverse backgrounds is highlighted, driving innovation and creativity.

For the organization to progress, clear goals and metrics for DEI initiatives should be established, with regular monitoring of progress. This approach not only fosters a culture of continuous improvement but also holds leaders accountable for their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Developing a DEI strategy for lasting impact

Building a sustainable diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategy that drives lasting impact requires a thoughtful and comprehensive approach. To develop an effective DEI strategy, organizations should follow these essential steps:

1. Assess the current state: Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of your organization's current DEI efforts. Evaluate existing policies, practices, and programs to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. Utilize data and gather employee feedback to gain valuable insights into the lived experiences of your workforce, ensuring your strategy addresses specific needs and challenges.

2. Define goals and objectives: Establish clear and measurable DEI goals aligned with your organization's values and business objectives. Craft goals that are specific, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Having well-defined objectives will provide a solid foundation for guiding your DEI initiatives and serve as a benchmark to measure progress over time.

3. Leadership buy-In: Secure buy-in and active support from senior leaders. Leadership commitment is vital for the success of DEI initiatives as it sets the tone for the entire organization. Engage leaders in DEI training, discussions, and decision-making processes to foster a culture of inclusivity from the top down.

Fostering a culture of inclusion is equally important in creating a workplace where diversity is celebrated, and every employee feels valued and respected. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and empathy to create a supportive environment for all. Empower your employees through training and education on topics like unconscious bias, cultural competency, and inclusive leadership. This will enable them to recognize and challenge biases, contributing to a more empathetic and inclusive work environment.

Furthermore, prioritize inclusive hiring and talent development to attract and nurture diverse talent. Expand recruitment efforts to reach diverse candidate pools and eliminate bias from the hiring process. Offer training and development opportunities to support the advancement of diverse employees in their careers.

To measure the impact of your DEI strategy, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress regularly. This data-driven approach will enable you to make informed decisions and refine your strategy as needed. Transparently sharing progress updates will foster accountability within the organization.

Engage employees actively in the development and execution of DEI initiatives to create a sense of ownership and shared responsibility. Encourage feedback and consider collaborating with external partners, such as organizations and consultants specializing in DEI, to gain valuable insights and learn best practices.

Remember that DEI is an ongoing journey rather than a one-time initiative. Continuously revisit and update your DEI strategy to adapt to changing organizational needs and societal expectations. By integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the fabric of your organization, you can cultivate a workplace where every employee feels valued, respected, and empowered, ultimately driving meaningful change and fostering a culture of belonging for all.

Elevate your business leadership career with the University of Kansas

As you aspire to create a workplace that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion, developing your leadership capabilities becomes paramount. The University of Kansas School of Business offers an online MBA program that brings together the expertise of renowned and respected faculty, empowering you with a deep understanding of the drivers of human behavior and the skills to implement effective strategies that foster an inclusive and thriving work environment.

Our highly-ranked program is widely respected for its commitment to convenience, quality, and value.15 With an advanced and flexible online curriculum, you can tailor your learning experience to fit your busy schedule and specific career goals. Whether you are embarking on a new journey or seeking career advancement, our online MBA program is designed to meet your needs.

Don't miss this exceptional opportunity to make a lasting impact on your career and your organization. Contact an admissions outreach advisor today and take the first step toward creating a workplace that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion and become a driving force for positive change.

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  2. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from insightglobal.com/blog/types-of-diversity-in-the-workplace/
  3. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from gallup.com/workplace/401573/workplace-equity-dei-why-matters.aspx
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  5. Retrieved on July 10, 2023, from forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/03/03/harnessing-the-power-of-diversity-for-profitability/?sh=2815637f459a
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