Cultivating a Lasting DEI Culture

Thousands of private businesses, nonprofits and government agencies have made creating a culture that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a priority in recent years, but successful implementation sometimes can prove elusive.

Creating a lasting DEI culture requires everyone from top to bottom in an organization to embrace the idea that representation is critical to success in the modern business world. An engaged workforce that feels their voices are heard can help companies resolve issues using a wide variety of perspectives.

A DEI culture leads to better-run companies with a stronger bottom line, as well as a more motivated workforce. But while the benefits are clear, the best way to achieve them is not always as apparent. Organizations can take an important first step by learning best practices for creating and sustaining DEI culture.

Defining a DEI-Oriented Culture

A DEI culture emphasizes every letter in the term – the “E” and “I” as well as the “D.” Diversity, while just as important as the other two, is sometimes where companies start and then stop. They change hiring practices to get more people onboard of different gender identifications, races, ethnic origins, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and more. That’s an excellent first step, but it helps little to bring in a diverse group if a strong DEI culture is not in place.

A DEI culture means inclusion and equity deserve equal emphasis. Inclusion involves asking every individual or group to contribute to projects, goal setting, strategy, etc. This creates a safe work environment where everyone feels “part of the team” and collaboration and respect are highly valued. It’s also a place that does not tolerate prejudice and intolerance or any of the ways they manifest, such as racism or bullying.

Equity refers to the idea that everyone receives fair treatment and opportunities, as well as the promotion of social equality and progress while focusing on the removal of barriers that keep some groups from participating fully. Equity differs from equality in that it does not assume the experiences of everyone are the same.

Why Is DEI Important?

Some companies may launch a DEI initiative to comply with government regulations or because of pressure from shareholders to change company culture. However, there’s also a strong business case for implementing DEI.

For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) notes in a recent survey that 88% of professionals believe diversity increases project team value. PMI also said project leaders associate DEI organizations with higher performance. On a similar note, a report from McKinsey & Company associated DEI with better financial performance. The report found that companies ranked highly for gender, racial and ethnic diversity stood a better chance of producing financial returns greater than the national industry median.

In a DEI culture, organizations achieve increased perceptions of fairness and justice among employees, greater levels of innovation and creativity, and a better understanding of customer needs.

Methods for Creating DEI Culture

A DEI strategy starts with an understanding of the business value of DEI, as well as the best practices for creating and maintaining a DEI culture. However, everything starts at the top. Executive leadership buy-in is critical to successful DEI implementation. The level of buy-in ideally involves incorporating DEI as part of daily conversations and decisions.

Once leadership is committed, they can create new groups or empower existing groups and departments within the company.

Diversity Councils. These councils include leaders from across the organization who together develop strategies that an organization can implement, serving as an advisory council to organizational leadership.

Employee Resource Groups. These voluntary groups started in the Civil Rights area, bringing together women, older workers, new hires or those with the same racial or ethnic origin. They provide an excellent resource of information and talent and increasingly focus on delivering better employee engagement and business results.

Human Resources. To promote DEI, the hiring process often needs substantial change. Companies should explore new talent pools rather than going back to the same sources for new hires, as well as diverse hiring panels who support DEI efforts and attract talented workers who immediately see the company’s commitment to DEI.

Some of the biggest steps in DEI happen naturally once organizations make a commitment and empower groups such as the three listed above. For example, once more diverse employees are hired, they will open the door to even more diverse candidates through their network of past employers, peers and academic institutions.

Organizations can also leverage new talent pipelines by partnering with organizations that support DEI efforts and focus on recruiting diverse talent.

What Does Winning Look Like with DEI?

Another important step in creating a DEI culture is establishing goals and metrics that give leadership a way to measure success (or the need to alter their current approach). Some of the key considerations in this area include the following. Companies can do so by integrating DEI efforts into overall strategic goals, use statistics to keep those in charge of DEI accountable and establishing targets and goals by using measurable statistics.

Another great way to hold your company accountable for its DEI efforts is to take DiversityInc’s annual Top 50 survey, which we analyze to create our Top 50 Companies for Diversity list each year.

As part of the survey, we assess companies with 750 or more full-time employees on workplace fairness, equity and inclusion initiatives and outcomes focused on leadership accountability, organizational programs and practices as well as human capital metrics. Our extensive, data-driven analysis is based on empirical data obtained through organizations completing and submitting the online survey and allows companies to advance their equity and inclusion strategy to improve hiring and retention, leadership accountability, talent programs, workplace practices, supplier diversity and philanthropy.


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