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7 Ways to Build a DEI Strategy in the Workplace
Companies today understand that embracing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is essential for employee engagement and success as well as to achieve a high level of business performance. Despite compelling evidence of its importance, you may struggle to implement effective DEI strategies in the workplace.
In a recent discussion with Emeritus Enterprise, Loren Hudson, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast Cable, laid out actionable strategies to help you incorporate DEI efforts into your leadership and workforce development programs.
Why Are DEI Strategies Important?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not only moral imperatives—they are business imperatives. While many companies look at DEI through the lens of compliance and reputation management, organizations must also recognize that increased diversity is good for both individual employees and the bottom line.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 200 studies have demonstrated that employee diversity leads to higher innovation, growth, engagement, and customer service. McKinsey & Company found that these differences are particularly significant at the executive level.
Studies show that employee diversity leads to higher innovation, growth, engagement, and customer service.
The firm’s research found that companies in the top quartile for executive gender diversity were 25% more likely to have above-average performance compared with companies in the fourth quartile. Similarly, companies in the top quartile for executive ethnic diversity were 36% more likely to have above-average performance than their peers in the fourth quartile.
These performance gaps have increased since McKinsey started tracking DEI efforts in 2014, suggesting the importance of diversity in the workplace continues to grow. Even so, the firm reports that diversity on executive teams continues to increase slowly. More than a third of companies in its data set lacked any women on their executive teams. Ethnic minority representation lagged in the low double digits.
Given this data, organizations across industries might recognize the value of prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion training. Placing DEI efforts within and alongside broader organizational leadership and workforce development programs is a particularly effective way to create a diverse, empowered, and high-performing workforce.
DEI Strategies in the Workplace
In her discussion with Emeritus, Hudson shared DEI strategies and efforts that have moved the needle at Comcast Cable, where she has worked for over two decades.
1. Embrace the Power of Employee Resource Groups
According to Hudson, Comcast’s nine employee resource groups (ERGs) have been pivotal to the organization’s efforts for DEI.
In fact, Hudson says the efforts have succeeded because they are deeply in tune with the company’s four pillars: people and culture, platform, community, and customers. “They work within these pillars to ensure that everything we touch has a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. They’re great partners and advocates.”
ERGs, which first emerged in the 1960s in response to racial tensions during the Civil Rights Movement, are groups of underrepresented employees (such as Black, female, or LGBTQ+ employees). While they are invaluable for professional support and development for individual employees, ERGs have also become powerful advocacy groups at many organizations. Often, they help to advance policies and processes that improve equity and inclusion.
According to Salesforce, they have also become critical tools for companies to connect with stakeholders and achieve business objectives.
2. Prioritize Women’s Development
In recent years, Comcast has prioritized its goal of achieving gender parity across all levels of the workforce. That included the company’s creation of “The Crew,” a space for women employees to meet, network, and provide mutual accountability and goal-setting support.
Hudson explained that the pandemic’s outsized impact on working women also inspired the company to launch an on-demand learning and development program specifically for female employees. The platform offers 5-7 minute modules aimed at providing development, education, and support, which employees can download and view using an app.
According to McKinsey & Company, women’s leadership programs help develop a powerful workforce and illuminate growth areas within the organization. Providing a space for women to explore leadership often encourages companies to reassess their culture. It also helps them identify areas where less traditional approaches can advance business objectives more effectively than conventional, top-down leadership styles.
3. Reframe the Role of Coaching
“At some companies, coaching has been seen as this taboo thing—you get it when you aren’t doing well,” Hudson said. “We’re really trying to shift that mindset. If you’ve ever played a sport, you know a coach is with you through the good and the bad, and they’re always trying to help you move forward.”
Coaching designed to help leaders build inclusive and equitable teams is particularly effective, she said. To reduce stigma and ensure organizational alignment, Comcast provides that coaching to executives as well as other team leaders throughout the company.
According to Entrepreneur, high-quality DEI-focused executive coaching has positive ripples throughout organizations. It gives executives the tools and cultural competence to speak courageously on complex issues, as well as the frameworks and understanding they need to practice intentional allyship and deliver on DEI strategies.
4. Seek Buy-In from Senior Leaders
“Depending on the team, diversity can look vastly different. But when you bring diverse perspectives into the room, magic happens,” Hudson said. “And one of the most important things is to have senior leadership buy-in.”
When senior leaders work to diversify their teams and create opportunities for diverse groups to come together, it “gets the ball rolling,” according to Hudson.
She said that to reach ambitious inclusion goals, “we all need to be all-in, all the time.” Efforts like overhauling recruitment and hiring processes and adapting company policies to further inclusion require support from senior leaders. In addition to coaching, sharing both industry and company-specific data on the positive business impacts of diverse teams can build that support.
5. Consider DEI from the Start
Whether a company is considering a new initiative or interviewing a new hire, it’s essential to consider DEI—and bring in internal experts—early on in the process. “The earlier our voice is shared, whether we’re on the right path or not, we know the impact is greater.”
Hudson shared that the frequency by which her team at Comcast is brought in early is a key indicator of their success in embedding DEI efforts within the organization. “It doesn’t come with the flick of a wrist. It comes from work, dedication, and messaging about why it’s important, but that’s how you know you’re making a difference,” Hudson said.
As companies refine processes to further their DEI strategies in the workplace, standardizing the consideration of DEI-related issues can help build a more consistent and equitable culture.
6. Measure Your DEI Efforts
Hudson emphasized the importance of using data to measure alignment with the company’s “north star,” or core principles. At Comcast, that north star is “ensuring our employees and customers are at the center of everything we do.”
To track employee perspectives, Comcast includes specific DEI questions on bimonthly employee surveys. This is in addition to more traditional measures of engagement and workplace satisfaction. The company’s leadership also works closely with ERGs, its women’s leadership group, and a national employee advisory council that provides a sounding board for new ideas and programs.
However, listening alone isn’t enough. Hudson emphasized the importance of connecting back with employees to show their feedback has been heard and is being acted upon.
7. Prioritize Open Communication
According to McKinsey & Company, women and employees from underrepresented backgrounds face numerous additional barriers to inclusion. Yet employees who feel included—meaning they are comfortable speaking up and believe their voices are valued and listened to—are three times more committed to their organization.
When leaders are willing to be vulnerable with their reports, those employees are more likely to feel they can speak up about their own concerns and thoughts, even when it may feel difficult.
As Hudson explained, the willingness to own up to errors in judgment and action and foster courageous conversations on teams is a powerful way for leaders to prioritize DEI. We all make mistakes, said Hudson—even leaders—and admitting them builds trust. “The growth and the feelings within those teams—you can feel it and see it when you walk into a room.”
Are you ready to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace for your organization? Reach out to Emeritus Enterprise to learn about our customizable program options. You can also explore the Cambridge Judge Business School DEI certificate program offered through Emeritus