Improve Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

It is well documented that an organization in which there is a diverse mix of employees from different backgrounds of all types (racial, culturo-linguistic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, ability) will be a more effective organization: simply because a variety of different perspectives and points of view improves decision-making. However, ensuring a diverse mix of leaders, managers and employees is only the first part of “D&I”. The organization must also make them feel fully safe, included and comfortable to express their background and views openly before we can reap the full benefits of D&I. In the employee engagement context, D&I is often an important driver of engagement: employees’ views of D&I in the workplace has a major impact on their sense of engagement.


  1. Strive towards a work environment that properly reflects the population that is served by the organization.

  2. Develop a workforce that provides a variety of different perspectives and ideas that challenge and improve conventional thinking.

  3. Ensure employees of all different backgrounds and minority groups feel comfortable, safe and included, allowing them to fully engage with your organization.

Establish D&I and Respect in the Workplace as Core Values

Improving diversity, inclusion and respect in the workplace will require a change in the organization’s culture. The first step in such a change is to firmly state that diversity, inclusion and respect in the workplace represent core values, and as such there is an expectation that all leaders, managers and employees adopt these as their own.

  1. Include Diversity, Inclusion and Respect in the Organization’s Statement of Core Values This must be widely communicated, and that statement should also include examples of desirable and undesirable behaviours which those values represent.

  2. Establish an Accountability Framework and Performance Metrics Leaders and managers need to be held accountable for ensuring that the core values are upheld and that behaviours reflect those core values. The best way to do that is to include references to upholding behaviours in the individual’s performance objectives.

Provide Learning and Professional Development to Leaders, Managers and all Employees

Your organization’s executives and managers will be instrumental to your D&I efforts. “At the end of the day, it’s the leader who’s on the front line with our employees,” says Dianne Campbell, vice president of global diversity and inclusion at American Express in Washington, D.C. “It’s the experience that the leader is creating that is going to make or break” your D&I initiatives.

We cannot assume that just because the large majority of people believe that diversity, inclusion and respect are “the right things to do” that desirable behaviours will automatically follow. People must be educated in order to understand the many unconscious biases that may lead to undesirable behaviours (even though there is no malicious intent).

  1. Develop a Diversity, Inclusion and Respect Learning and Development Plan and Curriculum There are a number of types of training that deal with unconscious biases, which occurs when individuals make judgements about people based on gender, race or other factors without realizing they’re doing it. The training helps make people aware of this form of bias and drives home the importance of modeling inclusive behaviour—such as engaging in active listening and encouraging different points of view—in meetings, performance reviews and other interactions. Other types of training which are available include sensitivity training, and emotional intelligence training.

  2. Roll-out and Attend (or Complete) Training The training should ideally be made mandatory for all leaders, managers and employees. It is particularly important that the executive and senior leadership lead by example and participate with employees. This will demonstrate that there is no double-standard, and that leadership is living the values of diversity, inclusion and respect.

  3. Evaluate Training Using Kirkpatrick’s Four-level Training Evaluation Model Ultimately the training needs to result in behaviour change, and in turn, achieve the desired outcomes which are improved diversity, inclusion and respect in the workplace. Briefly stated, Level 1 is ‘Reaction’, which are the normal training evaluation sheets (handed out immediately at the end of the session or using a brief online survey if conducted online). Level 2 is learning, which often can take the form of a quiz, test or exam at the end of the session. Level 3 is perhaps the most important, and this is where a subsequent assessment takes place approximately 2-3 months following the training to see if the desired change in behaviour is taking place. This can often be combined into a 360 review or a separate “Level 3” survey. Your next engagement survey can include questions to assess Level 4, which are results.

Review Talent Acquisition Practices

Our hiring practices contain many “cultural” influences (“culture” referring here to the way we do things in organization, and not necessarily “ethnic” culture, although those practices also find their way into hiring). We must acknowledge that these influences not only exist, but also do us harm by working against the diversity and inclusion we are trying to achieve. Here are a number of tasks which will help you review your policies and practices to ensure they are promoting diversity, inclusion and respect.

  1. State your commitment to building a diverse and inclusive culture in your job descriptions and careers pages. One simple sentence sends a strong message: TalentMap is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace dedicated to pursuing and hiring a diverse workforce.

  2. Conduct blind screenings to minimize unconscious biases in the resume review process Remove the names, addresses, phone numbers, graduation years, and any other information on the resume that may lead to a judgement about an individual. Studies have shown that people with stereotypically “ethnic” names need to send out more resumes before they get a callback, and that resumes with female names are rated lower than ones with male names when all other things on a resume are equal. Even area codes can lead to biased judgements about individuals as they can communicate stereotypes about different cities.

  3. Ban “culture fit” as a reason for rejecting a candidate When interviewers want to reject candidates for “culture fit” or a “gut feeling”, it’s an indication that unconscious bias is at play. Challenge your interviewers to articulate a more specific explanation — it’s a great way to uncover hidden biases and have open conversations about them (never punish or shame people).

  4. Explicitly request a diverse range of referrals Challenge your employees to think beyond the obvious — past their three best friends that may or may not be all from the same demographic. Emphasize that diversity requires deliberate effort, and it’s something all employees can help with — by making introductions to great people they know, even if they don’t fit the “traditional” profile. It only makes the team stronger in the long run. The Pinterest team has seen success with this adjustment in their referrals process and has blogged about it here.

  5. Use a structured interviewing process Structured interviews (asking the same questions of all candidates) lead to higher quality hires because they help reduce bias and “gut-feeling” hiring. By asking the same set of questions you have a consistent “data-set” to help decision-making become more objective. This doesn’t mean that you need to rigidly stick to a script, but ensure you ask the same questions so you can make a more objective comparison.

  6. Include under-represented employees in the interview process This is one of the best ways to get the perspective that diversity in the workplace brings.

Form an Inclusion Council

A group of employees that will shepherd the action plan which is developed to improve diversity, inclusion and respect in the organization will give the initiative greater credibility in the eyes of employees, but will also act as an important sounding board for leaders and managers as to how the initiative is progressing and what else needs to be done.

  1. **Select the Council members. ** Ideally, the councils should be as diverse as possible, but don’t forget to include members of the majority group as well. Representatives should not only represent different minority groups (visible and non-visible alike), but also different departments, locations and management-levels. There should be at least one member of the executive leadership team in the group; however, they should not be the leader of the group, but merely an equal participant. In terms of size, you probably should limit the group to 12 individuals, since larger groups lose the intimate dynamic necessary for fruitful exchange and discussion (larger groups tend to be dominated by a few individuals, leaving several others quiet). Equal participation is key. You may also want to consider rotating members of the group every six months or so as well.

  2. Draft a Terms of Reference or Council Charter As most of us know, the act of forming a “committee” in and of itself achieves nothing. The group must be given specific accountabilities and responsibilities. These should be developed into a brief document.

  3. Hold Council Meetings The frequency and length of meetings is a subject to be discussed by the Council in their first get together but weekly meetings might be necessary to get things started, bi-weekly and monthly meetings after that to discuss the implementation of the D&I action plan and specific issues as they arise

  4. Report to Executive Leadership While ultimate accountability for D&I rests with the Executive Leadership, the Inclusion Council should take responsibility for the implementation of the action plan. The Inclusion Council should report back to Executive Leadership as to progress and issues on a monthly or quarterly basis, to be determined as part of the Council Charter

Celebrate Employee Differences

As our organization becomes more and more diverse, the inclusion side will take on greater importance. The employee that truly feels included, also feels that they don’t have to hide their differences or “blend in”. The following tasks represent but a few ideas to help diverse employees feel comfortable, safe, and included in the organization.

  1. Start a “Bad Joke Jar” One of the most common issues is humour that is perfectly acceptable to some, but uncomfortable or even offensive to others. Yet, no one wants to speak up and “call-out” the offender, for fear of not feeling included in the group themselves. We can make light of this by starting a “bad joke jar”, where if someone hears humour or a remark that unintentionally may be interpreted wrongly, they can call out the individual, who then has to put $1 into the jar. Once the jar total hits $50, the money can be donated to charity or used for social events, etc.

  2. Check the office temperature The temperature in most building default to what’s most comfortable for North American men. Studies show that productivity is significantly reduced when people are too cold, and most women require higher temperatures than men. Jack up the temperature (and gentlemen, take off the ties and where short-sleeves!)

  3. Check your work environment for accessibility There are many accessibility requirements which are now the law; however, we can go beyond that by consulting with employees (e.g. our Inclusion Council). Often, these don’t require significant cash outlays, but rather are just being attentive to the needs of certain employees.l There are many resources available to help with this.

  4. Hang up posters celebrating diversity and how every employee can contribute to an inclusive workplace. This public display sends a loud message that differences are welcome and to be celebrated, while also providing some tips to those in the majority who aren’t sure what they need to do.

  5. Schedule social activities/team-bonding during office hours When everything fun happens at 5:00, working parents and caregivers  —  and folks with different lifestyles in general  —  may not be able to participate.

  6. Hold international foods potlucks This creates conversation around ethnic and cultural differences that make people feel more welcome, and included.

  7. Order a set of knowledge cards It can be difficult to begin conversations around D&I. The Society of Women’s Engineers (US) partnered to create a set of knowledge cards designed to stimulate discussion around D&I issues.

  8. Celebrate holidays and events for under-represented minorities Celebrate events such as Eid, Hanukkah, Diwali, Black History Month, or Pride Week. This doesn’t mean we should suppress holiday celebrations such as Christmas or Easter. It’s trying to “neutralize” everything that builds up resentment in the majority population and causes backlash. Besides, many minority groups enjoy these celebrations as we enjoy theirs.

Reference Material

50+ Ideas for Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion at Your Company

15 Ways to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace

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