The Next Big Thing: Why DE&I Will Drive Company Culture in the Next Decade

The corporate world and - and company cultures -have come a long way in terms of having workplaces that reflect the world’s diversity. In the United States, throughout the second half of the 20th century, landmark legislation including, but not limited to, the Equal Pay, Age Discrimination in Employment, and Americans with Disabilities Acts have necessitated an evolution of workplaces. 

While the US and North America have spearheaded efforts to build more holistic company cultures in workplaces, for global organizations, the approach to diversity and inclusion can’t be solely based on American history. As the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) pointed out in its Global Diversity and Inclusion report, different regions and cultures have vastly different interpretations of diversity and inclusion. 

As a result, Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO of Catalyst, notes that “DEI solutions are as diverse as the companies and communities that deploy them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

While significant progress has been made to further the goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the workforce, much work remains. Simply filling a quota or checking a box is not sufficient any longer. Neither is spouting diversity buzzwords externally that are not reflected with authenticity in the company culture. A perfect example of this is the rush to post generic marketing messages in support of a social cause or a marginalized community, while employees from these groups face challenges internally.

Why is DE&I essential to how organizations will build company culture? It boils down to whether diverse groups of people can see their values reflected in how employees at all levels of the organization behave toward each other, what they believe, and how they are treated as they go about their daily tasks. As organizations seek to become more diverse to reflect their customers and the communities around them, the efforts must be more than a surface-level attempt. If all employees do not feel that their contributions are valued, engagement will slip, and company culture will ultimately suffer.

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Changes In the Approach to Company Culture

Today, many professionals measure the quality of a company’s culture by the diversity of its staff, the inclusiveness of its practices, and the equity with which all employees are treated. According to Glassdoor, more than three-quarters of employees and job seekers said that “a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.” 

They want companies to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” when it comes to DE&I, which means taking proactive steps to ensure a more inclusive workplace. In practice, this means securing an ongoing commitment from all the senior leaders (not just the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer), tying these values to the bottom line, and setting unique objectives that are true to the organization. Younger generations are particularly inclined to stay at their jobs for more than five years when satisfied with their employer’s progress in creating a diverse and inclusive company culture. 

The hyper-focus on company culture since the pandemic began may seem like a new phenomenon, but it has only been magnified over the last two years. It is a direct result of the stress, and pressure employees were under to balance professional and personal responsibilities away from the office. Companies that were able to show empathy, concern, and the ability to adapt to the diverse needs of their employees during this time have gone a long way as trends like the Great Recession and Quiet Quitting plague the workforce. The intensity of the situation changed many people’s priorities and brought to the forefront why taking a “human-centric” approach to employees was essential to attract and retain top talent. 

Employers are taking notice of employees' changing expectations - and for a good reason. With so many employees leaving their positions and the timeframe for filling vacancies remaining lengthy, it is critical to do what it takes to prevent current, high-performing employees from looking elsewhere. Studies show that more diverse workplaces have contributed to greater creativity, higher employee engagement, and better decision-making. Diversity in management teams, for example, leads to 19% higher revenues from innovative products and services than in companies with less diverse leadership. Similarly, companies with more gender diversity are 60% more likely to have improved profits and productivity, as well as an “enhanced reputation, greater ease in attracting and retaining talent, and greater creativity and innovation.” 

Companies that intend to build a strong company culture can’t ignore DE&I. It is time to move beyond treating DE&I as a compliance matter or a transactional series of initiatives that rely on changes coming from under-represented groups, as the International Labour Organization (ILO) describes it. It will only become more critical over the next decade as organizations compete for talent. The ILO notes that more companies need to begin making a transformational change in their approach by:

  1. Adopting a strategic and culture change approach 
  2. Building diversity at the most senior levels of the organization 
  3. Sharing the responsibility for DE&I across leaders, managers, and employees 
  4. Embedding DE&I into every aspect of the employee life cycle and organizational activity.

Only when it is a part of the company culture will DE&I initiatives have a real impact in workplaces, businesses, and, more broadly, at the economic and societal levels.  

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Why Is DE&I So Important? 

Employers can easily be convinced that DE&I is nothing more than an HR initiative that helps to augment an organization’s reputation. However, it is much more than that when executed correctly. Diverse and inclusive environments encourage employees to feel empowered to share their perspectives. This can help to spur innovative projects and boost engagement at a time when “quiet quitting” is dominating workforce headlines

As employee expectations of their employer change, companies will need to live up to their commitments and values to maintain productivity and retain talent. A Deloitte study suggests that following through consistently on DE&I initiatives can garner trust from diverse employees. This can deepen trust between employees and their employers. 

Additionally, failing to maintain employees’ trust in your DE&I initiatives can have dire consequences. This point is especially salient as younger professionals increasingly make decisions about where to work and whether to stay in their role based on if the company’s values align with theirs. According to the same Deloitte study, 45% of respondents aged 18 - 44 would consider leaving if they couldn’t trust that their organization would fulfill its DE&I commitments. 

DE&I expert Risha Grant noted in a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) article that poorly executed DE&I initiatives may lead employees to “harbor negative views of their company's culture.” Neglecting this area will ultimately detract from the company culture that the organization intends to create.

These benefits of successful DE&I initiatives to the bottom line and employee retention contribute directly to company culture and the values many professionals want to see their company display. 

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How to Hire Diverse Candidates

Organizations looking to boost their diversity figures and create an equitable and inclusive environment can begin from the job posting. The language of a job listing reveals so much to applicants about an organization’s culture and values. Review how a job and the company are being presented to ensure that it isn’t excluding potential candidates. 

Another opportunity to hire diverse candidates is to identify the source of diverse candidate applications so that the HR team can focus its energy on attracting more talent from these sources. 

As noted previously, forming solid relationships with diverse professional networks, regularly placing listings on niche job sites, and increasing the incentives for referrals can help to show how the company culture values diversity.

A crucial aspect of the hiring process is also ensuring that candidates have positive experiences during each interaction with representatives of the organization. Achieving this means training managers and interviewers to be aware of innate biases and inclusive practices to ensure that qualified candidates are not dissuaded from accepting a job with your organization. 

Applicant tracking solutions (ATS) also offer another brilliant way to support HR teams in selecting the appropriate candidates to add to the culture and support DE&I values. The AI-powered identification features eliminate the potential for bias by selecting individuals purely based on their credentials. 

Applicant selection can also be tailored to ensure that basic regulations regarding equal employment are being honored so that the HR team can deliver positive experiences during the interview process and let their company culture shine through. In these instances, technology reinforces the company’s ideals rather than replacing human interaction.

Organizations that approach hiring and workplace interactions with sincerity and inclusivity at the heart of their activities will go a long way in demonstrating DE&I ideals as part of the company culture. Candidates will see that diversity recruitment efforts are not just intended to fill a quota and will be more open to building trust with their employer.

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