Embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) into your workplace culture requires an understanding of the components that make up workplace culture and a genuine, top-down commitment to creating an intentional, inclusive environment aimed at employee satisfaction and engagement. The term organizational culture also referred to as workplace culture, means different things to different individuals. For some, it is a matter of whether employees are happy with the employer. Others consider the recruiting, hiring, and promotion practices. Still, others look to the total rewards package – i.e., salary, bonuses, perks, benefits, etc. – being offered as a measure of workplace culture. While all of these things are important, much of the workplace culture is determined by the intangibles that impact employee feelings and perceptions about the employer.

According to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), organizational culture is defined as “shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding.” Embedded in this definition is the idea that leadership must not only be onboard but spearhead efforts to shape workplace culture. SHRM’s definition also conveys the importance of the employee viewpoint.

So, what does it take to embed DEIA into your organization’s culture? It is imperative to take a data-informed approach to this undertaking. First, it is important to assess the organization’s readiness to engage in the culture shift necessary to fully implement DEIA. Though few would argue that implementing DEIA in organizational operations is the right thing to do, it takes more than an acknowledgment to move from understanding the need to acting on it. Thus, it is important to be intentional about assessing an organization’s readiness for DEIA, with the understanding that taking on DEIA when the organization is not ready is likely to yield lackluster results and can do more harm than good. Employers must be ready to provide favorable responses to questions around the leadership’s interest in DEIA; willingness to participate and allocate staff and resources; and organizational capacity, including financial and staff resources, to indicate readiness to engage in such efforts.

Once the organization is deemed ready for DEIA work, the next step is to assess the landscape to determine both favorable and unfavorable policies and practices in place, as well as any challenges and pain points that exist for staff. A third party should conduct this assessment/data collection process to increase the comfort level of employees participating; increase the likelihood that employees will share genuine feedback; and provide a neutral perspective on deficiencies, barriers, and gaps the organization may have. Data collection is conducted, in part, via a culture assessment or climate survey. During this process, it is important to recognize that individuals across the various dimensions of diversity experience the workplace in diverse ways.

Accordingly, the assessor should gauge employees’ feelings around whether they feel a sense of belonging if they feel they can be their authentic selves at work, and whether they trust their colleagues and supervisor. Further, it is important to determine if in a reasonable time period leading up to the assessment – e.g., 12 months – employees feel they have experienced negative workplace behaviors such as microaggressions, defined by the National Institutes of Health as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults – whether intentional or unintentional – that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to individuals based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” For example, saying, “You’re so articulate” to an African American colleague could suggest that there is an expectation of diminished communication skills among this population. Data collection via survey-based assessments can be enhanced by conducting confidential focus groups or one-on-one interviews based on identity groups – e.g., people of color, individuals with disabilities, and individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community – to drill down on issues that surfaced in the climate survey. This data collection should be conducted on a recurring basis, at a minimum every 2-3 years, to ensure the organization remains on track in its commitment to DEIA.

A second assessment component is evaluating the employer brand by reviewing the organization’s website and presence on social media and employment sites, as well as reviewing policies, procedures, and program documents. In terms of document review, it is important to focus on terminology that can alienate individuals. For example, a review of the employee handbook might reveal the use of binary gender terms, i.e., he/she. The handbook may also refer to maternity leave versus parental leave. It is important to update documents to show clear respect for the use of non-binary gender pronouns and gender-neutral language. Another consideration in documentation is investigating the root causes of employee turnover. Organizations should use the exit interview process to discern, among other things, whether exiting employees are leaving due to not feeling as though they belonged or could be their authentic selves in the workplace, both of which are indicators of a lack of DEIA-principles infused in the workplace culture.

The last step in initiating the process of embedding DEIA into your workplace culture is considering, prioritizing, and implementing third-party recommendations for reimagining policies, procedures, and published content, with an eye toward equity and mitigating bias; revamping the online presence to ensure inclusivity; and creating an intentional environment aimed at employee satisfaction and engagement, to include introducing Employee Resource Groups as a safe place where individuals with shared characteristics, lived experiences, or interests can bond and form a community with one another.

An important part of this final step is communicating with employees the organization’s commitment to DEIA and what leadership is planning to do in response to the assessment findings. It is important to convey to employees the organization’s commitment to not just check the box or engage in a performative exercise to address DEIA but rather demonstrate a clear commitment to embedding DEIA into the fabric of the organization as a guiding principle that ensures fair, equitable, inclusive, and consistent treatment of all employees, regardless of their demographic group. When we build an inclusive environment that considers diversity and equity, a natural by-product is a sense of belonging that will yield benefits for employers and employees alike.

Angela Saunders, SHRM-SCP, is a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant at CIDIS LLC, a management consulting firm located in Reston, VA.

If you need assistance in creating a more diverse workforce and inclusive environment, visit www.cidisconsulting.com and click on Resources for a host of articles and videos on a variety of DEIA topics. We also offer expertise in People Management, Data Analytics and Research, Strategic Planning, and Leadership Coaching. To learn more, contact us at info@cidisconsulting.com.

About CIDIS: CIDIS is an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business that focuses on working in collaboration with clients to create high-performing diverse and inclusive organizations through the transformation of their business operations, organizational culture, and human capital management practices.