Companies that strive to weave DE&I initiatives into their culture do so with both the company and employees in mind. There are obvious advantages for the employees, but employers also have much to gain. We spoke with two of MRA’s Human Resource Business Partners, Julie Norland and Sharlie McCain. Sharlie is also part of MRA’s diversity group, iLead, which provides educational, community outreach, and enrichment opportunities to our employees.
Q: What benefits do employers have when there are strong DE&I initiatives in place?
Sharlie: The environment and culture become more diverse, open, inclusive, accepting, and innovative. Employee engagement and satisfaction increase when diversity of thought becomes the goal. Research has shown that diversity breeds innovation and innovation enhances an organization’s overall deliverables, target markets, growth, and the bottom line. Organizations that have DE&I initiatives also attract, and if done well, retain diverse employees.
Julie: People who, historically, may have felt uncomfortable are able to bring their whole selves to work. Others begin to act as allies, and they support each other. This inherently provides a competitive advantage with recruiting, retention, and employee satisfaction. When employees can contribute through unique ideas, various backgrounds, and experiences, they feel valued and that builds loyalty.
Q: What are some suggested ways employers can share information about their efforts, so employees are more aware of their stance on DE&I?
Julie: The leadership team needs to help define the DE&I focus, articulate it to the stakeholders, and support DE&I efforts. The action plan needs to be more than words—and using multiple channels of communication over a sustained period of time will help employees understand the level of commitment.
Sharlie: The organizational strategy starts with leadership and input from employees. Efforts can grow from small things like Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), coffee chats, and targeted learning focused on treating everyone with dignity and respect. Efforts should include roadmaps, action plans, goals, key measures, and fun. The message of “we are all in” should always be clear and first, with lots of communication during the journey.
Q: Do you have any tips employers can use to encourage employees to become involved in DE&I efforts?
Sharlie: Employees will follow the lead and pulse of the organization, so an important first step is to get leadership on board. From there, invite employees to be part of building the program to bring it all together. Be creative with activities and initiatives and increase awareness through speakers, training, and conversations. Keep them involved in the planning to help build trust and to demonstrate that the efforts are not a passing trend or that participation in efforts are not viewed negatively by others.
Julie: It is also important to make sure employees are provided with the resources and time to invest into the program. Allowing time to research, volunteer, and learn goes a long way to support growth. Employers can also encourage an environment of openness and trust, where employees feel safe having difficult conversations and addressing topics that are not openly discussed out of fear.
Q: What benefits do employees gain from working for a company with a strong DE&I culture?
Julie: Employees feel welcome, safe, and secure, which allows them to feel comfortable sharing their history and personal experiences and perspectives. They work more confidently and are able to form relationships with other employees. Many times, this leads to collaboration to solve problems and a greater sense of value.
Sharlie: When employees feel valued for who they are and what they bring to the table, they can remove the invisible masks they are forced to wear at work. This allows them to learn more easily and leverage their strengths to support each other, the organization, and their customers. Feeling included and learning from and about others is a big motivator for employees.
Q: How can managers use the company’s DE&I stance in conversation with employees or peers?
Julie: Referring to the company’s stance on DE&I can help managers resolve conflicts, especially those that relate to protected classes. The company’s DE&I stance or its code of conduct provides supervisors with a guide for the conversation. They are better equipped to assess if conflicts are targeting a protected class or are a style or personality conflict. Managers can also refer to the company’s DE&I efforts during the interview process to demonstrate how those values are displayed every day and not just talked about.
Sharlie: Manager conversations can help employees understand the value the organization places on DE&I, and on each employee, by creating an opportunity to let employees know the efforts are not just about race and ethnicity. There are other dimensions of diversity and everyone and everything is important. If previous conversations or situations seemed a bit biased, looking through the lens of DE&I can help identify and eliminate conscious and some unconscious biases that create barriers, assumptions, and inappropriate behaviors.
Performance and development discussions can also include aspects of DE&I, sharing opportunities for education, involvement, and impact.