Diversity, equity and inclusion: How to initiate change

  • Sonal Shah

    Sonal Shah

By Sonal Shah
HR Source
Updated 2/16/2021 2:46 PM

Following the brutal murder of George Floyd last summer, and the social justice movements that followed, organizations across the U.S. made strong commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Statements, promises and even initiatives were rolled out, but like many things, real change has been happening slowly, if at all. In speaking with HR Source members, who comprise over 1,100 organizations across Illinois, part of the reason is that organizations don't really know what to do or how to get started.


Our research shows that there are numerous things organizations can do, some easy and inexpensive, others more difficult and costly. The important thing is to get started and do something. Our recommendation is to start by understanding where you stand and deciding where you ideally want to be.

So, for example, how does the diversity within your organization compare to the general population or the population in your area? When making this comparison, think about race, gender, religion, disability status, education, etc. How does your pay compare among employees doing similar work? Conduct a pay audit and ensure any discrepancies in pay are justified based on objective criteria.

Note that the fact that someone came in with a higher salary does not necessarily justify a higher pay. How comfortable are employees at work -- do they feel they can truly be themselves? Consider conducting an employee opinion survey to find out.

How are employees in different groups treated? Research shows that women and people of color are often asked or expected to take on more administrative or support tasks, which keeps them away from doing more substantive and promotable work.

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There are many ways to show a commitment to diversity. Have your C-suite embrace and actively support your initiatives. Appoint a diversity officer or create a DEI committee who will hold the organization accountable.

Add DEI to your organization's values, mission and vision. Ensure your language (both verbal and written) is inclusive and does not contain microaggressions. For example, terms like "hey guys," "slavedriver" "normal" can be seen as exclusionary and/or offensive.

Provide your employees with DEI-related training so they understand the importance of your initiatives and can help make them a reality in your workplace. Celebrate the holidays and events of your employees from different cultures and backgrounds so they feel accepted and important.

Next, work on building a diverse workforce. Expand the places you recruit, including posting on diversity-focused job boards, attending diverse job fairs and expanding the places you look for talent. Make sure your job postings are inclusive and attractive to diverse candidates. For examples, studies have shown that words like "ninja," "rock star," and "guru" are off-putting to women and underrepresented groups who often don't see themselves in that way.


Drop degree requirements (unless absolutely necessary) and look for someone with the right skills, talent and experience instead. Consider blind hiring, where you don't look at the name of the candidate when choosing whom to interview. Make sure those involved in hiring are diverse and have had training on how to interview.

Make sure your interviewers are focused on job-related criteria and not whether someone simply fits your culture because if you constantly look at cultural fit, you'll just hire the same types of people over and over again.

Finally, to make your workforce more inclusive, create mentorship opportunities. Studies show that mentoring programs improved the rate of women of color in management positions by 18-24%. Create employee resource or affinity groups so employees feel like they belong and are accepted at your organization.

Finally, make your policies and practices flexible, so they are more attractive to a wide pool of candidates. For example, offering flexible work hours or telecommuting can help employers recruit and retain more women, more caregivers, more individuals with disabilities and those with religious obligations.

To learn more about DEI, including why it's important and more on what you can do to create real change, please check out https://www.hrsource.org/MAiMIS/Members/Member_Resources/DE_I.aspx?WebsiteKey=5a463184-e9e8-41f4-8856-f557cf9caa7b and join us at 9 a.m. Feb. 18 for our complimentary webinar DE & I: How to initiate change in the workplace.

• Sonal Shah is senior employment counsel with HR Source.

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