Diversity & Inclusion

How Organizations Must Build DEI Programs Fit for 2024

As organizations navigate the landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) today, their focus has shifted from simply defining DEI and reiterating its importance to focusing on how to successfully measure and achieve its intended outcome: fostering an environment where all employees can thrive and feel a sense of belonging.

But how do HR teams quantify this sense of belonging? While it’s a challenging task, they can implement strategies to cultivate a diverse workforce where everyone has equitable opportunities to grow and succeed. It’s no new insight that organizations poised for success embrace the unique backgrounds and perspectives of their employees— but it also now marks the standard for attracting and retaining NextGen talent, with 83% of Gen-Zers considering an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion when deciding where to work.

So, what’s the key to an impactful DEI program fit for 2024? It lies in an agile and comprehensive approach rooted in strategic planning and continuous evaluation. Perhaps the most crucial ingredient of all – transparency.

Assessment and Engagement: Setting the Foundation

To lay the groundwork for a successful DEI program, HR teams must first conduct a thorough assessment of their current workforce demographics and representation mix, alongside actively involving employees to gather their feedback and ideas. Done together, this assessment forms the basis for tailored initiatives and establishes a starting point for gauging advancement compared to industry benchmarks.

Facilitating open feedback mechanisms involving all stakeholders – employees, leadership, even customers and external partners – is crucial for gaining diverse perspectives and establishing priority areas for improvement. This can be effectively achieved by using employee engagement surveys to gauge sentiment, enabling HR teams to assess whether their employees feel respected and valued and that the organization prioritizes their well-being.

Additionally, incorporating focus groups is crucial for gathering anecdotal feedback, providing deeper insights into outcomes and suggestions at a human level. It’s essential to avoid the pitfall of soliciting feedback without action; readiness to act on feedback and maintaining transparency is key. Leveraging communication avenues like quarterly town hall meetings or regular updates ensures everyone is informed of progress. Failing to address feedback may lead to disengagement among employees who consistently provide input but see no changes. To avoid this, establishing a feedback loop process is vital— updating employees on received feedback, actions taken, and reasons certain suggestions may not be feasible at the time.

Execution Strategies: Turning Vision into Action

But before organizations can turn all the insights gathered into action, they first must develop clear strategies and action plans, allocating resources across recruitment, training, policies, and cultural development. Diversifying recruitment efforts entails engaging in talent and cultural outreach initiatives both internally and externally to attract NextGen workers. For instance, collaborating with institutions like HBCUs, community colleges, and academic boot camps not only broadens the talent pool but also enhances the organization’s reputation as an inclusive employer, thereby attracting more diverse talent. This is particularly crucial in the tech industry, where achieving representation for women and minorities remains a challenge.

Additionally, it’s essential to provide tailored training to hiring managers to raise awareness and address unconscious bias— a phenomenon inherent in all humans where our brains develop shortcuts to process data that can lead to unfair decisions or conclusions. Mitigating these biases requires ongoing self-reflection and an intentional effort to examine our decisions continuously.

Metrics and KPIs: Tracking Progress and Accountability

Establishing and monitoring metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are table stakes for tracking progress and holding organizations accountable. This includes metrics related to hiring and retaining women and underrepresented groups, increasing their representation in leadership roles and specific geographical areas, as well as measuring promotion rates and ensuring pay equity. Intentional programming, such as leadership development initiatives tailored for women, is crucial for achieving these goals, especially considering the alarming statistic from McKinsey reported by the World Economic Forum that 50% of women in tech leadership roles leave them by the age of 35.

Regular evaluation of DEI initiatives should be built into your process for refining strategies and adapting to changing circumstances. Tech leaders must remain informed about best practices and emerging trends while acknowledging and rectifying any missteps along the way. By regularly reviewing progress against established metrics and soliciting input from employees and stakeholders, organizations can ensure that their DEI efforts remain effective and relevant.

Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approach: Fostering a Passionate Culture

Concurrent with all these steps, companies should always be running programs aimed at enlisting the passion and assistance of their employees to develop and connect them with the company culture. These programs should offer educational resources, creative events, and open forums, both internally and externally, to promote cross-cultural awareness and reinforce the organization’s commitment to inclusion and belonging.

Achieving meaningful progress in DEI requires both top-down accountability and grassroots engagement. Strong executive sponsorship is essential, with leaders modeling desired behaviors and investing in mechanisms to measure progress. At the same time, capturing the hearts and minds of employees is equally vital. By inviting employees to be active participants in the DEI journey, organizations can foster a sense of ownership and commitment to creating a more inclusive workplace culture.

Libby Hillenbrand is Senior Director, Leadership Development & DEI at Rocket Software.

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