Focus on diversity in the workplace is nothing new. However, digging below surface-level gestures is still something of a novelty at many workplaces. More than just putting up a poster for a holiday or celebration, authentic practice moves beyond just acknowledging differences are there; it also leans into equity and inclusion.
Diversity is an asset. Racially and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better and 70% more likely to capture new markets. This isn’t just the case in a few countries, either; this has been demonstrated worldwide. And as with any asset, you need to take steps to nurture and enhance it.
Below, you’ll find a practical explanation of what diversity, equity and inclusion mean, the types of diversity to be mindful of and how to curate a more inclusive workplace – plus key insights from Brittany Leaper, People & Culture Manager at 7shifts.
What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean in the workplace?
If you’re new to the concept, the meaning of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace environment might be a bit abstract. After all, those are three interrelated but distinct concepts being lumped together. So, let’s make things more concrete by breaking down each of these terms.
Out of these three terms, the workplace diversity definition is often the easiest to understand. It encompasses all the ways we might differ from each other, from inherent characteristics to personal beliefs. We really like the way Dave D’Oyen, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, summarized it during a recent Thriver roundtable: “Diversity is the range of human differences.”
Here is a term that can be a bit fuzzy. Many people confuse equity with equality. The problem is that equality is built on the idea of everyone getting the same (same pay, same accommodations, etc.). Equity is about everyone getting what they need – even when that means different things for different people.
Inclusion is seemingly the most intuitive term on this list. When you ensure people are part of things, you are including them. But the definition of an inclusive workplace culture is about more than offering everyone a seat at the table. In fact, it could mean rebuilding that table from scratch, with all the stakeholders present from the ideation stage onward.
DE&I in the workplace
Diversity, equity and inclusion are about ensuring that your workplace is sufficiently diverse and that all employees have their needs met and feel that they authentically belong when they are with your company. Surface-level platitudes and gestures will not do when it comes to supporting diversity and inclusion; you have to dig deep into who people are and what matters to them, both as members of various groups and as individuals within those identities.
Types of diversity in the workplace
There are so many ways we differ from each other – just thinking about all of them can be overwhelming! To help pull things in a bit, you can conceptualize all these different identities into four overarching types of workplace diversity: internal, external, organizational and worldview.
With internal diversity, you are looking at unalterable characteristics of a person – though this does not mean that they cannot change (for example, our age is unalterable yet changes each year). Think of them as our built-in features as opposed to things we add on as we go. Examples of internal diversity in the workplace include:
- Sexual orientation
- Place of birth
- Cultural identity
- Physical and mental abilities
External diversity describes things that are tightly related to personal identity but are not quite as firmly set as those under internal diversity. These can be choices of the individual or determined by other people and the environment, but there is either room for change or a natural fluidity to them. Examples of external diversity in the workplace include:
- Personal interests
- Level and type of education
- Physical appearance
- Area of residence
- Family and relationship status
- Socioeconomic level
- Life experiences
Also commonly called functional diversity, this is all about differences between individuals as assigned to them by your company. These workplace identities result in each person having unique experiences, which must factor into how you manage your teams. Examples of organizational diversity in the workplace include:
- Job title
- Job roles
- Pay type
This type of diversity is often informed by the types above. It is subject to change with time, but ultimately, it influences how people conceptualize themselves, and therefore is important to consider in work environments. Examples of worldview diversity in the workplace include:
- Political beliefs and activism
- Views on morality
- General outlook on life
Why recognizing diversity matters
To put it simply, you have to see differences before you can ensure people are treated equitably and genuinely included. You must first see differences in beliefs to encourage religious inclusion in the workplace. You have to notice differences in physical ability to foster disability equity in the workplace. Once you fully take stock of the wide variety of people at your company, then you can move on to taking steps towards authentic equity and inclusion.
What is the role of leadership in DE&I in the workplace?
We interviewed Brittany Leaper, People & Culture Manager at 7shifts to get advice from someone who already has built a strong DE&I culture. This is a question she has pondered a lot over the years, and her perspective is the product of her experience. Here is the insight she has to offer on how leadership and DE&I are linked.
The Diversity and Inclusion piece of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion needs to be owned by leadership. This means every people leader is responsible for creating an inclusive environment amongst their teams. It’s the CEO’s job to create a safe work environment – one way to achieve this is by taking an authentic stance on social issues.
When leadership leads by example and acts as a role model, it helps people feel confident in bringing their whole selves to work. We care about leveling up our managers and we support this by holding quarterly management training sessions. Previous sessions included how leadership can support DE&I initiatives, types of unconscious bias, sensitivity training, power/privilege/liberation, allyship & advocacy. When it comes to training, don’t “set it and forget it”. Ongoing training makes an impact, keeps learnings top of mind and allows teams to be continually supported.
In addition, hiring managers are responsible for the people we bring into the company and creating a diverse environment. We put a large emphasis on the candidate experience and standing by our core value: Making Every Experience an 11. One way we approach this is by providing constructive feedback to all candidates that are not successfully hired so they know it’s because of their skillset. If you are measuring the right things, the feedback is helpful and nothing to be afraid of.
What is the most important strategy for promoting DE&I in the workplace?
Brittany Leaper believes that a well-rounded approach is the only way to authentically promote DE&I in the workplace. However, there is one step she feels comes above all others. Here’s what she had to say:
The most important strategy for promoting DE&I in the workplace is involving everyone in the company. This allows us to capture topics and ideas that people across 7shifts care about. Our DE&I committee helps raise awareness around the issues impacting 7shifts, our customers and the community. We focus on creating a psychologically safe environment so every person can show up to work as their authentic selves. DE&I starts from the top; leaders need to call out the actions of others and say, “Hey, that joke wasn’t very funny.” If you don’t start at the top, it will never cascade throughout the rest of the company.
Our People & Culture Team is responsible for the Equity piece of DE&I. They help conduct pay equity studies and have access to the full picture to help ensure folks are promoted and paid fairly across the company.
Based on feedback received from our annual DE&I Assessment Survey, we prioritize activities & initiatives within 7shifts that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. We strive to keep diversity top of mind. It’s important to include a demographics section in the survey to identify trends across different groups. From there, you can take a nuanced approach to understand the information and splice demographic data to take a closer look at trends across the company.
We are proud to share that our percentage of women within the company has increased by 7% this year and employees who are in a leadership role that are also a visible minority have increased by 5%.
Other ways to improve and promote DE&I in the workplace
- Dig deep to find unconscious biases
Most of us see ourselves as good, open-minded, non-prejudiced people. The problem is that all of us have our biases, and unfortunately, many of these are ones we aren’t even aware of. They often contrast with our conscious beliefs, making us blind to the fact that they are there.
As team leaders and guides, your job is to help uncover these unconscious biases – in yourself and within your workforce. This is hard work, and it must be done over time. To start things up, ask that everyone complete some of the Implicit Association Tests by Project Implicit. Then, support this with workshops and training that further help people uncover the thought patterns and behaviors they aren’t even aware of.
Looking for the ideal workshop for uncovering these hidden patterns? Book Microaggressions and Unconscious Biases from Sum of Us.
- Think about inherent biases in the dominant culture
In this case, we are moving beyond the internal to the external biases that place pressure on companies and individuals to conform. For example, do you only observe federal holidays for your days off? If so, take a step back and ask yourself, who does this privilege? In most cases, the answer will be Christians and those who follow a Euro-centric view of history.
Now, you won’t be able to make every holiday one that you observe by shuttering the office. However, there are plenty of ways to approach this. From extending the timeline of holiday breaks to accommodate more celebrations to using more inclusive names for observances (Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day) to celebrating specific communities, such as with LGBTQ+ History Month, you can fight the larger cultural biases within your workplace.
- Find out who your employees are
Diversity at work isn’t always something you can see just by taking a walk around the office floor. Many of the ways we are different are hidden. Even when it comes to diversity we can see, it is easy to get things wrong. You might see a man when the employee is non-binary or a white person when, in reality, they are Latino with a light complexion.
Don’t rely on your observation skills. Instead, conduct a comprehensive survey that will help you better understand the demographics of your workforce. Even if the responses are anonymous, this will help you understand who you are working with and spot areas where your current approach is lacking.
Need help including all these diverse people? Check out Are Your Meetings Inclusive? by Pinkcareers.
- Give the stakeholders a voice
The idea of being compassionate and doing your best to make everyone feel included is honorable. It also falls short. Ideally, it should be diverse individuals who are leading the way with DE&I ideas for the workplace.
The problem? Oftentimes, the people at the top are pretty homogeneous. And while that is absolutely something to work on changing, it takes a little more time, effort and influence than most HR staff and managers have. However, what you can do is ensure that the right stakeholders have a voice. By forming an inclusion council made up of the diverse people you are looking to properly support, you don’t need to guess or rely on external research; you can hear what is needed from the people directly impacted by your efforts.
- Tailor the physical environment
As HR and people ops professionals, you are all about the individual. When it comes to DE&I, you naturally think about the thoughts and actions of yourself and others. But especially when it comes to equity and inclusion, you need to think about the physical environment as well.
The big focus here is always going to be on accessibility for individuals with disabilities. From corners that wheelchairs can navigate to safe storage for medications, there is so much we can do to make the workplace more physically accommodating.
But it isn’t just those with disabilities who need accommodations. Muslim workers need a space to pray with access to a washbasin. Nursing mothers need somewhere to comfortably pump or feed their baby. It is essential that spaces be modified to meet the needs of the diverse workforce.
For more guidance on disability accommodations, check Accessibility Best Practices & Disability Allyship training.
- End the middle school lunch table dynamic
Ultimately, who your workers choose to socialize with is up to them. However, when it comes to work-related activities, you need to mix up your teams. In each area of your company, ask yourself, am I seeing a diverse representation of people?
If not, their work and decisions will naturally favor those like them. You can correct this by reforming your existing teams. However, in many cases, this is something you need to correct at the hiring level. While we don’t suggest passing out the pink slips just to hire a more diverse workforce, it is a good idea to think about representation in future hiring decisions.
What are specific challenges in terms of bringing DE&I into the workplace?
Working DE&I into your workplace won’t be without its roadblocks, but they can be overcome. Here is what Brittany Leaper had to say about notable challenges in implementing DE&I and how to work around them.
We aren’t perfect but we try to bring DE&I to the forefront of every decision we make. We continue to challenge ourselves to consider different perspectives and get creative about how we can diversify our candidate pool. There is always more we can be doing in regards to DE&I and we are learning and improving each and every day.
Being radically candid is one of our core values, which means we value giving feedback in an open, honest and transparent way. This allows us to call each other out when someone does or says something that may not be inclusive. This core value is also brought to life through our annual DE&I survey with the goal of understanding the challenges that people at 7shifts face with DE&I and how we can solve them.
Building an inclusive culture at your workplace requires a lot of thought and purposeful action. However, it can be done – and everyone can have fun and learn along the way! Whether you are a minority yourself or not, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and work to embrace inclusive workplace practices. We all have room to grow.
Need some inspiration? Take a look at some great training for promoting DE&I in the workplace.