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DEI: Small, Practical Steps for Major Impact

For small or medium-sized organizations with limited resources to dedicate to DEI efforts, determining how to meaningfully create a more inclusive work environment can be daunting. However, focusing efforts on discrete goals can lead to meaningful change. The following are three action items any business can take to create a more inclusive organization:

Get Leadership on Board. The leadership team needs to be supportive of any DEI initiatives for them to be successful. From the outset, it is important to partner with the leadership team to help them understand the importance of DEI initiatives and to make sure they set the tone by modeling inclusive behavior. Ensure that leadership makes efforts to continually educate themselves so they can work through challenging or uncomfortable situations respectfully. Underscore the importance of listening, learning, and empathy with leadership as they seek to better understand the experiences of the employees.

Conduct a Climate Assessment. Develop a survey to assess how employees feel about the work environment. The survey can include questions related to perceptions about management and leadership, decision-making, raising concerns, and whether they feel included in the workplace (e.g., “I feel comfortable being my whole self at work”). An employee survey is a straightforward but effective tool for gaining an understanding of your employees’ perspectives on their workplace, as well as a driver for next steps.

The survey helps identify areas where the organizational culture is strong and where there are opportunities for improvement. A survey also creates a baseline from which to set goals and then, if repeated periodically, compare to future results to measure progress.  

Next steps following the survey could include facilitating focus groups to better understand employee  perspectives and priorities and identify root causes for less favorable scores. Management and employees can work together to develop strategies for addressing areas that need improvement, such as improving communication and training. While training is an integral part of a long-term DEI plan, it is more effective when done in conjunction with other action items and tailored to the specific needs of the organization. Training could include topics such as interrupting biases, bystander responsibilities, and how to be a better ally, among others.

Revisit Policies. It is important to make sure the company’s mission statement, values, and policies are consistent with its DEI initiatives. Revising policies to eliminate outdated, non-inclusive, and gendered language is therefore critical. As an example, replace “he” or “she” in employee handbooks with gender-neutral pronouns. Similarly, “dress code” policies can conflict with creating an inclusive organization. Additional guidance on appearance policies can be found here. In addition, with the increase of remote working, revisiting policies related to flexible work schedules may be important.

These three action items are manageable and can lead to meaningful impact in creating a more inclusive work environment. At EPS, we are here to collaborate with organizations wherever they are on their DEI journey.