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DEI in the Workplace

Do DEI Policies Make a Difference?

We hear a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) these days. DEI policies can help promote ethical behavior and mitigate cognitive biases that might influence the fair treatment of all people. Biases in the workplace exist because in some situations the way we think we should behave doesn’t match our actual behavior thereby creating “cognitive dissonance”.

In an effort to minimize the impact of cognitive biases, many companies have moved to “Artificial Intelligence” systems for the initial screening of applicants in corporate onboarding.  About 60 percent to 70 percent of perspective workers in the U.S. now use this type of screening. Unfortunately, the algorithms used to screen candidates very often are biased as well.

Diversity Versus Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are often viewed the same way. However, there are important differences. The U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management indicates that diversity is hiring and retaining employees that “reflect America’s diversity,” while inclusion is making them feel motivated, and a true part of the organization.

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality. A diverse workforce is one where similarities and differences among employees in terms of different dimensions are molded together to produce the best outcome.

Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part.

The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.

Equality Versus Equity

People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

But when we place it next to equity, that’s when the lines get blurred. Equity can be thought of in terms of equal opportunity that fits a person’s circumstances and abilities. It may mean giving a group of people different access to resources, as with disabled individuals who deserve special access for entry or different testing procedures in the classroom. In the workplace, it means providing accommodations as needed.

Components of DEI Initiatives

Creating a sense of belonging at work is the outcome of three mutually reinforcing attributes. Workers should feel comfortable at work, including being treated fairly and respected by their colleagues. They should feel connected to the people they work with and the teams they are part of. And they should feel that they contribute to meaningful work outcomes—understanding how their unique strengths are helping their teams and organizations achieve common goals.

Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey results offer support for this view. Twenty-five percent of survey respondents identified fostering an environment where workers feel they are treated fairly and can bring their authentic selves to work (feeling comfortable) as the biggest driver of belonging. Thirty-one percent said that having a sense of community and identifying with a defined team (feeling connected) was the biggest driver. And 44 percent reported that feeling aligned to the organization’s purpose, mission, and values and being valued for their individual contributions (feeling their contributions matter) was the biggest driver of belonging at work. The Deloitte survey found that 93 percent of respondents believe a sense of belonging drives organizational performance.

According to a recent survey by PEW, most workers have some experience with DEI measures at their workplace. About six-in-ten (61%) say their company or organization has policies that ensure fairness in hiring, pay or promotions, and 52% say they have training or meetings on DEI at work. Smaller shares say their workplace has a staff member who promotes DEI (33%), that their workplace offers salary transparency (30%), and that it has affinity groups or employee resource groups based on a shared identity (26%). Majorities of those who have access to these measures say each has had a positive impact where they work.

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Some key findings from the survey:

  • Relatively small shares of workers place a lot of importance on diversity at their workplace. 
  • More than half of workers (54%) say their company or organization pays about the right amount of attention to increasing DEI.
  • Women are more likely than men to value DEI at work. 
  • There are wide partisan differences in views of workplace DEI.
  • Half of the workers say it’s extremely or very important to them to work somewhere that is accessible for people with physical disabilities.

The Value of DEI Efforts in the Workplace

A majority of workers (56%) say focusing on increasing DEI inclusion at work is mainly a good thing; 28% say it is neither good nor bad, and 16% say it is a bad thing. Views on this vary along key demographic and partisan lines.

When asked whether the company or organization they work for has a series of measures that are typically associated with DEI, a majority of workers say their employer has policies that ensure everyone is treated fairly in hiring, pay or promotions (61%), and 52% say there are trainings or meetings on DEI where they work.

Smaller shares say their workplace has a staff member whose main job is to promote DEI at work (33%), a way for employees to see the salary range for all positions (30%), and groups created by employees sometimes known as affinity groups or employee resource groups (ERGs) based on shared identities such as gender, race or being a parent (26%).

Workers tend to see positive impact from policies and resources associated with DEI where they work. Among those whose workplace offers each policy or resource, a majority of workers say each measure has had a somewhat or very positive impact where they work. About a third or fewer workers say each resource has had neither a positive nor negative impact, and about one-in-ten or fewer say each of these has had a somewhat or very negative impact.

Successful DEI programs rely on ethical decision-makers and leaders. DEI efforts depend on leaders with strong virtues (i.e., honesty, integrity, respect for others) and are created and nurtured by an organization with clear moral or ethical values that set an ethical tone at the top.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, PhD on May 24, 2023. Find out more about his professional activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/).  Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.