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7 Ways Leaders Can Level Up Their DEI Workplace Strategy Here's how to go from strategy to meaningful action in building a workforce that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

By Angela Kambouris Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As news media report worldwide protests over racial inequality, the plight of women and Covid-19's impact on marginalized groups, the pandemic has attracted greater attention to inequity in our communities and workplaces. Moreover, it has cast a spotlight on many long-standing issues that previously had been overlooked.

Today, organizations are reviewing, refining and revamping their efforts to promote a more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI) work environment as DEI has jumped to the fourth spot on HR's top priorities for this year. Organizations are stepping forward to resolve inequities, have redesigned products, rewritten policies and rolled out system changes to significantly change the operating landscape.

McKinsey reports that companies with a specific focus on DEI have 35% higher returns than workplaces that do not. In addition, further research supports that investment in DEI has as much as 19% higher innovation revenues, and nearly a third of all job seekers consider DEI to be a critical factor in selecting future organizations to work in.

Related: 10 Reasons Why a DEI Coach Is Good for Business

Here are seven ways to cascade diversity, equity and inclusivity within the workplace.

1. Starting from the top

Workplaces with diverse leadership are more profitable and have more market value. Leadership commitment, clear expectations and collective dedication will surge DEI within the workplace. Likewise, accountability will embed it into an organization's strategy.

A leader's visibility and active participation in DEI efforts speak volumes within the workplace. Putting company values into practice sets an example for employees and helps sustain momentum. Employees take cues from leaders and gauge their authenticity based on their actions, words and behavior. Leaders can show commitment through proactive communication and collaborative goal setting with teams.

Consistently demonstrating leadership efforts will strengthen the organization's mission and values and build a shared commitment to the movement. Disability inclusion is at the forefront of Citi's thinking, as in early 2020, the CEO signed on to The Valuable 500, a global movement to put disability on the business-leadership agenda.

2. Create data-driven action plans

Organizations must invest in a diagnostic approach to track indicators of inclusion risk and opportunity to cultivate a healthier, more inclusive workplace culture. What you measure matters, and evaluating data is a great way to hold yourself, your team and the organization accountable. Data can show if new initiatives are driving the positive change you hoped for, and if not, then new insights you need to pivot quickly to something more practical.

When you unlock, uncover and analyze people issues in the workplace in the context of bias, discrimination, harassment and ethics, it enables senior leadership and employees to identify issues, change behaviors and solve problems. Emtrain provides a workplace-culture platform to take a quick pulse of company culture and provide insights to diagnose issues and improve diversity.

3. Respectful workplaces become magnets for diverse talent

When employees feel respected, they perform better, are more engaged and have higher well-being. A culture that supports DEI can create a unique employee experience, where people can come to work feeling comfortable being themselves and free to leverage their talents to help the team and organization succeed.

Salesforce launched Equality Circles, where leaders and employees can have candid and safe conversations on race to support people in processing, grieving and moving forward together. Furthermore, the company launched its Racial Equality and Justice Task Force to drive systemic change across four pillars: people, purchasing, philanthropy and policy.

Related: 4 Ways DEI Can Help Manage Business Risk

4. Drive commitment

Inclusion embodies all people. DEI embraces a commitment to all initiatives. Engaging people at all levels provides an opportunity to understand the differences in employee experiences.

Job descriptions should encapsulate the commitment to DEI, and leaders are held accountable for the execution and leadership of DEI principles, practices and promotions. RingCentral partnered with writing platform, Textio, to improve all job descriptions and sourcing emails to ensure all roles attract a diverse cross-section of talent.

Leaders must be accountable for DEI success through personal-performance metrics and evaluations. DEI discussions, training and reflection must be a driven agenda at every leadership meeting, as well as how inequality has been addressed. Starbucks has begun defining key-performance indicators for DEI, and the BBC has tied each leader's performance and progress to an assessment against gender, ethnicity, disability and LGBTQ+ equity objectives.

5. Reenergize hiring practices

Organizational commitment to training hiring managers and interviewers on best recruitment practices, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership is needed today. As a result, Salesforce adopted a Chief Equality and Recruiting Officer to foster inclusivity at each step of the hiring process to build a workplace that reflects the communities the company serves.

Leaders can expand recruiting methodologies by reaching out into underrepresented communities in their workforce, building relationships with professional associations and community organizations, and attending job fairs. Hiring teams can engage in "blind auditions," where names are removed when reviewing resumes and applications. Recruit Smarter was implemented in Australia to stamp out bias through anonymous hiring.

Related: Effective DEI Strategies That Result in Lasting Change

6. DEI investment in people

Proactive DEI training is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, leaders can implement different opportunities for employees to participate in DEI training-webinars, interactive and specific workshops or online training.

Invitae launched seven employee resource groups such as Women in Tech, Peer Soul Support and Black Genetics to lead community table talks and foster community and allyship among employees. In addition, General Motors publicly acted to condemn police brutality, racism and intimidation, and the CEO, Mary Barra, joined other community leaders to declare equal justice for every American.

Banner Health adopted a strong focus on talent, culture and community through establishing Team Member Resource Groups that offer individual and team member development, community outreach and resources for well-being. In addition, facilitator-led virtual platforms delivered DEI education and conversations on leading through Covid-19, mental health and civil unrest. They took it one step further and collaborated with community partners to inform underserved communities with accurate health information and resources.

7. Better conversations, better culture

One-off DEI training programs do not result in sustained behavior change. However, when training is embraced as a multifaceted approach, organizations can focus on leadership-development coaching to strengthen relationships with the people they lead. As a result, psychological safety can be created within the workplace, and leaders can make fair and equitable decisions regarding the processes they influence, including performance, pay and promotions.

Reviewing systems and practices connected with recruiting, hiring and promoting talent provides rich data to ask the tough questions about employee-development practices. How do people access on-the-job learning? What does the data tell us about who has access to key assignments? Who has been identified for leadership coaching? What standards apply to groups? Who is receiving mentoring and coaching?

The Better Conversations Every Day program fosters direct conversations to break down silos and communication barriers and teaches leaders of all levels how to hold a coaching conversation with increased openness, understanding and respect for differences.

Angela Kambouris

CEO of Evoluccion Consulting Agency

Angela Kambouris built a high-level career as an executive in the field of vulnerability and trauma. A global consultant and founder of Evoluccion Consulting Agency, she writes about how the leader’s mindset drives workplace culture, how to cultivate leaders and set the leadership team for success.

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