DEIB Is More Than a Buzzword: Tips to Prioritize Actions Over Words

While hiring and employing diverse talent is important, building a culture that’s intentionally inclusive and supportive is also critical.

How important is diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) to a company’s employees? In short, very. More than 50 percent of employees want their companies to commit more energy toward promoting diversity.

Companies must embrace DEIB from the inside out and the top down. And workforces expect their leadership to take the lead in promoting DEIB initiatives. But instead of treating DEIB as the latest and greatest buzzword, it’s a practice leaders should approach with intention. Since actions do speak louder than words, here’s how it can look.

Everyone Participates

In some companies, the DEIB leader reports to HR. However, when the entire C-suite demonstrates its commitment to diversity and inclusion, DEIB work gets done and cascades down throughout the organization. Successful DEIB initiatives need the CEO’s support and a systematic, business-led approach and reporting structure designed to:

  • Ensure representation of diverse talent
  • Promote leadership accountability for DEIB
  • Champion transparency and address biases and microaggressions
  • Offer equal opportunity for professional development, growth, and promotions
  • Foster belonging through support, training, acceptance, and appreciation

One solution for ensuring C-suite buy-in is tying DEIB goals to executive compensation. For example, in 2020, Nike created a five-year roadmap to building a more diverse, inclusive workforce. The company set new diversity targets for 2025, including achieving nearly 50 percent representation of women enterprise-wide and 45 percent representation of women in its leadership positions (VP and above).

Successful DEIB initiatives require an organization’s leadership to cultivate and support a DEIB tie-in, with all departments (not just HR) working to create a more inclusive space. DEIB is, after all, evolving to provide a safe space for employees. Organizations recognize the value of merging DEIB and HR as partners for leading everyone from the C-suite to entry-level employees to embrace and think with an inclusive mindset.

How Leaders Can Promote DEIB

To create a culture of DEIB in the workplace, leaders can take the following steps.

  • Foster a culture of diversity by recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce and working to intentionally avoid conscious and unconscious biases that may influence promotions or lead to higher churn.

Finding talent from other companies within the same industry doesn’t necessarily “fix” the underlying problem—it simply shifts talent around. Think outside the box, sourcing talent from different industries or nontraditional backgrounds but with the skill set to excel in your open roles.

From a retention perspective, start by analyzing trends in your data. The issue of employee turnover is systemic. If we can’t see what’s happening—and why—we will keep losing talent as quickly as it’s hired. If this is a problem with your company, ask whether you’re promoting the same people repeatedly. Are you promoting women and people of color? Do women earn lower salaries than men in the same roles? It’s important to pay attention and take proactive, intentional (not reactive) steps to address these issues.

  • Focus on equality. When you level the playing field, you provide equal access to opportunity for everyone. It’s not the same as giving everyone the same level of help. As Cynthia Silva Parker, from the Interaction Institute for Social Change, says, “It’s not about everybody getting the same thing. It’s about everybody getting what they need in order to improve the quality of their situation.”

How do you apply her wisdom to your business operations and workforce? By conducting pay equity reviews, creating and implementing a robust mentorship program, and championing transparency and fairness.

  • Inclusion and belonging are similar concepts, but several differences separate them. Leaders must recognize and incorporate processes to include both. Inclusion refers to the environment you cultivate for your current and potential employees. Everyone should feel welcome. Everyone should have equal opportunities for job success, advancement, and promotion. Everyone should feel valued, respected, and empowered to be comfortable as their authentic selves.

Leaders can foster this culture of inclusion by setting up employee resource groups (ERG), advocating (and providing support) for people to drive positive systemic change, and empowering employees to speak up and share needs and concerns without fear of reprisal, retribution, or retaliation.

When you and your leadership team plan meetings, be inclusive. Invite managers to participate and encourage them to involve their teams in decision-making processes that directly involve their departments. Hold regular one-to-ones and check in with your employees regularly. Use surveys to request feedback.

  • Whereas inclusion relates to initiatives you implement company-wide to ensure equal opportunities for all employees, belonging refers to how those inclusion efforts make your employees feel. Belonging is that feeling of security and support generated when your workforce feels accepted, included, and valued. It drives people to form and maintain positive, meaningful, lasting relationships in their personal and professional lives.

When you champion belonging, it becomes an incredible game-changer with the power to:

  • Increase job performance
  • Reduce turnover risk
  • Improve your employer’s net promoter score
  • Reduce the use of sick days
  • Increase employee promotions by 18X

To promote a culture of belonging, you should be intentional about the culture you’re trying to create. Next, focus on your people to develop a sense of community and belonging among your employees. Acknowledge their identities—going beyond the typical checkboxes—and create spaces for them. Encourage collaboration and engagement, and finally, collect and use data for insights and decision-making.

Work with your HR team to gather and analyze People data to create aggregate reports about ethnicity by team, attrition, promotion status, etc. Then use the data to develop DEIB goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) and schedule regular metrics reviews to evaluate your progress—and find areas for improvement.

Companies have many tools and strategies for attracting, retaining, and supporting well-qualified, diverse talent. But while hiring and employing diverse talent is important, building a culture that’s intentionally inclusive and supportive is also critical, making employees feel heard, respected, and valued.

Leaders who don’t simply talk but walk the walk elevate DEIB as a strategic function—not just an HR function—and who hold themselves accountable for its implementation, support, and success set their companies and employees up for long-term success.

Ivori Johnson
Former Hampton University and Penn State alum, Ivori Johnson (she/her) is recognized for her work in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging space. She identifies as a masculine-presenting Black queer woman and a bonus mom. Johnson advocates for equity, fairness, and representation in the tech industry. She breaks down barriers that do not support inclusive hiring, retention, inclusion, fairness, and equity. Johnson is the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging at ChartHop and has worked for organizations such as Google, Twitter, DuPont, and Capital One. She is passionate about creating opportunities for underestimated communities, but most importantly, making sure that all people belong and are welcome in any industry.