DE&I: Making diversity and inclusion more than just a KPI/policy

Inequities are often exacerbated in times of crisis, and indeed the data shows that diverse employees have been among some of the worst-affected groups over the last two years. The pandemic has shone a light on the cracks in our strategies and systems, showing us that there’s still much work to do to bring diversity and inclusion into our people management practices – and not just as a KPI.


What is DE&I?

DE&I is a commonly-used acronym in workplaces that refers to initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion. To better understand what each of those terms mean, let’s break it down

Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization”. Today, our definition of diversity – and particularly diversity in the workplace – goes beyond that to include diversity of thought, experience, socioeconomic status, ability/disability, education, and more.

Equality and equity are two terms that are often confused. Equality implies the same treatment for everyone, whereas equity refers to fair and just policies that acknowledge the different needs and experiences lived by each individual.

Inclusion is the thread that ties diversity and equity together to give everyone a seat at the table and let them know they are seen, heard, and respected. It is a sense of belonging, a comfort where employees feel they can be their most authentic selves, knowing that their leaders are doing their best to break down any barriers to their full participation.

PepsiCo’s former chair and CEO Indra Nooyi said it best in a Tweet. –

Diversity is a program. Inclusion is a state of mind.


Indra Nooyi (@IndraNooyi) November 10, 2021


What is the role of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and why do they matter more than ever?

So with all this talk about diversity in the workplace, why do so many diversity and inclusion training programs still fail?

It’s pretty simple – when organizations approach diversity as a box on their checklist of KPIs to hit, they fail to acknowledge that diversity and representation alone will not suffice. Creating a culture of inclusion is often the missing link between a failed and successful diversity program.

Our evidence is that an emphasis on representation is not enough; employees need to feel and perceive equality and fairness of opportunity in their workplace. Companies that lead on diversity have taken bold steps to strengthen inclusion.




When employees feel included and like they belong (aka psychologically safe)– they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to an organization. On the flip side, workers that prioritize DE&I (and don’t feel like their employer is up to scratch) are more likely to leave in search of an employer with similar values.

So, how do you make DE&I more than a KPI/ policy?

  1. Start small with getting names and pronouns right.

  2. Acknowledge everyone’s differing challenges and needs.

  3. Identify and overcome unconscious biases with technology.

  4. Walk the walk – show how you are making a difference.

1. Start small with getting names and pronouns right

This is a small step that makes a huge difference. Many of us have made mistakes with pronouncing names. Although it is bound to happen from time to time (even more so for uncommon names), getting a person’s name right is often the first step to building connection and fostering an environment of psychological safety.

Most people with uncommon names are willing to teach you the correct pronunciation if you ask. LinkedIn also has handy a feature that allows users to record themselves pronouncing their names on their profiles. Remember, names are much more than identifiers – names open the doors to a person’s background, culture, and story.

Identifying people by their preferred pronouns (i.e. they/them, she/her, he/him) is another simple practice that goes a long way. Aside from the pronoun features on social media platforms, many people choose to add their pronouns to their email signatures. This creates a more inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ employees, and is one that can be adopted by employees at every level of an organization.

Source: NY Daily News

2. Acknowledge everyone’s differing challenges and needs

To add to the varying needs and challenges diverse/minority groups face, the past two years have introduced entirely new sets of challenges – from remote recruitment and flexible work, to social justice issues to mental health issues.

So when you’re tackling DE&I, ask yourself what kind of hurdles your diverse employees could be facing.

  • Are there current policies that discriminate against certain staff members or groups?

  • Does your flexible work policy accommodate the changing schedules or parents or caregivers?

  • Are your remote staff getting the support they need in achieving their goals?

  • Do you provide enough training and learning and development opportunities for underrepresented team members?

  • Are they receiving sufficient support for their mental health and wellbeing?

  • Even if everyone has a seat at the table, do they all get a chance to speak?

Thankfully, your HR software can help you answer these questions. Consider using pulse surveys to gather continuous feedback on your employees’ needs and challenges they might be facing. You can also use your HR software to monitor employee engagement and wellbeing. By utilizing listening tools, you can gain a better understanding of your employees and insight into diversity and inclusion from their perspective and plan out actionable steps to help meet their needs and overcome their challenges.

However, pulse surveys should be thought of as a way to open up a conversation, not as a replacement for face-to-face conversations. One-to-one catch ups give leaders the chance to follow up on feedback, coach employees on issues that they mentioned and uncover anything that was missed. They also help build a culture of trust by showing that you’re willing to listen and break down any barriers they’re facing.

READ NEXT: 10 Employee Engagement Metrics for HR

3. Identify and overcome unconscious biases with technology

As humans, most of us have biases we are not aware of. Our backgrounds and experiences play a major role in shaping these biases and more often than not, we are oblivious to their existence until they are pointed out.

So how do we overcome these hidden unconscious biases? Diversity advocate Verna Myers suggests that we “walk boldly toward them”.

In order to overcome these biases, we must first identify them – and there are tools that can help us do this.

For example, you can use employee sentiment analysis to gather objective data on how your diverse employees are feeling. Sentiment analysis examines the text from multiple data sources over a period of time (e.g. check-ins, surveys, goal comments, diary notes) and codes it as positive, negative or neutral. If there are trends or patterns of lower (or higher) sentiment in certain groups, then this could indicate potential biases.

Similarly, looking at your attrition data can point to possible biases that might be driving turnover. For example, if multiple employees from minority groups have left a single department, or have raised similar feedback in exit interviews then this would necessitate further investigation. If new hires lack representation despite a diverse pool of candidates, does your recruitment process need a more inclusive refresh? If your remote hires struggle to become engaged, do you need to restructure your onboarding approach?

The more questions you ask, the more likely you are to uncover unconscious biases in your organization (and overcome them!).

4. Walk the walk – show how you are making a difference

During the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020, over 950 brands across the globe stood in solidarity for racial injustice by participating in the #BlackoutTuesday social media initiative. However, since then, people have become increasingly aware of the rise in performative activism by companies. While it’s easy to stand for a cause, customers want to support businesses that take action. They want to see representation in all shapes and forms at every stage of a business– from junior staff members to the C-suite.

In order to demonstrate a genuine interest in diversity and inclusion – not just tokenism – senior leadership teams must also buy into DE&I initiatives. Companies need to be transparent and vocal about the steps they take – are they hiring DE&I consultants to improve their strategy? Are they changing their recruitment practices to be more inclusive? Do men and women at the same level receive equal pay? Businesses are constantly under a microscope so any support shown towards DE&I must be reflected in their actions.

Remember that at the end of the day, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not just about raising awareness and changing minds – it is about changing your processes to make a difference for the better.