DEI in Organisations - Just What is DEI Trying to Solve?

DEI in Organisations – Just What is DEI Trying to Solve?

DEI in Organisations

DEI in organisations – Is DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) just a solution looking for a problem or is it trying to rectify very real issues in organisations? In this evidence-based article I want to look at what the research says about what DEI is trying to solve and then have a critical / evidence-based look at what it is actually doing.

The goals of DEI in Organisations

Clearly, the simple answer to what DEI is trying to achieve from an organisational perspective is:

  • Greater diversity
  • Better equity and
  • Increased levels of inclusion and belonging in organisations.

However, one needs to look a bit closer at the main objectives Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are trying to achieve in organisations.

The 7 Main Goals of DEI in Organisations

A number of studies have found there are seven primary goals of DEI in organisations:

  1. Increasing representation and diversity at all levels, especially in leadership and management positions. This includes improving gender balance, racial/ethnic diversity, LGBTQ+ inclusion, disability representation, and diversity of thought and backgrounds.
  2. Creating an equitable workplace where everyone has fair access to opportunities, resources, and growth regardless of their identity. The goal is that factors like gender, race, etc. are not predictive of employee experiences and outcomes.
  3. Fostering an inclusive culture where all employees feel they belong, their uniqueness is celebrated, their voices are heard, and they can bring their whole authentic selves to work. Inclusion enables diversity to thrive.
  4. Reducing unconscious bias and discrimination in key talent processes like hiring, promotions, performance evaluations, and compensation. The aim is to have objective, consistent and fair practices.
  5. Providing DEI education and training to build awareness, cultural competence and inclusive leadership skills at all levels. This helps create support for DEI across the organisation.
  6. Establishing accountability and commitment from the top through goal setting, progress tracking, transparent reporting, and tying DEI to business outcomes. What gets measured gets done.
  7. Enabling innovation, better decision making, and business success by leveraging the diversity of perspectives and meeting the needs of diverse customer bases. Diversity is a competitive advantage.

Why? What’s the point?

Studies have found that there are 13 critical reasons organisations reach for DEI thinking and practices:

  1. Improved business performance and profitability. A number of studies show that companies with more diverse leadership teams and inclusive cultures financially outperform their less diverse peers. Diverse companies are more likely to have above-average profitability.
  2. Increased innovation and creativity. Certain forms of diversity increases diversification of thinking and experience which can lead to more innovative ideas, products and services as well as access to a greater variety of customers and clients. Homogeneous teams are prone to groupthink, while diverse teams tend to bring new perspectives that drive creativity. See our special report on this.
  3. Attracting and retaining top talent. Job seekers, especially younger generations, prefer to work for organisations that value DEI. An inclusive culture helps recruit from a wider talent pool and retain employees who feel they belong.
  4. Better understanding of diverse customer needs. A workforce that reflects the diversity of a company’s customer base is better equipped to understand and serve their needs. This enables access to new markets and revenue streams.
  5. Enhanced employee engagement and trust. When employees feel included and valued for their unique contributions, they are more engaged, productive and loyal to the organisation. Inclusive environments promote a sense of psychological safety and trust.
  6. Stronger reputation and brand image. Companies known for their commitment to DEI tend to be viewed more positively by many customers, investors, suppliers and the general public. A strong DEI reputation enhances brand value.
  7. Improved decision making and reduced risk. Diverse teams are more likely to identify risks, question assumptions and make better decisions. DEI mitigates the risks of discrimination lawsuits and lack of compliance with regulations.
  8. Enhanced problem-solving capabilities. Research suggests that diverse teams are often better at solving complex problems. The variety of perspectives and heuristics brought by a diverse team leads to more thorough and innovative problem-solving approaches.
  9. Greater employee satisfaction. Studies indicate that organisations with a strong focus on DEI tend to have higher levels of employee satisfaction. Employees in such environments feel respected and valued, which contributes to overall job satisfaction and well-being
  10. Adaptability and resilience – Organisations with diverse workforces and inclusive cultures are often more adaptable and resilient in the face of change. Diversity enhances the ability of teams to respond to environmental changes and challenges by offering a wider array of solutions and approaches.
  11. Evidence suggests that DEI contributes to better governance practices within organisations. Diverse boards and leadership teams are more likely to exhibit strong governance, ethical standards, and a commitment to corporate social responsibility.
  12. Positive social impact – Organisations are increasingly recognising their role in contributing to social justice and equity. By prioritising DEI, companies not only improve their internal practices but also contribute to positive social change, aligning with broader societal values.
  13. Legal compliance and risk mitigation – Beyond the ethical and business case for DEI, there is also a legal imperative. Organisations are attracted to DEI to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws and regulations, thereby mitigating legal risks and potential financial penalties.

Real-life cases of DEI in action

There are a growing number of excellent real-life case studies of the DEI in organisations leading to very real positive outcomes. For example:

  1. IBM – IBM has long been a pioneer in diversity and inclusion, with a history of implementing policies that support a diverse workforce, including one of the earliest corporate equal opportunity policies in 1953. IBM’s commitment to diversity has contributed to a culture of innovation and collaboration. The company has received numerous awards for its diversity efforts, including top rankings in Diversity Inc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity.
  2. Accenture  – Accenture has set public diversity goals, aiming to achieve a gender-balanced workforce and increase the representation of ethnic and racial minorities. As of 2021, Accenture reported achieving 44% female employees globally and significant improvements in the representation of ethnic and racial minorities in various regions. This diversity has been linked to improved innovation and performance at the company.
  3. Johnson & Johnson – Johnson & Johnson has focused on creating a global culture of inclusion and diversity, with initiatives such as employee resource groups, leadership development programs for women, and health and wellness programs for all employees. These initiatives have led to higher employee engagement, better talent retention, and recognition as a top company for diversity and inclusion by various organisations, including being listed on Diversity Inc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity.
  4. Google – Google has invested in diversity programmes focusing on increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in tech roles, including outreach to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and coding boot camps for women. While progress has been slow, Google has seen increases in the representation of women in leadership roles and underrepresented groups in tech roles. The company has also fostered a more inclusive culture through its employee resource groups and diversity training programs.
  5. Sodexo – Sodexo has implemented a range of diversity and inclusion initiatives, including bias mitigation training, diversity leadership programs, and a global gender balance strategy. Sodexo’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has led to a more engaged workforce, with 87% of employees stating they feel treated fairly regardless of their differences. The company has also seen a positive impact on financial performance, linking gender-balanced management teams to increased profitability.

There is good evidence that organisations who engage with and develop DEI thinking, attitudes and practices can have outcomes that increase their bottom line as well as a range of other outcomes such as better decision-making, client / customer understanding and so on. However, much of the research shows that there are no simple ‘fire and forget’ solutions for using DEI to improve organisational outcomes.

Turning DEI thinking and practice into positive organisational outcomes – its multifactorial

The latest studies are showing there are a number of significant and important mediating factors that also need to be in place for DEI , which is why it is essential to understand what the latest high-quality research is saying and not rely on simple solutions like a training course or programme for example.

The term “multifactorial” refers to something that is influenced or caused by many different factors, variables or ‘things’. For example a whole range of factors influences someone’s health like:

  • Genetic predispositions – Inherited traits that can increase the likelihood of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or certain cancers.
  • Lifestyle choices – This includes diet, physical activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and other personal habits that directly impact health.
  • Environmental factors – Exposure to pollutants, chemicals, and other environmental toxins can affect health, as can living conditions like housing and neighbourhood safety.
  • Socioeconomic status – Factors such as income, education, and occupation can influence access to healthcare, quality of diet, and stress levels, all of which impact health.
  • Psychological stress – Chronic stress can lead to or exacerbate health problems, including mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, and immune function.
  • Social connections and support – Strong social networks and supportive relationships can contribute to better mental and physical health outcomes.
  • Healthcare access – Availability of and access to quality healthcare services can significantly influence health outcomes, including preventive care and treatment of acute and chronic conditions.
  • Cultural factors – Cultural beliefs and practices can influence health behaviours, attitudes towards seeking medical care, and dietary habits.
  • Educational level – Education can impact health literacy, which in turn affects health behaviours and the ability to navigate the healthcare system.
  • Age and developmental factors – Different stages of life come with specific health risks and challenges, from childhood through to old age.

and so on. Further all of this factors and more interact with each other in complex ways, which is why proper research can indicate the most important facts for particular situations. For example, quitting smoking has been found to have one of the most profound ways of improving health. So some of the factors are ‘weighted’ in that they contribute a greater amount to success.

Factors which impact DEI success

In the DEI arena for example, some of the associated factors which studies have found increase the chances of DEI practices and thinking improving organisational outcomes include:

  1. Leadership Commitment – Strong, visible support from top management and leaders who actively champion DEI initiatives and model inclusive behaviours.
  2. Inclusive Culture – An organisational culture that genuinely values diversity and fosters a sense of belonging for all employees, where differences are celebrated and everyone feels respected and valued.
  3. Comprehensive Training Programs – DEI training that goes beyond one-off sessions and is integrated into ongoing learning and development, including unconscious bias training and cultural competence development.
  4. Clear DEI Goals and Metrics – Setting specific, measurable objectives for DEI efforts, with regular tracking and reporting of progress, helps in holding the organisation accountable and ensures continuous improvement.
  5. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – Support networks that provide a voice for underrepresented groups within the organisation, offering a platform for sharing experiences, fostering professional development, and contributing to policy development.
  6. Equitable HR Practices – Fair and transparent HR policies and practices in recruitment, promotion, and compensation that actively seek to eliminate bias and barriers to equity.
  7. Open Communication Channels – Mechanisms that encourage feedback and dialogue about DEI issues, including regular surveys, town hall meetings, and safe spaces for sharing concerns and experiences.
  8. Diverse Representation – Efforts to ensure diversity at all levels of the organisation, particularly in leadership and decision-making roles, to reflect a wide range of perspectives and experiences.
  9. Community Engagement and Social Responsibility – Initiatives that extend beyond the organisation to engage with and support diverse communities, enhancing the company’s social impact and connection to a broader range of stakeholders.
  10. Adaptability and Continuous Learning – An organisational mindset that embraces change, values diverse perspectives, and is committed to continuous learning and adaptation in DEI practices.

The point here is that it is a combination of groups of such factors and more, which helps to turn a DEI initiative or practice into a successful outcome for the organisation and its people.

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