A group of white-collar professionals of different races and physical abilities

Imagine a recruiter telling a top candidate how her LinkedIn profile fits the job description they are recruiting for, only to reject the candidate after finding out that she is older than what the employer they represent is looking for.

This taints the candidate's experience and creates a negative impression of the company. Such practices highlight the pressing need for a change in hiring perspectives.

In the swiftly evolving workplace, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I or DEI) stand out as pivotal subjects captivating the attention of professionals.

Related: Beyond confidence: 3 strategies to help female leaders rise

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are not just buzzwords, but necessary for any company to thrive. By embracing and valuing diversity, embedding equity and creating an inclusive environment, we unlock the full potential of our people to drive innovation, creativity, and success,” says Rani Nandan, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Director at PageGroup APAC.

Some might assume that people who want DE&I only come from marginalised groups. However, research has shown that that isn’t so. In Asia Pacific, one in three men says that a lack of clear DE&I commitment from a potential employer would stop them from pursuing an interview or opportunity at a company, as revealed in a company culture report by Michael Page for the Asia Pacific

Related: How to create a great employee experience – in the office or at home

What does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean?

a group of white collar professionals of different races in a work environment

Diversity, equity, and inclusion represent values integral to the foundation of successful organisations. But what exactly do these terms mean? And why have they become indispensable in the modern workplace?

Diversity

Diversity refers to the unique differences that each individual brings to the table. This encompasses a wide range of attributes, including race, gender, age, socio-economic status, physical disabilities, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, educational background, demographic characteristics and other life experiences.

While it’s easy to think of diversity in terms of visible traits, it also covers invisible attributes like professional backgrounds, perspectives, and thoughts.

Equity

Equity ensures everyone has equal access to opportunities, regardless of their background, physical abilities, or gender identity.

It’s about understanding and addressing the barriers that prevent certain marginalised groups from having the same chances as others. This doesn’t mean treating everyone equally but recognising differences and tailoring strategies to level the playing field.

Inclusion

Inclusion goes beyond mere representation of ethnic diversity. It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels heard, empowered and valued to participate. Teams with inclusive cultures make better decisions up to 87% of the time.

This means that diverse voices are not only present but are also integral to decision-making processes. An inclusive work culture celebrates differences and ensures everyone can thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

Related: How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work

The moral imperative of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Why it’s the right thing to do

male working professional with hearing aid at a workdesk

Beyond strategic advantages and business outcomes lies a profound ethical call to action – one that challenges our collective conscience and defines our shared humanity: moral imperatives. These elevate DE&I from a mere initiative to an ethical obligation, and they are multi-fold:

Human dignity

Every individual deserves respect and recognition irrespective of their background. Recognising the inherent worth of every person lays the foundation of DE&I.

Fairness and justice

Equity ensures that equal opportunities and resources are available to every one according to their needs, thereby promoting fairness. It’s a moral duty to give everyone an equal shot at success, regardless of their starting point.

Equity also applies to pay equity. Women are still paid less than men for the same job with the same skills. Despite incremental changes, the persistent gender pay gap remains a significant, unresolved issue in today’s workforce.

Bridging the gap between recognising a problem and implementing a solution, some forward-thinking companies like Salesforce have taken proactive steps towards pay equity.

Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another's uniqueness.
- Ola Joseph

Building stronger communities

Diverse and inclusive environments cultivate mutual understanding, bridging gaps between cultural and social groups. This leads to more cohesive, tolerant, and harmonious communities.

Cultivating empathy

By fostering an inclusive environment, we inadvertently nurture empathy, understanding, and mutual respect among individuals. It leads to better employee well-being.

Combatting systemic discrimination

Systemic discrimination has persisted for centuries, marginalising countless individuals. Adopting DE&I will actively challenge and dismantle these deep-rooted biases and prejudices.

Legacy for future generations

By upholding DE&I values today, organisations lay the groundwork for a more inclusive future, ensuring that upcoming generations inherit a world where people are judged by their character and not their background.

Reaping the collective benefits

Diverse teams drive innovation, leading to economic growth, while inclusive societies are generally more peaceful and productive. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers. In comparison, ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their peers. Beyond individual gains, embracing DE&I benefits society.

The moral imperatives of DE&I are not just guidelines for organisations but a compass pointing towards a more equitable future. It urges us to create inclusive workplaces where every voice is heard, every talent recognised, and every individual valued.

7 Benefits of DE&I: The new currency of modern workspaces

An Asian mum working at home while engaging her child

When navigating the modern workspace, DE&I can amplify unique perspectives and foster an environment of trust and innovation. After all, it has become a potent catalyst that fuels innovation, trust, and an overarching sense of belonging in the modern workplace. 

1. Enhanced innovation and creativity

Diverse teams are more creative and better problem-solvers. A diverse workforce isn’t about colourful company photos. It’s a dynamic think tank where every perspective adds a new layer of innovation.

Getting individuals from various backgrounds together not only helps businesses diversify but also helps them evolve, challenging conventions and creating innovative solutions.

2. Supercharge employee drive and performance

Performance skyrockets when everyone feels like a valued part of the puzzle. According to a Deloitte report, 83% of millennials are actively engaged when they believe their organisation fosters an inclusive culture, compared to only 60% of millennials who are actively engaged when their organisation does not foster such a culture.

Engaged and empowered employees aren’t just working for a paycheque; they’re committed stakeholders. The byproduct? Plummeting turnover rates and a tangible reduction in those hefty recruitment bills.

3. Reflects the global market

Our world is a melting pot of cultures, identities, and perspectives. A diverse and inclusive workforce is better equipped to understand and cater to the diverse needs of global clients and consumers.

4. Attracts top talent

85% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with an employer that shows a high level of diversity and inclusion. Top-tier talent today seeks more than a hefty salary. They’re hunting for growth, purpose, and inclusivity.

DE&I is no longer a perk – it’s a promise that attracts the best in the business. On top of that, diversity and inclusion initiatives can improve employee retention rates by up to 72%.

Diversity is not a compliance issue, it's a business strategy.
- Kathy Hannan

5. Tapping into hidden talent

The broader the range of experiences and perspectives a company can draw upon, the richer the pool of ideas and innovative solutions it can generate. And herein lies the concept of 'hidden talent' – a reservoir of potential that, in the absence of inclusive policies, remains largely untapped.

Hidden talent refers to individuals who, due to systemic biases or traditional hiring practices, might have yet to be considered by employers. These individuals bring different experiences, skills, and perspectives that can contribute to an organisation's growth.

This untapped talent pool includes but is not limited to, people with disabilities, those from marginalised communities, and individuals returning to the workforce after significant gaps. These candidates may offer a fresh and often unique perspective, challenging the status quo and driving innovation from angles employers might not have previously considered.

Moreover, tapping into hidden talent also sends a powerful message both internally and externally. Internally, it fosters a culture of respect, acceptance, and empowerment. Externally, it positions the company as a forward-thinking, equitable employer – a factor that is increasingly important in today's competitive talent market.

6. Mitigates risks

An inclusive workplace isn’t just about mitigating risks; it’s about pre-empting them. By fostering a culture of respect and understanding, businesses reduce potential conflicts and create a harmonious symphony of collaboration.

7. Boosts financial performance

DE&I isn’t just ethically correct – it’s commercially smart. Research doesn’t just suggest but underscores the correlation between DE&I and sterling financial performance. Companies with diverse workforces are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, while companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation.

McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, has conducted several studies highlighting diversity's positive impact on business performance.

Their reports, including “Diversity Wins” (May 2020) and “Delivering Through Diversity” (January 2018), found that companies with diverse leadership teams tend to have higher financial returns and are more likely to outperform their less diverse counterparts.

Credit Suisse Research Institute’s report titled “The CS Gender 3000: The Reward for Change” (September 2019) analysed the gender diversity of companies and found that companies with more women in decision-making roles tend to exhibit better financial performance and higher returns on equity.

DE&I is a transformative strategy. It redefines the way businesses operate, innovate, and thrive. And in the ever-evolving workspace, it’s the enterprises that embrace DE&I that will lead the charge into the future.

Common barriers to creating a diverse workforce

Female employees of different age groups working together in the office

Despite the many benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, there are still many barriers to achieving it.

Unconscious bias

One of the most common barriers to achieving DE&I in the workplace is unconscious bias. This refers to the automatic and unintentional attitudes or stereotypes that people hold about certain groups of people, and it can lead to discrimination in hiring, promotion, and other workplace practices.

Lack of diversity in leadership

When a particular group dominates leadership positions, achieving DE&I in the workplace can be difficult. This is because leadership positions significantly influence the company culture and decision-making processes.

Without diversity in leadership, creating an inclusive workplace culture that values and supports all employees can be challenging.

Related: 11 traits you need to be a highly effective leader

Resistance to change

Another common barrier to achieving DE&I in the workplace is resistance to change. Some employees may resist changes in workplace practices or policies designed to promote diversity, equity, and diversity equity and inclusion in the workplace. This can make implementing new initiatives difficult and slow progress towards achieving DE&I goals.

Lack of awareness and education

Many employees may not fully understand the importance of DE&I in the workplace or may not be aware of how their biases and behaviours contribute to inequality. Creating a workplace culture that values diversity and promotes equity and inclusion can be challenging without education and awareness.

Systemic barriers

Finally, systemic barriers such as discrimination and societal inequality can also impact the workplace. Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies have a workforce that reflects the population’s demographics.

For example, if certain groups of people face discrimination in education or employment opportunities, they may be less likely to have the skills or experience needed to succeed in certain industries. This can lead to a lack of diversity in specific fields or positions, making it difficult to achieve DE&I in the workplace.

Related: How to resolve workplace conflicts: A guide for managers

16 Best practices for implementing a successful DE&I strategy

'Man carrying a rainbow flag that signifies support for LGBTQIA+ communities

Building a DE&I strategy for your company is a comprehensive and ongoing process that involves careful planning, execution, and continuous evaluation.

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.
- Malcolm Forbes

A step-by-step guide to help you develop an effective DE&I strategy

Here are 16 ways to get companies started on their DE&I journey. There are no hard and fast rules. Depending on the level of DE&I proficiency in an organisation, leaders may work on various steps simultaneously, skip certain steps or switch them around.

  1. Leadership commitment and buy-in: Ensure senior leadership is committed and accountable for DE&I initiatives. With leadership accountability and support, driving meaningful organisational change becomes more seamless.
     
  2. Assessment and data collection: Gather data on your company’s current demographics, hiring practices, promotions, pay equity, employee satisfaction, and other relevant metrics. This will help you identify areas that need improvement.
     
  3. Goal setting: Define clear and measurable DE&I goals that align with your company’s values and business objectives. These goals include increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in leadership positions, improving retention rates, or addressing pay disparities.
     
  4. Inclusive policies and practices: Review and update company policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive and equitable. These include hiring, onboarding, promotions, and performance evaluations.
     
  5. Education and training: Provide DE&I training for all employees, including senior leaders. Diversity and inclusion training can improve workplace culture and reduce bias. This training should raise awareness, challenge prejudices, and promote inclusivity.
     
  6. Recruitment and hiring practices: Implement strategies to attract diverse candidates. Consider blind recruitment, diverse interview panels, and partnerships with organisations focused on underrepresented groups.
     
  7. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Support the formation of employee resource groups for various affinity groups within your company. These groups can provide a platform for employees to connect, share experiences, and contribute to DE&I initiatives.
     
  8. Communication and transparency: Develop a communication plan to share progress, successes, and challenges related to DE&I efforts with all employees. Transparency fosters trust and accountability.
     
  9. Salary equity and benefits: Regularly assess salary equity to ensure fair compensation across all demographic groups. Also, consider benefits that support diverse employee needs.
     
  10. Inclusive leadership development: Offer programs focusing on inclusive leadership skills will help create a culture where diverse voices are valued and heard.
     
  11. Supplier diversity: Extend your DE&I efforts to your supply chain by actively seeking diverse suppliers and vendors.
     
  12. Partnerships and community engagement: Collaborate with external organisations and diverse communities to amplify your DE&I initiatives and create a positive impact beyond the company walls.
     
  13. Metrics and evaluation: Continuously measure and evaluate the impact of your DE&I efforts and initiatives against the established goals. Use this data to make informed decisions and refine your strategy.
     
  14. Adaptability and flexibility: DE&I is an ongoing journey, and strategies need to evolve with changing circumstances and insights. Be prepared to adapt and refine your approach over time.
     
  15. Accountability: Hold individuals and teams accountable for achieving DE&I goals. Incorporate DE&I metrics into performance evaluations to ensure that progress is being made.
     
  16. Celebrating successes: Recognise and celebrate achievements along the way. Positive reinforcement can boost morale and motivation.

Building an effective DE&I strategy requires genuine commitment, long-term dedication, and an open willingness to learn and improve. It’s a continuous process that involves every member of the organisation.

Related: How to be more confident at work according to Asia's female leaders

How to build and sustain an inclusive workplace culture

A woman on a video call meeting with people of different ethnicities

In the era of rapid digital transformations, remote working and AI-assisted tools dominate the scene, and an inclusive and diverse workplace is not a mere benefit but a necessity. 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities.

A huge part of feeling safe, valued, and respected at work comes down to DE&I practices and policies in an organisation.

“Company culture is in everything you do. It begins with company purpose and values, and encompasses how leaders conduct themselves and the way processes are taken to deliver the support needed. Culture needs cultivating, monitoring, and adjusting over time,” says Greg Tadman, Regional Human Resources Director, PageGroup APAC.

RelatedBuilding blocks and components of people-first company culture: report

Digital empathy is important

Access to digital platforms is essential in the age of Zoom calls and virtual onboarding, whether through closed captioning, user-friendly interfaces, or multilingual support.

But beyond mere accessibility, consider the user experience of your employees. Inclusivity is as much about feeling seen and valued as it is about logistically participating.

Diverse hiring isn’t the finish line

A mosaic of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives enriches the workplace. But merely hiring a diverse team isn’t the end goal. It’s the starting line.

Foster an environment where diverse backgrounds and voices are not just present but are heard, respected, and influential. Create safe spaces for open conversations where employees feel safe to share their perspectives and learn from others.

Continuous learning and unlearning

Inclusivity is an evolving landscape. What was considered inclusive a decade ago might seem dated today. Encourage continuous learning through workshops and feedback sessions with diverse leaders.

Keep in mind that it’s equally essential to unlearn outdated notions and unconscious biases, like the practice of including a small number of individuals from underrepresented communities or marginalised groups, merely to give the appearance of diversity and the belief that ignoring or downplaying differences in race and ethnicity promotes equality, to make way for fresh perspectives.

Celebrate and communicate

It’s not enough to implement inclusive policies behind the scenes. Celebrate them! Be vocal about your commitment to inclusivity, both internally and externally. When employees see leadership advocating for inclusivity, it sets a tone and standard for the organisation.

Moving forward: Sustaining a culture of DE&I in your workplace

a group of white collar professionals of different races in a work environment

Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic one. Verna Myers, Vice President of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, a diversity consultant, author, speaker, and lawyer, said, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Organisations that have inclusive cultures that not only invite diverse talent but also empower them to lead the dance are the ones that will thrive in this age of globalisation.

The journey towards a fully inclusive workplace is ongoing, but the rewards – both tangible and intangible – are well worth the effort. As organisations continue to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and recognise the value of DE&I, workplaces around the world will be more representative, equitable, and prosperous for all.

Read more:
How HR needs to evolve to support the future of work
How to hire to improve gender diversity in the workplace
Employee retention strategies amid the Great Resignation

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