Why Equality in the Workplace Matters & How to Achieve It

March 7th, 2022

There’s been a well-known and longstanding equality problem in the workplace. Whether it’s pay, recognition, growth opportunities, or leadership representation, the most desirable benefits of the workplace have leaned heavily in favor of white men over other demographic groups. 

This is a problem for multiple reasons, but here are two big ones.  

For one, when there’s a lack of equality and diversity in your workplace, the underrepresented groups feel unsupported and unfulfilled. This lack of recognition breeds resentment, which is toxic for company culture and retention. 

Second, teams with diverse members and leadership perform better. When your employee population reflects your diverse customers, you’re able to make better business decisions and truly empathize with customers. That means that neglecting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in your workplace holds your entire organization back. 

The need for DEI within companies has only become more pronounced since the start of the pandemic. Childcare, for example, is a persistent challenge that’s been overwhelming employees everywhere and women and underrepresented groups are disproportionately expected to shoulder the burden of responsibilities

Fortunately, there has been a significant shift towards an acceptance of DEI initiatives. 

DEI finally becomes a priority

DEI as an HR concept has been growing in popularity for years, but today, there are signs that DEI is being taken seriously on a broad scale. 

How to achieve equality in the workplace in 4 steps

Acknowledging the importance of DEI in the workplace isn’t enough. It takes meaningful effort to make equality in the workplace a reality. Here are four steps to making DEI a priority in your organization, from the inside out and top, down:

1. Close the pay gap

They say that to show you’re serious about something you’ve got to “put your money where your mouth is.” When it comes to leveling the playing field in the workplace, addressing the pay gap is as clear a tactic as it gets. 

To go about closing the pay gap, don’t just start making salary adjustments on the fly. Do some analysis on your internal pay practices, the current market rates, and trends in compensation. Then, look internally again to see where a gap exists. The gender pay gap, in general, hasn’t budged in 15 years, so you might find a gender pay disparity that you could address immediately. 

If you decide that pay equality is an area you want to tackle, make sure to: 

  • Communicate your intentions and plans around pay equality to your employees
  • Have one-on-one discussions with employees whose pay will be impacted
  • Remember to consider your recruitment process and routine pay conversations (such as salary negotiations and yearly promotions) 

2. Give more recognition

One big detractor to DEI initiatives, even among companies who are committed to making it work, is the feeling that HR is just going through the motions. Rather than coming from a place of empathy and compassion, DEI initiatives sometimes feel joyless and awkward because employees don’t understand how it will actually impact them. 

To ensure your DEI work takes on a more positive tone that gets everyone interested and participating, incorporate it into something all employees need regularly from leaders and each other: recognition. 

Combining recognition with DEI efforts is good for business and it’s something everyone in your organization can collaborate on. It can look like: 

  • Setting up a Slack channel specifically for offering recognition amongst team members
  • Implementing a peer-to-peer bonus program so everyone can give and receive recognition 
  • Creating a company award program that recognizes employees’ good efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

3. Offer personalized perks

One aspect of DEI that HR teams often have trouble grappling with is measurement. In other words, how do you create DEI programs that have metrics associated with them, and, better yet, metrics with which HR teams are familiar? 

Offering personalized perks through a flexible employee stipend or allowance is a great answer to this challenge.

Not only does this support DEI efforts by ensuring that the perks your company offers are fair and equitable to all employees, especially now when so many employees are remote, but perk stipend programs are also highly measurable. Perk program usage rates, individual and total perk spending, and employee engagement are just a few measurable metrics that you can monitor, analyze, and use to guide other DEI programs.  

4. Hire and promote more women and underrepresented people

The most significant step any organization can take in their DEI efforts is to hire and promote more women and underrepresented groups. Only 8% of CEOs are women, even though they make up more than 57% of the U.S. workforce. The numbers are even more disappointing when looking at underrepresented ethnic groups and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Hiring more women and underrepresented people and promoting more of them into leadership roles accomplishes several things: 

  • It solves the root issue of lack of representation, which helps with employee engagement levels and reduces churn 
  • It signals to all employees that your organization is serious about DEI and fostering an equitable workplace
  • It makes your cumulative DEI efforts more effective because now you’ll have more diverse perspectives in leadership positions and more confidence from all underrepresented groups that you care about them

Start this effort by creating a genuinely unbiased recruitment process. Then, ensure that you have professional development support in place for women and underrepresented employees who deserve to be promoted. 

Finally, continuously appreciate and nurture the women and underrepresented leaders who you do promote. They’re (unfortunately) so rare that it’s very likely that other companies will want to recruit them. 

Progress on DEI initiatives has historically been painfully slow within organizations. But now that we’re finally in a time when equality in the workplace is a core business priority, there’s much more to lose if you don’t meaningfully support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. 

Thankfully, these four steps make prioritizing DEI easier for you, and they also help you experience the true benefits of an equitable workplace, such as healthier company culture, better employee engagement, and higher retention. 

Author: Linda Le Phan
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