Your small business guide to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace. Plus, why it matters and how to better prioritize DE&I in your business and hiring.
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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are some of the most-hyped words in the world of work. Everyone wants to join in on it — and many of you have asked us how.
So we’re bringing you this guide on how to become a diverse, equitable and inclusive team and business. We’ve read, listened and researched everything we could find on the topic, and put everything we’ve learned into this workplace guide.
Find answers to questions like ‘What is DE&I?’, ‘What does it mean to be a diverse team?’ and ‘How do you promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace?’ and more.
If you need a hand convincing your team of the importance of these matters, we’ve got you covered for that discussion too.
Remember, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts when it comes to improving DE&I in the workplace, fostering a welcoming culture and creating meaningful change. Becoming diverse, equitable and inclusive takes time and consideration, and we promise it’ll be worth every minute.
It’s time to kickstart your change.
In a few chapters, we’ll show you all you need to know to become more inclusive and diverse as a business:
When we talk about diversity, we’re talking about bringing different perspectives together — no matter if those differences come from religion, gender, hobbies or cultural background. The sum of all these different perspectives is what makes you stronger as a company.
You’re inclusive as a company when everyone on your team feels that they can bring their true and full selves to work. No one should have to hide any part of their identity out of a fear of getting bullied, or overlooked personally or professionally for it.
On an inclusive team, you celebrate each other’s differences rather than pointing them out or making someone feel bad about them. On an equitable team, you eliminate any barriers team members may encounter with fair organizational systems.
A shorthand for understanding DE&I in the workplace:
Diversity describes how individuals on your team differ when it comes to a variety of characteristics like gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disabilities, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. Being a diverse team is about welcoming and embracing an array of people and perspectives.
Equity relates to how you approach policy, processes and procedures in your business to ensure that each diverse team member has the same access and opportunities by eliminating barriers. Unlike equality, which treats everyone the same regardless of any barriers, equity acknowledges that each individual has their own unique experiences.
Inclusion describes the procedures and processes a company introduces with the goal of integrating everyone in the workplace. An inclusive workplace is a workplace where everyone feels accepted and comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions without judgment for being different.
There may not be a 'B' in 'DE&I' but belonging is just as important as a concept as any — if not more. Belonging refers to the feeling of being a part of something in your workplace and being someone who matters to your fellow team members. Belonging is all about your voice being truly heard.
It’s true that being diverse, equitable and inclusive at work is the right thing to do. But sometimes it takes a little more than that simple answer to bring about positive change in your company.
Here are some arguments that will show you, your team and/or your manager that investing time and money into DE&I efforts will be the best investment you can make in the long run.
Fostering an environment that embraces differences will make you — as a team — more flexible and resilient. You’ll be better equipped to deal with rapid change in your industry (and an uncertain economy) thanks to having many different perspectives on board.
People with different backgrounds and life experiences will also be able to bring different perspectives to the table. That leaves you less at risk of making poor decisions as a result of homogeneous "groupthink".
The more flexible your team is, the more innovative you will be — which in turn gives you a competitive advantage. Research involving over 4,200 companies showed that businesses employing more women were more likely to bring radical innovations to the market over a two-year period.
And when you have a diverse team (research has found that diverse teams are smarter), you welcome a diversity of new ways to approach problems and come up with creative solutions. Lateral thinking for the win!
You can save a chunk of money by committing to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment. If your employees feel like they can bring their whole self to work, this will decrease costs incurred by absence and mental health support. Not to mention, people who feel good (and included) at your company are more likely to be productive. Higher productivity means better results overall.
If you’re ever in doubt, consider how much it costs to hire new people every time someone leaves because they don’t feel at home or part of the team.
By supporting equal opportunities for everyone you’ll strengthen your employer brand, and that will help you attract a wider range of talent. We all know by now that Gen Z and millennials value purpose over paychecks (we should mention: that’s not to say they don’t want to be paid fairly!), and working for a modern employer is absolutely a part of that.
Consider how your employer brand reads to potential hires and current team members. Does it seem like the kind of place the most qualified employees would want to work?
People connect with brands they identify with — just think about how we tend to like people who have similar interests and values to our own. If you diversify your team you’ll be able to connect with a broader audience, enabling you to acquire a larger customer base. Your potential customers also truly want to support companies that are doing good in terms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Being diverse and inclusive also sets an example for other companies. In fact, being forward-thinking in general has the same effect. Take the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. Their work in sustainable apparel production has paved the way for other apparel businesses to shift their focus toward sustainability and climate activism in their practices and products.
As a bonus, their environment-focused messaging has hugely resonated with climate-conscious customers. So, what does that tell us? To not be afraid to go against the grain and do what's right. Others will surely follow your lead!
When it comes to implementing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, many companies big and small talk the talk but struggle to walk the walk. While many may have noble intentions, they can often fall short of taking real action. If you’re aware of the barriers to DE&I in the workplace, you can steer clear of them.
Here are a few reasons why companies are sluggish with their DE&I efforts:
From ageism to sexism to racism to ableism, there is a lot to cover under the DE&I umbrella. Teams may be more easily apprehensive or overwhelmed by what to focus on first and then how to do it well. Tackling them all at once is scary and will only lead to frustration, which will only lead to feelings of failure. Plus, if teams feel that they can’t make a significant impact on DE&I, they may give up on it all together.
💪 Counteract this by: Speaking to your employees first. Ask them in an anonymous survey what they struggle with at your workplace, where they see the biggest issues and immediate areas for improvement. DE&I isn’t about just one ‘ism’—you’ll have to think about and address your shortcomings in some way and there’s no way around it. The best approach is to start somewhere, and that’s with good communication.
DE&I is a hot topic these days. It’s being talked about not just in meeting rooms and on video calls, but in online spaces too. With this, we may see well-meaning teams getting fatigued by discussions of DE&I that never really bring about real change. This leads to passionate and engaged team members feeling deflated, defeated and on the verge of giving up.
💪 Counteract this by: Setting realistic goals for your DE&I initiatives. We know that it doesn’t help to tackle all the problems all at once. So, start small and set SMART goals (strategic, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound goals). This will better frame your DE&I work and help you to narrow your focus to avoid burnout. Additionally, formalize your SMART goals; by making your efforts ‘a thing’, you’re more likely to have more buy-in from your greater team.
The fear of making a mistake or misspeaking can be a barrier to taking meaningful steps towards creating a more inclusive workplace. This fear ends up being a barrier to inclusion entirely.
💪 Counteract this by: Addressing DE&I issues in the workplace head on. That requires some bravery and humility in having these sensitive conversations. We need to be curious, we need to listen to each other (no matter the hierarchical structure) and we need to speak up.
Without the right training, companies wanting to be more diverse, inclusive and equitable are less likely to get there. Teams need support and careful education on this topic as one person may not have the same level of awareness as another.
💪 Counteract this by: Taking the first steps towards setting up your DE&I training. Start small and go slowly. Begin with an introduction to what DE&I is, what you’re aiming to build with the training and the importance of it in fighting any structural inequalities in the workplace. Amongst other topics, you should start by covering cultural humility, unconscious bias and social identity. Learn more about your biases with this unconscious bias glossary.
We’ve put together a list of DE&I initiatives, best practices and ideas to choose what would work best for your specific business and team. Remember: Meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight, but if you are thoughtful and committed, you’ll be sure to make a positive impact.
You’ve decided to shake up your team, you’ve read our guide and now it’s time to make sure you’re prepped, ready and willing to take responsibility for your success and shortcomings in the past.
If you’re not the founder or CEO, speak with people in leadership positions at your company. They need to understand how important it is to make DE&I a priority for everyone in your workplace. Once they do, get the green light to develop and implement a strategy.
Now that leadership is on board, it’s time to set the agenda for your new DE&I workplace initiative. Let’s put it this way: You won’t know where you’re going until you set a shared goal. Think of this as your DE&I mission statement.
For example, it can be as simple as:
"We would like to foster a diverse workplace where everyone feels they can bring their true selves to work unreservedly and wants to grow their career with us long-term."
Later, give a presentation to your team to explain the importance and definitions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. There should be plenty of room for questions, concerns and discussion. Involve them in the process and make sure they feel involved, as their voices are the most important.
This process is nothing without your team’s feedback. Invite others on your team to share their experiences and ideas on DE&I in the workplace. It would be especially helpful to invite team members who would be most impacted by this initiative to your discussions. That way, you have a diversity of voices at the table.
However, be careful not to saddle your minority or marginalized team members with the responsibility (and emotional labor) of setting up DE&I initiatives. While it’s extremely important that their voices and perspectives are heard, DE&I should be a shared responsibility of the entire team and arguably a bigger responsibility for those with the most privilege.
Another option would be to send out an initial, anonymous survey to get a pulse on what your team members think and how they experience DE&I at your workplace.
Sending out a survey allows you to back up any hunches with real-world data. We suggest using Typeform or if you’re a bigger company, get in touch with the folks at CultureAmp. It’s important to find a balance between asking your team members basic questions about gender identity and background, and more in-depth questions on how they would define your company culture. For example, when do they feel the safest within the team, or what are some company rituals that make them feel uncomfortable?
These are inspired by Bakken & Baeck’s inclusion and diversity survey. Always add the option ‘prefer not to answer’ for each question. Within the survey itself and within the message sharing the survey, you should also be sure to clearly state that answers will remain anonymous. That way everyone feels safe to be honest and open.
Jokes and teasing might be a part of a company’s culture, but it can also lead to team members feeling bad about their differences. For this reason, it’s important to nurture a culture in which everyone feels safe to 1) call out a team member for saying something unkind or discriminatory and 2) take responsibility and apologize for saying something hurtful. You can do this by providing your team with guidance on what to do in these situations. That can be through a training from an expert, a chapter in the employee handbook or leading by example.
Take some time to gather all necessary information and communicate the outcome of your team discussions and your survey, if applicable. Make sure everyone feels engaged, and sit down with your team leaders and any other stakeholders to discuss the next steps of your DE&I workplace revamp. Here are some small steps you can take to incite change:
Make a list of all pain points that came up in your discussions with team members, and then share your findings internally. You can define what your quick wins will be based on this.
We’ve found these projects to be very useful for a company trying to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive:
If creating a code of conduct seems like an enormous task, then consider revisiting your company values and building diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into them. This can make for a first and important step in the right direction.
Looking for code of conduct inspiration? Vox Product team’s Code of Conduct has done excellent work with theirs.
Cliché but true—where there is change, there is resistance. You may initially find some team members are resistant to change when starting out with DE&I goals. This may be due to insecurity about what DE&I really is, or it may also come down to a general fear of change. To dig into this a little more, we asked some leaders in business how they deal with resistance on their teams:
You’ve got the quick wins implemented and the first big projects are in progress. One of the biggest DE&I killers is a loss of momentum and interest from higher-ups and the greater team. But DE&I isn’t a one-and-done sort of thing. In order for your company to change for the better, you have to think of DE&I as a constant. Here’s how to make sure DE&I stays top of mind, even after the initial excitement has faded.
Create a small and dedicated DE&I task force — a group of colleagues who come together regularly to support your business's commitment to DE&I by discussing what’s going well and what isn’t. Just make sure you’re not alone in this. Bonus points if you invite a senior team member to join the task force.
After 6-12 months, check in with your team members and send another anonymous survey. You know the baseline from the previous results, and now it’s valuable to see the kind of change you’ve achieved over this time period. Repeat your survey every six months to track your progress and back it up with real-world data, while making sure to communicate the outcomes with your team.
Find a mentor or someone who’s in a similar position in another company. Throughout the process of working towards a more inclusive and diverse team, you’ll celebrate victories, but you’ll also encounter frustration and setbacks. Find someone who understands what you’re talking about. When you have someone in your corner, it’ll be much easier to tackle the challenges of creating an unconscious bias-aware workplace.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts in the workplace are not only limited to how you treat your current team members — but it also extends to candidates and the hiring process as a whole.
DE&I efforts should be thought of holistically. From the career page to the job application, all the way to the onboarding of your new hire, there are many ways you can ensure your hiring practices are more equitable and inclusive for your candidates.
Before you can cross your T’s and dot your I’s, you need to have a concrete hiring process in place. Why? Well, an organized process to follow will not only help you hire more easily, but it’ll also help you to avoid bias in your hiring. Bringing structure to your hiring means you’ll rely less on your gut feelings and bias will be less likely to creep in (essential for DE&I!).
Plus, iteration becomes easy. No need to reinvent the wheel every time you want to hire a new team member.
💡One way to bring about more organization to your hiring is to get set up with a straightforward hiring tool. Admittedly, there are lots of good small business recruiting software out there for you to choose from. But not every option is right for every small business.
Homerun, our hiring software built for small businesses, offers a free trial, and a simple signup process (no credit card required). It’s meant for small businesses that want to attract the right talent and create a positive candidate experience, all while streamlining their entire hiring workflow.
Inclusive hiring isn’t just about who you hire in the end. It’s also about how included your process makes each candidate in the hiring funnel feel. That goes for the career page as well.
Think of your career page as the ultimate first impression — it’s one of the first things your candidate sees when they apply for a job at your company. In many cases, it can make or break whether a prospective candidate decides to hit that ‘apply’ button. So, what more reason do you need to make sure you get it right? 🤩 Here are some ways you can ensure your career page promotes your DE&I efforts:
Many candidates will assess your career page and look for what you’ve done, or what you’re doing right now to improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace. This is especially true for young job seekers — in fact, a diverse workforce is important to 76% of employees and job seekers when assessing new companies and job offers.
So, include a snippet on your career page for DE&I. You could even create a whole page dedicated to your DE&I work and its importance to your company. This snippet is your chance to mention how many countries your team members are from, how your leadership is gender-balanced and any other initiatives you may have on the go.
Kickstarter links to their company charter (similar to the code of conduct) to show prospective candidates what they’re all about.
An inclusive hiring process should be a transparent one. Candidates shouldn’t have to guess or ask what the next stage of the hiring process is.
Front and center on your career page, be clear about how many stages you’ll have, what each stage entails, who on your team will be involved and how long they’ll take to get back to you. It would also be helpful to mention if you’re making a commitment to keeping interview panels or group interviews diverse.
The aim of highlighting your hiring process on your career page is to let applicants know what they can expect from you. A lot of folks from diverse backgrounds are typically more concerned about what a hiring process entails and if the job is suitable for them. That often means they are less likely to actually apply. A transparent hiring process also allows neurodivergent folks (and anyone who finds thinking on their feet challenging) to better prepare for every stage of the hiring process, making the experience more equitable.
If the career page is the first impression of the hiring process then the job post is the first real conversation you’re having with a potential applicant. 🤝
You may not realize it, but there are a variety of ways a job description can deter or encourage talent to apply for a role. Here are a few things you should do when crafting your next job description:
Be aware of your unconscious bias when reading a candidate’s application. Typically, we might pass over a candidate who’s made a spelling error or grammatical mistake on their application. But we can’t forget that many folks have dyslexia and those types of mistakes aren’t always due to a lack of concern. Try to actively override any stereotype setting you may have.
📣 Job application questions you can use to help you find the right candidate.
It’s important to bake DE&I efforts into every stage of the hiring process, including the (obviously) crucial virtual, phone or in-person interviews.
The first step you can take is to review your 1. interview panel and 2. interview questions.
If the interviewers (assuming you may have more than one) don’t reflect the diversity you’re aiming for at your company, you may want to revisit your choices. Keep in mind that candidates typically feel more comfortable and welcome when they see themselves reflected in the individuals they’re interviewing with. Ask yourself, are we unintentionally alienating potential candidates with a lack of representation in the interview process?
Have an honest review of the interview questions you intend to ask candidates. When you standardize your interview questions and interview processes, you’ll be better able to fairly and more equitably gauge which candidate is right for the job.
You’ve taken the first steps towards building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive team — and now it’s up to you to keep it going. Stay on track by listening to your employees and refining your processes so that you ultimately create a workplace that works for everyone.
It’s also helpful to remember that your DE&I work is never "finished" — there is always more work to be done. Creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is a constant, worthy of your time and effort.
If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or bogged down by the challenges, think of it this way: progress over perfection. (Apologies to perfectionists!) Each positive step forward matters and brings you closer to where you want to be in your DE&I journey. It’s the progress and the small wins that matter the most.
When it comes to DE&I, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. We wouldn’t have been able to create this guide without the lessons we gleaned from quality resources.
This is a selection of what we read, got inspired by and what we think will continue to help you in your DE&I journey.
The Social Awareness Scale
Diversity by Design: Our role in shaping a more inclusive industry
Diversity and Inclusion Performance Goals
Everything you need to know to find and hire your next great intern.
Helps save you from the chaos of an unstructured hiring process.
Helps you create a remote hiring process that works.
An extensive guide to help you conduct better job interviews.
A modern guide to stepping up your Employer Brand.