Business Leadership Today

What Should a DEI Plan Include?


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

It’s easy enough for an organization to make public declarations about its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and post DEI statements on its website. Unfortunately, it is not as easy to follow through on those commitments. 

But when an organization does not follow through on its DEI commitments, it won’t reap the benefits DEI has to offer and will be less adaptable in an ever-changing world of work. It may even face backlash from shareholders and employees when it falls short of its DEI promises. 

Unless there is a real plan of action behind an organization’s DEI statement and a way to measure progress, it won’t deliver on those commitments. 

Delivering on our DEI promises means delivering on all aspects of DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion. Trying to build a diverse team without first establishing an inclusive culture and committing to equity can lead to toxic work environments, disengagement, turnover, and a decline in profits. 

A DEI plan can help us ensure we are maximizing our efforts and achieving real progress, but it’s important to include the right elements to achieve positive outcomes. 

A DEI plan should include clearly defined goals and desired outcomes, actionable steps and initiatives that increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in all areas of the organization, and a process by which to measure progress toward the outlined DEI goals. 

In this article, I’ll discuss the important role DEI plays in business today and how a sound DEI program is essential for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organizations. 

What Is DEI?

DEI provides a conceptual framework for supporting the full participation of all, particularly underrepresented members of society, and champions fair treatment. 

DEI initiatives benefit businesses in a variety of ways, from recruitment to profitability, and function together in ways that support fair and respectful work environments for all by helping organizations identify and eliminate policies, practices, and behaviors that are biased. 

The principles of DEI are diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Diversity encompasses the range of similarities and differences each individual brings to the workplace, including (but not limited to) language, race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status.

Gallup defines equity as the fair treatment, access, and advancement of each person in an organization, including fairness in pay, fairness in daily work experiences, and opportunities for advancement. Equity focuses on achieving equal outcomes and helping diverse groups achieve success and a higher quality of life by providing equal access to opportunities.

Inclusion is defined as “the policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized” and is focused on creating an environment where all team members, regardless of their differences, can thrive and fully participate. 

Why DEI Matters

A report on DEI by McKinsey found that the link between diversity and performance has only grown stronger over time, with increased gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity leading to continued improvements in performance and long-term profitability. 

There are some who’ve recently cast doubt on the effectiveness of DEI and even questioned its benefits. But the evidence supports that DEI, when done right, can be a good thing for organizations and result in many benefits for employers and their employees. The evidence also shows that DEI matters to most of us.  

Workers value DEI: According to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey survey, 80 percent of respondents said that they want to work for an organization that values DEI. 

Shareholders value DEI: In April of 2021, Skadden reported that 12 public companies had recently been sued by their own shareholders for failing to diversify their boards and C-suites and comply with anti-discrimination laws. 

Customers value DEI: According to a survey by Deloitte Insights, the youngest respondents (18 to 25 years old) took more notice of inclusive advertising when making purchase decisions. 

Respondents were up to two-and-a-half times more likely to have awareness of brands that prominently promote diversity when making purchasing decisions if they identified as Asian or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, Hispanic American, Native American or Alaska Native, or multiracial or biracial. 

The results also showed that 57% of consumers have more loyalty to brands that commit to and take actions to address social inequities.

But the key to delivering on our DEI promises to workers, shareholders, and customers is developing a sound DEI program that will keep us on track as we work toward our goals. 

What Should a DEI Program Include?

A DEI program lays the groundwork for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole to adapt and thrive in a changing world and foster an environment of greater inclusion and respect. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Guide to Developing a Strategic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, diversity creates the potential for “greater innovation and productivity,” while inclusion is what enables organizations to reap the benefits that diversity can offer. Each principle of DEI supports and enables the other, so it’s important to have a DEI program that comprehensively addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

DEI programs require effective management and genuine commitment to be successful. It’s easy to add a generic DEI statement to our websites, but the successful management of DEI requires real action, transparency about the progress of DEI efforts, and continuous improvement to make sure we are refining policies and avoiding bias. 

Otherwise, we are going to overpromise and underdeliver. 

DEI programs should be carefully planned and include clearly defined goals and desired outcomes, actionable steps and initiatives that increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in all areas of the organization, and a process by which to measure progress toward outlined DEI goals.

An organization’s DEI goals should be aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and values to generate employee buy-in and unite employees with a shared sense of purpose that is informed by the principles of DEI. Desired outcomes should be based on how diverse, equitable, and inclusive the organization is currently and how it wants to grow in those areas.

To do this, organizations should compile data on representation and review policies and practices to determine if they support DEI goals or need to be updated to reflect where the organization wants to go. These policies and practices should be revisited regularly and adjusted as needed. Surveys on employee experience can also be a useful tool for determining where improvements can be made.

Senior leadership should be a part of the DEI program management process and should be visible in the process, fully invested in its success, and committed to following through with real actions. 

Leaders set an example for their team members by fostering an inclusive culture that champions diversity and equity in all aspects of the organization. This requires embedding DEI in the organizational culture and the performance management process. 

To do this effectively, leaders need to be aware of the full range of benefits DEI has to offer their teams and how it dovetails with other business strategies. 

When you understand that DEI can be an effective tool in engagement and retention strategies because of its positive impact on employee experience, it becomes a more natural part of the performance management process and can be seamlessly integrated with other strategies. 

It can be a challenge to measure the success of DEI initiatives, but organizations need to monitor their progress for the sake of transparency and to determine when and where to course-correct. 

If the organization is investing in DEI, what does it have to show for it? Has the funding moved the needle and gotten the organization closer to its goals and desired outcomes? Has representation increased? Has it increased in senior-level positions? Is the employee experience positive? What is the organization’s retention rate? 

These metrics can help us determine if we are achieving our vision and creating real change that lives up to the promises in our DEI statements.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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