Building a Team with a DE&I Focus

From an organizational perspective, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are about understanding, accepting, respecting, and encouraging what makes all of us unique. It’s about appreciating people’s different backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints and creating an environment where everyone can thrive. 

Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has shown that doing the right thing when it comes to DE&I also pays off by boosting culture, productivity, public perception, and ultimately, profitability.

There are three overarching reasons why DE&I should be a top priority for every organization if it isn’t already: 

1. Companies that have diverse teams often outperform companies that do not.

  • Gartner study predicts that through 2022, 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets. 
  • The same study found that gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed their less inclusive counterparts by 50%.

2. Diverse teams are more innovative.

  • Deloitte study found that when employees “think their organization is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included,” there’s an 83% increase in their ability to innovate. 
  • Companies with more diverse leadership teams report higher innovation revenue – 45% of total revenue versus just 26%, according to a 2018 BCG report.

3. The talent pool expands.

  • Hiring the right employees can be challenging. Finding people who possess the skills you need, who are available to work, and who also have the right personality and motivation to join your company is not easy. If through lack of attention to diversity — consciously or unconsciously — you exclude available talent, you simply make the task even more difficult.

Once you’ve committed to DE&I, however, there’s no overnight solution. It cannot bring a badly run business back to profitability, immediately spur disruptive innovation, or ensure that you attract top performers. DE&I is not merely a policy; it has to be a core value of your business that becomes part of its DNA, the connective tissue of an organization.

So what steps can you take to build an effective team with a DE&I focus?

Revisit Your Hiring Practices

Hiring presents one of the biggest opportunities to broaden your company’s diversity and inclusion — but it also presents the greatest opportunity for unconscious bias to impede your progress. Revisiting your hiring practices and processes is a critical first step to improve DE&I across the board. 

Start by providing bias training for your HR team and department leads, as well as any other roles involved in the hiring process. While doing so, take a step back to reconsider who all is included in this group: one of the best ways to ensure DE&I remains a priority when making a hire is to include existing diverse perspectives in the hiring process. 

When I co-founded Protis Global with Laura Gonzalez, we collaborated on all of our earliest interviews and hires. Though aligned in our vision, we brought different points of view and priorities to each interview. This really set the stage to build a team that reflected the community around us from the very beginning — and helped me see how impactful it is to have diversity of thought throughout the hiring process.

Once your team has undergone training, apply these learnings to rethink the language you use in job descriptions and across your digital footprint, for that matter. Collaborate with various perspectives from your team, or consult outside help to ensure you are inviting the broadest (qualified) cross-section of the workforce to apply. 

Broaden Your Talent Pool

We’ve all heard it be said that getting a job is about who you know, not what you know. As an organization, it’s your responsibility to consciously establish strategic partnerships that connect your organization with diverse talent pipelines so that the “who you know” category continues to expand. 

The biggest mistake I see companies make is setting an arbitrary statistical quota that designates what percentage of their open roles should be filled by a different race, ethnicity, gender, or other demographic indicators. Filling a quota keeps you from hiring the best candidate for the role — which in turn can create a routine of bad hires that unfairly skew DE&I success metrics. Instead, widen your talent pool so that your best candidate is selected from an increasingly diverse list.

Provide Development Opportunities

Hiring from a diverse candidate pool can have a huge impact on the make-up of your team — but don’t assume you always need to look externally to find great people. If you’re willing to take a bet on a new hire, ask yourself whether there’s someone on your team who deserves that same new challenge. It’s important to develop those you already have, and be sure to provide equal learning and growth opportunities for all of your employees. 

Professional development can take shape in a number of ways — through informal mentoring and coaching as well as more formal training — but should be equally available to everyone on your team. Set a cadence at which you evaluate internal talent and set new learning and development goals with each individual employee. 

As you start to set development objectives with your team, work to identify those who are a fit for a leadership pipeline and hold yourself equally accountable to getting them there. Benchmark your internal promotions to identify trends and potential areas of bias.

Listen to Your People

One of the best ways to ensure your workplace is inclusive is to listen to your people. Your goal isn’t to build a workplace that appeals to your senior leaders, who already have a voice in strategic conversations. By listening to your whole team — be it through informal chats, structured 1:1s, or larger town halls — you make people’s opinions feel valued and stand to learn from a broader sample of perspectives. 

But don’t just pay lip service; act on what you’ve heard. This may include modernizing some of your legacy HR policies, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Creating attractive workplace policies that allow for flexibility and work-life balance is proving critical to attracting working parents, for instance, who can’t always confine themselves to a 9–5 schedule. 

Demonstrate Personal Accountability

At the end of the day, DE&I has to be fully embraced from the top down. Lead by example and take responsibility for dealing with your own biases. Ask your team to reflect on their behavior and expect them to share responsibility for eliminating discrimination from your workplace. And continue to educate them, and yourself, formally on DE&I. From what I’ve seen, people start to engage in the overarching mission when they understand the why, so be sure to clearly and continuously articulate the many ways DE&I impacts your team and your organization. 

Creating teams with a DE&I focus is about recognizing that great talent knows no race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic standing. Developing a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce is no easy task to achieve, but the outcomes — both quantitative and qualitative — are more than worthwhile.