A study recently conducted by the Josh Bersin Academy identifies five critical strategies for helping employers achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) excellence in the workplace. 

The report, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion surveyed more than 800 organizations and reviewed over 80 different DEI practices. Among the many different methods for promoting DEI, there were five that really moved the needle. Below we summarize the study and provide commentary on how employers can actively enhance their DEI efforts.

Essential Strategy 1: Take Action on Employee Feedback

Interestingly enough, the report finds that listening to employees, comprehending what they’re saying, and then taking action to address their needs and concerns was one of the most effective strategies for advancing DEI initiatives. The reason? “Because it switches DEI from a compliance program to one focused on performance and growth.” 

This finding speaks to an important quality in the workplace, and that’s empathy. The study states, “When we truly feel empathy, listen, hear, and respond – we are naturally inclusive and diverse as a result.” In terms of figures, organizations that employ this strategy are 3.6 times more likely to innovate effectively; 6.6 times more likely to adapt well to change; 8.4 times more likely to inspire a sense of belonging; 8.5 times more likely to satisfy and retain customers; and 12 times more likely to engage and retain employees than organizations that don’t practice this strategy.

Essential Strategy 2: Invest in HR Capabilities for All Roles

According to the report findings, DEI proficiency ranks among one of the lowest competencies for all HR professionals – it’s worth noting that the analysis surveyed more than 3,500 individuals. DEI is complex and employees don’t have the skill sets they need to effectively manage it.

To combat this, organizations need to invest in resources for educating employees and provide them with tools for embedding DEI into existing programs and launching new ones. 

The study says that investing in DEI capabilities enables HR professionals to “look at intersectionality or diversity measures to understand time to hire or retention metrics in recruiting” or help “test a marketing program with an LGTBQ resource group to understand how it would resonate in that community.” And organizations that leverage HR capabilities as a resource not only see better progress towards DEI goals, they’re also more likely to improve financial results, innovate more effectively, and retain clients.

Essential Strategy 3: DEI Initiatives Should Flow From the Top-Down

DEI is most effective when it’s embedded within the culture of the organization. When DEI initiatives come from the top-down, they become a fundamental part of the business strategy and growth model. That means engaging senior leadership commitment on DEI goals. Most organizations leverage DEI training to facilitate awareness, but the truth is, it’s ineffective in the long term because as the report states, “DEI isn’t a training problem – it’s a strategy and culture problem.”

The best way for organizations to leverage this strategy is to be transparent about DEI goals and initiatives throughout the organization. CEOs and other C-suite professionals regularly provide updates to the company about financial progress, customer satisfaction, public interest, and company vision — DEI goals and performance need to be included as well. And when they are, it becomes apparent that the DEI initiatives are being weaved into the long-term goal for the organization.

Essential Strategy 4: Set Goals and Measure

In the same way your organization sets financial goals, DEI goals need to be defined and measured. The report identifies three practices within this strategy that net significant progress towards achieving DEI initiatives. 

The first is DEI benchmarking and it includes measuring progress towards DEI from an outside-in perspective. Compare your progress with companies outside your own and disclose more than vanity metrics

The second practice relates to transparency, which directly ties into senior management’s commitment to DEI and sharing progress internally. The report states, “Rather than seeing DEI targets as a publicity opportunity, companies should focus on keeping their internal audiences appraised on progress.”

The third practice relates to inclusion. This practice goes hand-in-hand with the first strategy to take action on employee feedback by setting outcome goals. The study recommends issuing inclusion surveys to collect feedback from employees and introducing an inclusion index. This will help your organization measure employee sentiment and well-being – two important factors for advancing DEI. 

Organizations can leverage all three of these practices and more with our DEI analytics and consultation platform, PayParity

Essential Strategy 5: Distribute Accountability

The most successful organizations hold the entire company accountable for achieving DEI goals. No single person or team within the organization is responsible for DEI, but rather it’s owned by every team. In the same way the CFO of an organization is not solely responsible for ensuring financial success for an organization, DEI advancements happen as a result of many moving parts within. 

In terms of distributing accountability across the organization, there isn’t one specific method of achieving it but many. Increasing resources for HR, defining and measuring goals, and establishing transparency in advance of goal deadlines are but a few of the ways organizations can collectively create DEI accountability. Notice how these examples directly correspond to the aforementioned strategies for advancing DEI.

The report goes on to highlight an additional 15 exercises within these strategies that organizations should leverage to enhance their DEI goals but the major finding you should take away from this is that DEI is not a set it and forget it business function. It’s not achieved overnight and it requires long-term commitment and investment to achieve. But, the business case for weaving it into your organizational strategy is incredibly fruitful. 

If your organization is new to DEI, we invite you to download our research report, conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to learn about the attributes of organizations that achieve their DEI goals.