Denny’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey has been decades in the making. While the restaurant chain champions DEI efforts in the corporate world today, that wasn’t always the case. A 1994 discrimination lawsuit prompted Denny’s to take stock of its practices, leading it to make fundamental changes that continue to evolve with time.

We live in an increasingly equity-focused climate – and that comes with serious expectations for employers. As other corporations begin the important work of implementing DEI initiatives, they should look to Denny’s as a model.

Below we outline what employers can learn from the progress Denny’s made over the years by focusing on three central pillars: talent, supply chain, and continuous improvement.

From discrimination lawsuit to dynamic DEI strategy

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, Denny’s approach to DEI starts with attracting and maintaining diverse talent. To confront bias in hiring, the company made job descriptions more gender-neutral and diversified recruiting teams and managers. This included educating decision-makers on the business case for diversity.

The result of these efforts is evident across all levels of the company’s workforce. Two-thirds of company employees are individuals from multicultural groups. Further, the corporation has a representative board of directors, franchises, and restaurant teams.

Creating mechanisms for promoting internal talent to senior levels is another part of the company’s recruitment strategy, as well as forming key partnerships with diverse higher education institutions and organizations.

Notably, the company performs annual pay equity checks to ensure equal compensation regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other protected characteristics. Undergoing a pay equity audit is a straightforward step all employers can take to ensure fairness in compensation on their workforces.

Denny’s also strives to create an inclusive business ecosystem by seeking out minority-owned providers of goods and services. The Harvard Business Review article notes, “Today’s consumers hold companies accountable not just for who they hire but with whom they do business.” With that in mind, Denny’s has invested more than $2 billion in underrepresented suppliers since 1993 and routinely hires local, minority-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs as consultants.

Finally, Denny’s DEI work is infused with an eye on continuous improvement. The company holds itself accountable by partnering with civil rights leaders and organizations focused on racial justice. By engaging in ongoing dialogue with individuals with lived experience, the company learns from outside partners’ expertise and constantly re-assesses its approach. Instead of writing a DEI plan that gathers dust on the shelf, this strategy facilitates meaningful conversations that help put goals into action.

Building a more equitable future for all

2020 marked a turning point in the racial justice movement. Many corporations have pledged to rectify past mistakes and improve their DEI practices, including fast-food giant McDonald’s and American biotech company Genentech. The question is not if organizations should implement DEI initiatives, but how and when. For employees, customers, partners, and investors, the expectation is now.

As employers, all organizations should do their part to create a more equitable and just society. What’s more, diverse workplaces focused on the greater good see improved employee morale, more robust recruiting and retention rates, and more innovation.

Embarking on a DEI journey means accepting that there will always be room for improvement. As the leaders at Denny’s point out, the goal is not to find a “comfortable stopping point.” Ongoing efforts to continually assess gaps and re-adjust strategy as needed lead to greater impact. A data-informed approach to DEI is key to tracking and evaluating progress. Technology is here to help companies take the next step in their journey and adapt to evolving needs over time. 

As Denny’s noted, “(e)stablishing transparent key performance indicators and creating measurable goals like diversity benchmarking and supplier diversity targets creates motivation and accountability at both an individual and organizational level.”  

Learn more on key steps your organization can take to achieve a successful DEI workplace culture.

Our PayParity solution has auditing and ongoing monitoring tools designed to help employers meet their pay equity goals. Our professional consulting services, pay equity analytics, and DEI software will help your organization create a concrete action plan and get started on effecting authentic change.

To learn more about cultivating DEI in your workplace, read our research report, Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.

If your organization needs assistance achieving its DEI goals, check out our professional consulting services and DEI software, PayParitySM.