Connect your DEI programs to EX with these 4 strategies

Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce requires HR leaders to integrate DEI strategy into employee experience practices.
By: | July 26, 2021
(Image: Adobe)

Over the past year, many organizations made new or heightened commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion. However, Gartner research shows that organizations are still missing an opportunity to realize a fully diverse and inclusive workforce because they are implementing DEI goals and outcomes separately from those related to employee experience.

Emily Strother

According to the 2021 Gartner EVP Employee Survey, 82% of employees say it is important for their organizations to see them as a person, not just an employee. Yet, only 45% of employees believe their organization actually sees them this way. To be fully satisfied with their experience, most employees want to be able to bring their full selves to work—without negative repercussions.

Traditionally, most organizations invest separately in employee experience improvements—such as onboarding updates and flexible work—and DEI-related investments, including DEI training and diversity recruiting. To have a lasting impact, HR must ensure that organizations integrate DEI into business strategies and talent processes, which can improve the everyday employee experience.

To successfully integrate DEI and employee experience, HR leaders should focus on four key areas:

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Use Personas to Recognize Where Employees Might Not Feel Included

Employee personas—fictional characters created as proxies for certain segments of employees with shared characteristics, priorities, challenges, motivations, behaviors and goals—can serve as an effective tool to help capture a holistic understanding of what different employees value and how they are included as part of the organization’s culture. Organizations can use employee personas to help employees reflect and change behaviors that inhibit others from bringing their full selves to work, ultimately better enabling inclusion and belonging.

Yet, Gartner research shows less than 40% of organizations have experimented with or plan to create employee personas.

Progressive HR functions can utilize personas to highlight challenges employees report having when bringing their full selves to work. These personas can then be used to challenge employees to understand their colleagues and identify actions they and their teams can take to increase overall inclusion. For example, as businesses navigate their return-to-the-workplace plans, personas can help leaders and managers anticipate and mitigate employee feelings, fears and challenges about returning to the workplace.

See also: 5 steps to taking meaningful action to advance DEI initiatives

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Map Employees’ Journeys to Identify Bias in the Employee Life Cycle

Employee journey maps serve to visually track how employees engage in common, day-to-day experiences across the employee life cycle, an example being new employee onboarding. The onboarding journey map consists of the orientation session, setting up technology and joining a team meeting.

Interestingly, Gartner research shows only half of organizations have started mapping employees’ journeys or plan on doing so. This is a missed opportunity, as journey maps allow organizations to identify gaps between the actual and desired employee experience.

Analyzing journey maps through a DEI lens, specifically, allows HR leaders to identify the touchpoints where employees may experience bias, which stakeholder is accountable for the employee experience at that stage and how employees feel during that experience. A remote employee, for example, might feel the onboarding process is biased if new hire trainings are exclusive to on-site employees.

More importantly, examining how employees connect—or don’t—with DEI efforts as a part of the employee experience can increase empathy and create a way for HR professionals to evaluate whether and where change is needed within an organization.

Equip Managers to Foster Psychological Safety

Psychological safety is the shared belief that members of a team feel comfortable taking interpersonal risks. HR professionals building a more diverse and inclusive environment must be thoughtful in their approach to creating an environment that is safe for all employees to contribute within.

Related: ‘Massive shift’ in HR leaders’ top 5 priorities for 2021

Employees must feel empowered and comfortable sharing their whole selves with their teams; this is where psychological safety plays an integral part in the employee experience. After all, psychological safety has been linked to significant workplace benefits, such as higher levels of learning, innovation, teamwork and employee authenticity.

HR can promote better psychological safety by helping managers have more effective conversations. For instance, managers should ask employees for their input, then acknowledge, celebrate and contemplate that input and provide closure that follows up on employees’ concerns and questions. HR must also work with managers on how to clarify roles and expectations, listen to employees, trust their employees and transparently discuss mistakes and concerns.

Boost Employee Participation in ERGs or Real Talks

Typically, most organizations provide two ways for employees to come together with their peers and share their diverse experiences: employee resource groups (ERGs) and real talks.

ERGs—also known as affinity groups, business networks and people networks—bring together employees in the workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences. Common examples include groups for women, racial or ethnic minorities, the LQBTQ+ community and veterans. Real talk conversations are sessions that encourage all employees to participate in frank discussions on potentially difficult topics that help foster empathy and belonging. Both of these tactics help create a safe, empathetic and actionable space for employees to share their own voices and elevate those of their peers.

HR leaders should communicate with managers and employees to ensure they are aware of opportunities to improve their employee experience through these communities and events. They should also enable managers to talk to employees about these opportunities and follow up with managers and teams after ERG and real talk participation.

Progressive organizations are embedding DEI into employee experience strategies to ensure they are inextricably linked for employees—regardless of whether they are remote, in an office or merely catching up over coffee with a colleague.

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Emily Strother is senior principal, research in the Gartner HR Practice.

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