DEI refers to systematic identification and methodical correction of the causes of poor organizational performance through managerial action, policy, and training to address:

  • Diversity: Employees from a variety of backgrounds, people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, religions and more at all levels in an organization, including the leadership level.
  • Equity: Fairness and justice, particularly referring to compensation and whether people are being paid or treated fairly.
  • Inclusion: Ensuring that people feel like they belong, and whether they feel heard or valued in an organization.

While the initial reason for DEI initiatives was to implement anti-racism action in organizations, today the scope has expanded to include all forms of inequity. DEI initiatives for all inequities focus on three main areas: training, organizational policies and practices, as well as organizational culture. Within those areas there must be initiatives focusing on policies, practices, and culture to correct inequities within an organization. There must also be initiatives addressing discriminatory hiring practices, pay inequity, or rectifying issues that cause poor employee retention rates among marginalized groups.

DEI training is meant to encourage all employees, including managers and executives, to be more aware and reflective about inequities and discrimination on an individual level, as well as the interpersonal and organizational levels. Organizations that have effective DEI initiatives benefit from lower employee turnover, higher productivity, and better engagement with employees.

Why DEI? Where to start?

As stated, the original purpose of DEI was to counter systemic racism. Today, anti-racism is still a major focus of DEI. That does not mean accusing organizations or individuals of being racist. What it does mean is being anti-racist versus being racist. A good place to start to understand this is by identifying examples of implicit bias and structural racialization.

“There is a wide gap between organizations engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion work and those that are actually valuing it,” according to Professor Stephanie Creary, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, quoted in “How to Elevate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Organization.” Creary, Stephanie. December 20, 2020. (Accessed December 6, 2023)

Use a Merit framework for valuing DEI work

Creary suggests a “Merit” framework for valuing DEI work. The principles behind this framework are to:

  • Make DEI goals and work actionable, measurable, and evidence-based
  • Elevate DEI work internally and externally: the CEO should spearhead the effort, including providing the budget and resources needed, and highlighting the work and people needed to do it
  • Identify leaders and non-managerial employees willing to serve as DEI sponsors
  • Treat DEI work as core rather than peripheral work

Is that a challenge? Yes. Will everyone’s behavior and biases fall in line immediately? No. But taking action is absolutely needed in order to create a more equitable organization and to eliminate biases and make everyone's work life better .

Breaking it down

  • Identify your DEI objectives
  • Assess where you are now
  • What are your priorities?
  • To begin with, identify just one initiative in each area:
    • Diversity
    • Equity
    • Inclusion
  • Execute the initiatives as part of your accountabilities
  • Repeat annually and publish the results