Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: The New Business Imperative

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is not a new concept. But historically it has been seen often as tangential to, rather than integral to, talent and business strategy. For the first time, a critical mass of companies are starting to view equity and inclusion as an imperative to attracting and retaining top talent.

Over the past few years, DEI and racial equity, in particular, have become more and more central to our national dialogue, and businesses are recognizing that the role of the corporation in our society must evolve accordingly. Companies have begun to take more proactive leadership roles in advancing equity within their organizations and in society more broadly. In practice, these important shifts mean that businesses are leaning heavily on their HR departments to source, hire, and advance more diverse talent and build more inclusive workplace cultures.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion after the pandemic in workplaces

10 Proven Actions to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, provides a digestible, practical blueprint to drive equity and inclusion.

As a result of the pandemic, which has disproportionately harmed already vulnerable populations, this equity imperative is even stronger. Additionally, as businesses work to recover, the labor market is extremely competitive. People returning to work are expecting more from their employers, and much more readily leaving jobs if they are not receiving adequate wages and benefits, flexible work arrangements, or clear growth opportunities. For example, 38% of former hospitality workers report that they are not considering returning to the industry as they search for roles with higher pay, better benefits, and more flexible schedules. Furthermore, 74% of job seekers believe that employers need to rethink the benefits they offer, citing healthcare and sick and parental leave as very important and worth taking a lower-paying job for. Some employers have begun to adapt to this new reality by increasing wages, but businesses must consider the full range of in-demand job characteristics not only to ensure equity within their companies but also to remain competitive in the labor market and maintain trust with their customers and clients. In the coming months and years, the strongest businesses will be those that continue to prioritize an equitable recovery from the impacts of Covid-19.

Our new report, 10 Proven Actions to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, provides a digestible, practical blueprint to help companies understand where they can and should invest to drive equity and inclusion. The report features a summary of available research for each action, recommendations for how employers can most successfully implement each action, and examples of employers that have demonstrated leadership within each of the 10 actions. Our analysis also reveals that half of the 10 actions are not yet mainstream in the private sector despite the strong research behind them, presenting significant opportunity for companies wondering how to take action.

  • Express C-suite commitment, and formalize accountability.
  • Adopt a skills-first approach to talent acquisition.
  • Diversify talent pipelines through work-based experiences.
  • Provide family-sustaining wages and benefits.
  • Communicate skills-based career pathways.

Meanwhile, the other five actions are already quite common, but many companies often are not aware of important nuances needed to optimize them to drive DEI goals.

  • Offer voluntary DEI training for all.
  • Listen to and learn from experiences of employees. 
  • Invest resources in cross-training and upskilling. 
  • Create mentoring and sponsorship programs.
  • Build a diverse supply chain. 

As many employers have articulated or expanded a commitment to DEI over the past year, it is important that they prioritize DEI as a core business strategy in order to realize their goals. To take on DEI in a robust, comprehensive way, consider the following:

  • Assess and invest. Explore which of the 10 key actions outlined in our report are ripe for further investment at your company. While these actions are defined to be universally applicable to companies of all sizes and industries, DEI looks different at every company, and each company is at a different place on its DEI journey. We encourage employers to conduct a self-assessment on progress against goals.
  • Connect and learn. Consider joining a local or national business coalition committed to adopting actions such as the ones articulated in our report. Many of them engage in frequent peer learning, knowledge sharing, tool development, and, in some cases, technical assistance on implementation.
  • Measure and report. Similar to most business strategies, DEI comes with continuous learning and improvement. There is still much to discover about the nuanced approaches to these actions that are most effective in driving results. We encourage employers to rigorously measure the outcomes of each intervention and, where possible, report on those outcomes to employees, researchers, and other employers to help inform working knowledge in this field.

The overlap between business practices that drive equity and those that drive competitive advantage is getting larger and larger. Being an equitable business is becoming a competitive advantage, and it will become more important as the world of work evolves. The HR teams that implement these critical practices increasingly will become strategic assets to companies working to achieve DEI goals, drive broader social impact, and remain on the cutting edge. As remote work arrangements become a permanent reality and the long-term effects of the pandemic remain unclear, employers especially must continue to prioritize their workers’ well-being and satisfaction in order to drive productivity and remain adaptable amid external challenges.

We invite all employers to leverage the 10 actions featured in our report to build diversity, equity, and inclusion more permanently into their organizations going forward. To learn more, read the full report here, and take this short quiz to get a quick indication of where your organization is in its implementation of the 10 actions.

Elyse Rosenblum & Julie Coffman
Julie Coffman is Bain’s Chief Diversity Officer and leads Bain’s Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practice.> Elyse Rosenblum is the Founder and Managing Director of Grads of Life, a consultancy that empowers companies to drive equity through employment.

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