February 2, 2022  |  Purdue Global

Organizations have an obligation to understand and respond to the world’s evolving cultural landscape. They can do so by recognizing and implementing strategies that promote diversity and inclusion to all. This movement—also known as diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI—acknowledges and supports the unique attributes of individuals and groups. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is vital to a company’s success.

We sat down with Bea Bourne, DM, faculty member in the School of Business and Information Technology and member of the DEI Committee at Purdue Global, to discuss six DE&I trends for affecting positive, systematic change.

1. Supporting Gender Identity and Expression

Awareness of gender and gender identities has recently heightened. Organizations need to adapt to this reality by adopting inclusive practices that embrace gender evolution and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual individuals (LGBTQIA).

“Adopting supportive behaviors and policies benefits companies and employees alike,” Bourne says. “Welcoming and supporting those with gender identity and expression needs contributes to an organizational culture where diverse groups feel free to be their authentic selves.”

Employees who feel unwelcomed, unvalued, and disconnected to their organization are more likely to leave. Or, Bourne says, they may stay but become disengaged and nonproductive.

“Inclusive practices may include employee health benefits for transitioning individuals, using inclusive language for the LGBTQIA community, and allowing individuals to be called by their preferred names,” she says.

2. Supporting a Multigenerational Workforce

“For the first time in history, there are five generations in the workforce,” Bourne notes, referring to traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. The latter, she says, is increasingly being called zoomers.

“Changing demographics represent a significant organizational impact,” Bourne says. “Each of these age groups has different world views, expectations, and requirements.

“Unfortunately, employee loyalty is a thing of the past, especially among younger generations in an environment facing a skills shortage,” says Bourne. “Skilled employees have many choices, and employee turnover is expensive in terms of time, money, and other resources,” she says.

Awareness about what these generational differences are can assist leaders in developing strategies to recruit and retain members of each group.

3. Supporting Employees’ Mental Health

Conversations about employee mental health and wellbeing have increased over the past several years. This may be partially due to public figures readily shedding the veil on their own mental health challenges, Bourne suggests.

Supporting employees with mental health struggles has drawn more focus as the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a rise in incidences worldwide, she said. Implementing positive responses to individuals experiencing mental health challenges benefits an organization and its employees.

In the past, a lack of understanding about mental health problems, such as depression, might have prompted a response by onlookers to just “get over it.”

“Taking intentional steps to support the mental health of these employees is the right thing to do,” she says, “and of course, this helps to improve the overall health and wellbeing of those afflicted by mental health challenges.”

While organizations should institute human resource policies, initiatives, and procedures that support mental health initiatives, there are simple interpersonal measures that can also be used to support employees.

“How managers and fellow employees react to those who are struggling with their mental health, including the language they use, goes a long way in showing care for employees,” Bourne says. “Ultimately, this contributes to improved wellness and increased commitment, productivity, and longevity with the organization. This may also contribute to increased employee engagement.”

4. Hiring Diversity Professionals to Prepare for Systematic Change

Worldwide, organizations and industries can affect positive, systematic change by hiring professionals who are solely focused on diversity and inclusion.

“It is also important to have a DEI professional as a member of senior leadership,” Bourne says. “Companies need people who are committed to guiding the organization through DEI changes.”

DEI leaders can help by increasing awareness of possible biases, perceptions, and challenges that limit some individuals and communities. Organizational members may not be aware of existing advantages or privileges that are extended to certain people or groups within the organization.

“When we talk about equity in relation to leadership, it is a reminder that not everyone starts at the same level playing field or with the same privilege,” she says.

DEI professionals can recommend actions that contribute to a fair, diverse workplace. They can also help pinpoint existing cultural conditions that serve to attract or turn away customers, employees, and potential customers in an environment of labor shortages.

>> Read More: Does Workplace Diversity Actually Impact a Business?

5. Raising Awareness of Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions

Microaggressions are outward displays of unconscious bias directed toward an individual or group. The perpetrator is sometimes unaware of the impact their actions have on those who are targeted. They may believe they are simply making a joke when, in fact, the message they send conveys their bias to the person or group on the receiving end.

“Microaggression can manifest through thinly veiled racist, sexist, homophobic, or misogynist comments,” Bourne says. These often seemingly subtle insults can lead to employee turnover, disengagement, stress, and reduced productivity. And, of course, they perpetuate prejudice.

Consider these examples of microaggressions from Business Insider:

  •  “You’re so articulate.” (directed to someone of color)
  •  “Where are you really from?” (directed to someone who appears to be Latinx or Asian)
  •  “I think you’re in the wrong room—this is the programmers’ meeting.” (directed to a female employee)

Organizations can benefit by learning what microaggression behaviors are, how to identify them, and how to take steps to prevent and correct these behaviors.

“This reduces the chance of developing a hostile workplace where targeted individuals feel unwelcome and unsafe,” says Bourne.

6. Making Data-Driven DEI Decisions

“Organizations need to know who their employees, their clients, their customers, and their constituents are,” says Bourne. This may require digging into an organization’s data to uncover deeper, cultural discrepancies that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Discover whether your organization is underrepresenting specific groups and compare your organizational efforts to those of other industry leaders, she advises. “An organization’s goals, practices, processes, and leadership need to reflect the market, the communities, the organizations, and the audience that they serve,” reflects Bourne.

“This includes having diversity among employees, management, and senior leadership, as well as the board of directors.”

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