Embracing Change: Our Journey Toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
on November 28, 2023
By Brooke Kraft, Director of Talent Acquisition, VGM Group
Have you ever sat with a group of people and realized you all have adopted the same way of speaking, the same style, and the same hobbies? I know I have. As humans, we love similarities. Finding like-minded people is believed to make it easier to get along, yielding fewer disagreements and conflicts. This “likeness” can be a key to providing a much-needed sense of belonging and acceptance within a social group. However, diversity within a group setting can provide the same sense of belonging while also bringing varied ideas, perspectives, creativity, and innovation.
As applied to the workplace, this mentality holds. We are typically drawn toward those who are more like us and have shared values and perspectives, which can cause us to silo new ideas, innovation, and that sense of belonging we all crave. Studies have shown that diverse, equitable, and inclusive companies are better able to respond to challenges, attract top talent, and meet the needs of different customer bases. According to a Diversity Wins report by McKinsey & Company, there are clear correlations between diversity and business performance.
Given the research and findings surrounding increased productivity and employee engagement, many companies have chosen to implement or continue to create awareness and strategy surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
Implementing strategies surrounding DEI efforts is anything but simple. And many companies are wondering how recent affirmative action news could affect them in the future. In June 2023, the Supreme Court effectively eliminated the use of affirmative action in college admissions with its decision in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC. While these rulings currently have no direct legal effect on workplace laws, it’s a good time to revisit your current DEI efforts and monitor workplace policies and practices to align and follow existing federal protections against decisions based on protected traits.
Understanding Affirmative Action
To foster diversity and forbid discriminatory hiring practices, affirmative action policies were established in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. From the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, and national origin.
The purpose of affirmative action policies is to ensure equal employment opportunities for applicants and employees, promote diversity, bridge inequalities in pay, and increase access to education. Affirmative action has been discussed in relation to college admissions decisions as several schools had established protocols that aim to increase diversity of the student body and reverse historical trends of discrimination by considering race in admissions decisions.
The ability to consider race when making admissions decisions came with the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. This decision established a national precedent allowing schools to consider race when making admissions decisions, and nearly 40% of American universities considered race to some extent when making admissions decisions. Higher education institutions implemented quotas that set aside a certain number of admission spots for students from specific racial demographics.
Given the recent upend of the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision and effective elimination of affirmative action in higher education, institutions will be revisiting admissions policies and procedures as it relates to any previously established quotas. From the angle that affirmative action policies are now untenable, the corporate world should do the same. Look closely at any DEI initiatives or possible affirmative action policies in place to ensure any policies or procedures are following federal and state laws.
Diversity initiatives are not completely new to companies. However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, many companies made an intentional effort to expand diversity programs. As these efforts were increased, legal lines may have been blurred or crossed. For instance, an internship or leadership training program that is only open to—or holds a certain number of spots for—a certain gender or race, would be called into question. A quota like this is taking protected characteristics into consideration as a hiring factor. Even in the interest of building a diverse workforce, ensure that your company hasn’t crossed a legal line if/when you expanded a diversity program.
DEI and Talent Strategy
Diversity hiring is a key component of a robust talent strategy. And if you’re thinking, “I’m not sure if my company has metrics or strategy surrounding diversity hiring,” I encourage you to seek the answer. Let me be clear, hiring with diversity in mind should still mean hiring based on merit and qualifications.
However, it also means taking special care in your talent strategy to ensure procedures have reduced biases related to age, sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, or other characteristics unrelated to job performance. Even with the best intentions and robust recruiting strategies, diversity hiring comes with many challenges.
One of the most common challenges is recognizing that diversity is only one piece. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are values that work together to be supportive of varying groups of people. Initiatives in each area should work in tandem with one another. As we see higher education revisit policies surrounding any quotas or affirmative action in admissions, we will also see them continue to advance their efforts in inclusivity and culture. Creating a diverse student or employee base is one thing—ensuring that every person, regardless of background or protected characteristics, feels included and a sense of belonging is another.
Inclusivity is rooted in company culture. It refers to the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions.
According to a McKinsey & Company survey regarding inclusion at work, nearly 40% of respondents stated they have turned down or not pursued a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at the organization. In addition, 84% of respondents stated they have experienced microaggressions at work. To help overcome this issue, your employer brand should emphasize diversity and any efforts made toward DEI.
When it comes to affirmative action and DEI, start by assessing where you are. Diversity alone does not create inclusive workplaces and you can focus on cultural and organizational changes to reduce inequality and belonging. Review current policies, procedures, and hiring practices to ensure they don’t violate any laws.
Outside of direct legal violations, assess if your policies are inclusive to your workforce. Working parents, mothers who need lactation rooms, differently abled individuals, and veterans are all examples of groups of employees who may need other support. Many companies have created employee resource groups (ERGs) to drive efforts in creating and defining belonging and inclusivity within their corporate culture.
Within a talent strategy or recruitment plan, ensure language is inclusive, be innovative in where you are posting your open positions to target diverse talent pools, utilize community partnerships, and educate leadership on biases and managing diverse teams. In the end, starting somewhere is still starting.
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This article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: Elevating Performance: Harnessing Human Capital. To read the full article and more like this, download your copy of the playbook today!
- equity and inclusion
- human resources