Launching a Diversity and Inclusion Program Isn’t Enough – Here’s How to Make a Meaningful Impact

June 18, 2019

In a recent study of 16,500 employees from companies around the world, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that half of all workers from underrepresented groups see bias as part of their day-to-day work experience. This is shocking, considering that 97% of respondents report that their company has a diversity program in place. Yet only 25% of employees from underrepresented groups say they’ve personally benefited from those programs.

This gap between implementation and meaningful impact is a big problem. Simply launching a diversity and inclusion (D&I) program isn’t enough. If initiatives aren’t actively tracked and fine-tuned, they may have little to no impact on diversity hiring goals — and a company’s productivity and bottom line. What’s more, employees from underrepresented groups are likely to grow disenchanted with their employer’s efforts and may start looking elsewhere for work.

One step that companies can take to improve their D&I programs is to always ask questions and get employees involved at every step. This can not only help you measure the impact of your initiatives, it can allow you to identify the measures that employees from underrepresented groups value the most.

BCG identified three fundamental initiatives that employees across all groups view as highly effective. It also uncovered numerous “hidden gems” — measures that hires from underrepresented groups consider particularly successful but that few companies currently use.

To help you align your company’s D&I program with the needs and expectations of your workforce, here are a few of the initiatives that employees identified as the most effective.

The diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives that all employees rank as highly effective

BCG found that there are three key initiatives that employees universally view as necessary and effective, regardless of their age, gender, race or ethnicity, or LGBTQ+ status. These back-to-basics approaches serve as a great place for companies to start building out their D&I program.

First, employees want antidiscrimination policies. More than just keeping companies compliant, these policies signal to employees that your company takes discrimination seriously. It can also provide them a valuable resource to turn to if they’re unsure how to handle a situation.

Clear and visible policies have also proven effective for curbing sexual harassment in the workplace, so be sure to make your policies around harassment and discrimination as specific as possible and let employees know where to find them. It can also help to outline exactly what happens if an employee reports an incident, so they feel in control of the situation.

Second, employees also want formal training to help reduce biases and increase cultural competence — the ability to understand and effectively interact across cultures. However, one-and-done unconscious bias training often doesn’t work. The report suggests augmenting any training with ongoing workplace discussions about these issues, using a moderator or facilitator to foster informal conversations in small groups.

Third, employees applauded measures designed to eliminate bias from performance and promotion decisions. One way to reassure people that they are being evaluated fairly is to establish clear criteria — and share it with employees.

Female employees list visible role models and adequate parental leave among the most effective measures

For the women surveyed, many of the most effective D&I measures involve strategies that help them balance their careers and family life. Adequate parental leave, appropriate healthcare coverage, and flexible work options are widely touted.

While this may sound obvious, pregnancy discrimination and lack of workplace support for maternity leave are, sadly, still major issues at many companies, so getting those issues right is roundly appreciated.

Childcare assistance is also important to women. Compared to men in mid-level and senior roles, women at those stages of their career are more likely to live in two-career households— and when they do, they’re more likely to handle most childcare responsibilities. If your company does offer childcare assistance, like onsite day care or a stipend for childcare costs, be sure to highlight that in your employer brand materials to underscore your company’s commitment to supporting working mothers — and fathers, for that matter.


Related: 50+ Ideas for Cultivating Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace


The top hidden gem for women is visible role models. Women ranked this as the fifth most important D&I initiative, with men ranking it 17th.

Seeing women in leadership positions signals to women that there is a viable career path for them at the company. If your company does have diverse leadership, consider offering mentorship opportunities to help lower-level women develop their personal networks and to make your female role models even more visible.

Simple steps to remove bias and support upward mobility go a long way for employees of color

When it comes to promoting diversity in recruiting, employees of color consider blind-screening and diverse interview panels to be some of the most effective measures.

The good news is that these measures are already used by many companies. Less common is the formal sponsorship of employees, which employees of color ranked as the 14th most effective measure (by comparison, white male employees ranked it 28th).

By pairing high-potential employees of color with a senior person at the company and creating an individual road map for the employee’s advancement, a sponsorship program can help employees from underrepresented groups build stronger networks, find advocacy from higher-ups, and navigate opportunities at a company that may not be accessible to them otherwise.

Employees of color also highlighted the importance of some simple steps companies can take to remove bias from their day-to-day work experience. These include being conscious about who is invited to meetings and how teams are staffed. If employees from underrepresented groups are frequently left out, intentionally or otherwise, it can have a significant impact on decisions related to promotions and assignments.

LGBTQ+ employees are looking for inclusive health benefits and the silencing of offensive jokes

For LGBTQ+ employees, steps to remove bias from the daily work experience are also incredibly important.

The report suggests emphasizing your company’s policies on jokes and derogatory statements about LGBTQ+ individuals — even if those jokes aren’t aimed at any specific employee. Since many LGBTQ+ employees are closeted at work, coworkers may not realize they’re being offensive, but the jokes can still sting — and are still unacceptable.

Structural interventions also make a big difference for these employees. These include measures like providing gender-neutral restrooms and adding nonbinary gender choices to employee surveys, job application forms, and other documents. Changes like those can demonstrate the company’s understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and the unique issues they face.

LGBTQ+ employees also consider appropriate health coverage a highly effective measure for promoting diversity at work. This includes offering transgender-inclusive health benefits that cover things like hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and mental health counseling. Since these benefits are the exception rather than the norm, if your company does offer them, it can be a big differentiator.

Make diversity and inclusion an open conversation with employees

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will magically boost the diversity of your workforce and establish a culture of inclusion and belonging. The most effective D&I initiatives are those tailored closely to a company’s specific needs.

Finding out what your employees want can shine a light on what your company is missing. Whatever measures you adopt, keep employees involved at every step, getting their feedback about how they think things are going and how the company’s culture and policies are affecting them personally. That way, you can make improvements as you go — rather than only hearing about a problem during an employee’s exit interview.

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