Workplace policies reveal what we value. And what we don’t value.
Think of diversity policies in the workplace as one way to communicate priorities, standards, and boundaries. When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), workplace policies can play an influential role in fostering inclusive workplaces.
But “policy change is only effective if it’s designed for a receptive environment,” writes Porter Braswell in Fast Company. In other words, the key to effective diversity policies in the workplace is for everyone in the organization to believe “in the value of creating systemic change.”
This reminds us that we can’t rely on equality and diversity policies in the workplace alone to drive DEI. Rather, policies should be part of a multidimensional effort to foster a workplace culture where every employee feels valued. Ahead, we’ll dive into specific diversity and inclusion HR policies, an important component of any DEI strategy.
First, let’s address the big question.
Why are diversity policies in the workplace important?
The ongoing racial reckoning spurred by the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020 led a number of high-profile companies to publicly state their commitment to racial justice and diversity. Shining a spotlight on racism and inequality is important work to be sure, but it’s work that needs to be accompanied by action in order to make a difference. That’s where policies come in. In many cases, diversity policies in the workplace can be a solid step toward inclusivity.
“When used effectively, diversity policies improve workplace equity and boost employee performance,” according to findings from Social Science Research, a quantitative social science research journal.
So, how do you successfully implement diversity and inclusion HR policies? Researchers recommend starting off with an education and awareness-based approach, specifically as it concerns diversity and race-related issues. Workers tend to be more “more supportive of race-based diversity policies when justified to address discrimination as opposed to when they are justified to increase diversity,” according to their findings. In short, employees are more likely to get behind diversity policies when they understand the "why" behind the policy.
What's more, increased awareness of discrimination not only leads to more support for diversity policies in the workplace, it also helps "improve the workplace for underrepresented groups," per the Social Science Research study.
Diversity and inclusion HR policies to consider
Diversity policies in the workplace are not one-size-fits-all. To be effective, they need to be contextualized for each environment, taking into account the stage the workplace is at as far as diversity, equity, and inclusion are concerned. With that said, let’s dive into specific diversity and inclusion HR policies.
Equality and diversity policies in the workplace
- Establish a diversity office. If your workplace has the resources, establishing a dedicated diversity office can be pivotal to demonstrating your commitment to tangible change. Other ways to support DEI initiatives include creating an employee-led committee or hiring a DEI specialist, recommends the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
- Voluntary training. Mandatory trainings aren't always effective. They can feel forced (well, because they are) and, oftentimes, they lend themselves to a "check-the-box" mentality for participants. Opt for voluntary trainings instead. The conversations fostered in this type of intentional setting can be pivotal in laying the groundwork for DEI initiatives.
What's more, when researchers surveyed employees about how they feel about diversity policies in the workplace, they found that the most widely-supported diversity policies in the workplace were voluntary trainings and establishing a diversity office. Not only are these policies more likely to engage employees, they've also been proven to actually improve workplace diversity.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, the Social Science Research authors recommend “implement[ing] the most popular diversity policies first” and building up from there.
Gender-neutral policies for talent acquisition and talent management
- Gender-neutral language in recruitment and hiring materials. Language matters. For instance, the use of “masculine” wording such as “superior” or “competitive” can result in fewer female applicants, per the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Blind hiring practices. Tools and techniques for blind hiring can eliminate implicit bias and other forms of discrimination. Researchers at MIT Science Policy Review recommend softwares like GapJumpers to review applicants without seeing biographical data such as name, address, or college affiliation. Alternatively, businesses can also refrain from requesting this kind of information until later on in the hiring process.
Cultural diversity policies in the workplace
- Mentorship. We may not think of mentorship as something that requires formal policies, but researchers have found that a “policy mechanism” is required, especially in light of the fact that mentoring tends to be selective. Formal programs and policies can increase access to connection for both mentees and mentors.
- Set diversity goals. Communicate a strategic vision for diversity by setting concrete goals. Tailor these diversity goals to your workplace, and use new or existing diversity and inclusion HR policies as a tool to help your organization make progress. Ultimately, setting goals keep us accountable to the things we say we're going to do.
- Facilitate discussions. In addition to hosting voluntary trainings, another way to increase education and awareness around diversity and equity is simply to have regular conversations about it. Experts recommend that managers and other leaders “have direct conversations with employees about gender and race issues.” These one-on-one conversations can be a great place to ask questions, learn, and lead by example.
Advance diversity policies in the workplace with AboveBoard
Introducing diversity policies in the workplace is just the start. From here, transparency and accountability are key. Is the company or workplace living up to the standards laid out by these policies? Do employees, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, feel empowered to speak up?
At AboveBoard, we believe real change starts at the top. From equality and diversity policies in the workplace and gender-neutral policies for talent acquisition to diverse recruitment and promotion practices, no step is too small to advance diversity one policy, one promotion, and one hire at a time.
That’s what AboveBoard's innovative platform for executive hiring is all about—increasing access and transparency to C-suite and boardroom opportunities for underrepresented executives. We believe that diversifying executive leadership can lead to more fair hiring practices, inclusive decision-making, and better service from society’s top leaders and influences.