Addressing Diversity and Inclusion Separately in the Workplace

There exists an incorrect assumption that diversity and inclusion are synonymous. How can companies keep their DEI programs in balance?

Everett Harper, CEO and Co-Founder, Truss

March 30, 2022

4 Min Read
diverse group of people in a circle
Derek Meijer via Alamy

Whether motivated by Environment, Social, Governance (ESG) investors, the Black Lives Matter movement, or falling behind in the competitive talent market, tech companies have started asking, “Are we truly a diverse and inclusive workplace?” It’s an uncomfortable question, and many have not liked the answer. While quick “diversity hires” check off diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) boxes, they do not automatically result in inclusive workplaces. So how can tech companies make thoughtful changes that positively impact diversity while also addressing inclusion? Here are three suggestions:

1. Set realistic expectations

For executive teams, there’s an impulse to make splashy diversity hires in prominent positions. Unfortunately, these hires rarely work in the long-term. Onboarding a Black woman or Latino/x male looks good, but without support, these folks will move on because they lacked decision-making power, were given unrealistically high expectations, or figured out they were token hires.

DEI initiatives require plans with realistic expectations. Setting rational goals that align with business goals is imperative for success. Know that your timeline for success is generally measured in quarters or years, not days or weeks. Commit to improving every month, and success compounds over time.

For example, we have found that it generally takes six to 12 months for a new hire to gel within the organization. This period is even longer for executives. Organizations must have patience to allow that gelling to take place. Do not put new hires on an island and expect them to immediately shoulder the burden of your DEI program.

2. Create a measurement system

Start applying analytics and data to your DEI program (with proper privacy and anonymizing controls). First, set targets based on your company size or demographic benchmarks, like the US population or other businesses in your industry. Then survey your employees. You may learn there are more identities than those listed in the EEOC standards. This is good because it’s a step toward learning how DEI is expressed at your own organization. Now you have a baseline for measurement.

For an example where measurement can be applied, consider how salary negotiation and compensation policies can result in a lack of equitable outcomes. There’s deep evidence for sustained disparity in compensation between women and BIPOC, and White men for the same work across multiple industries. I’ve seen this personally, even among companies with well-intentioned DEI programs. To avoid this problem, we researched its root causes and found the lack of transparency in compensation was a huge factor, starting at the initial salary negotiation and persisting through later salary increases and promotions.

Imagine two candidates for the same position earn a 5% difference in salary between them when hired. They progress and perform at the same rate and receive the same percentage salary increases. Because the compensation gap compounds over those years, these two candidates will have significant differences in total compensation. Making salaries transparent avoids this inequity. All salaries, including founders and executives, are transparent within our company. We review these salaries quarterly, which means if there is a mistake or any disparity, we address it quickly. This shift established equity and built trust within the company.

3. Establish mentorship and sponsorship networks

Onboarding is paramount in an inclusive environment. New hires cannot slide seamlessly into existing workflows and culture without guidance. Make mentorship and sponsorship powerful inclusion tools.

There are two types of mentorships: formal and informal. Formal mentorship focuses on established internal structures within a practice, where leaders match with less-experienced employees. Informal mentorship occurs when subject matter experts within an organization act as guides for new hires navigating the decision-making process. These informal, unconscious relationships comprise people who have previously worked together or share similar backgrounds and interests. Each informal network forms distinct visions of an organization, and massively impacts feelings of inclusion.

Sponsorship is distinct from mentorship in that leaders assist new hires outside of their craft, like when a new design hire shadows a salesperson. This expands the opportunity for that hire to demonstrate their capacities, and it elevates their exposure to different parts of the business. Sponsorship is critical for career growth and promotions, and studies show that BIPOC and women have access to fewer sponsorship networks. Make sponsorship an explicit part of the onboarding experience.

Informal networks, whether mentorship or sponsorship, positively influence psychological safety because they build equitable dynamics beyond the boss/employee dichotomy. Without psychological safety, hires bringing diversity to an organization feel stifled when expressing distinct points of view or have their expertise dismissed. They may stop speaking up or sharing ideas. A well-established benefit of diverse teams is stronger problem-solving ability; organizations that ignore psychological safety suffer innovation issues and sub-optimal results.

A vibrant community of multicultural, multiethnic, and genderfluid employees means nothing if an organization cannot harness each employee’s unique capabilities in an open environment. It is extremely important for organizations to establish clear DEI goals, and then build transparent management and operational systems to measure progress and overcome obstacles until they reach those goals. Diversity and inclusion live under the same umbrella but achieving one can’t be substituted for achieving the other. Through smart planning; detailed measurement; and explicit mentorship and sponsorship; tech companies can unlock new opportunities and talent to accelerate their business goals.

About the Author(s)

Everett Harper

CEO and Co-Founder, Truss

As a Black entrepreneur with a Silicon Valley pedigree, Everett boasts a proven record for solving complex problems with social impact.A leader of human-centered software development company Truss, he built a remote-first company in 2011 and implemented salary transparency in 2017. He anticipated the importance of hybrid work and diversity equity and inclusion by a decade. Everett’s first book Move to the Edge, Declare It Center, will be available on March 22. Published by Wiley, the book is a powerful and pragmatic take on solving complex problems and making decisions during times of uncertainty.

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