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April 14th, 2022

DEIA in the Workplace: How to Break Down Barriers




Strong diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives in the workplace can lead to happier, more engaged employees who feel comfortable, satisfied, and motivated. As part of its virtual conversation series, BiasSync recently hosted a panel of experts to discuss the inclusivity element of DEIA, which offers employees a sense of belonging.

Companies that embed DEIA in the workplace and make their people feel included understand that employee behavior is closely tied to bottom-line results. For example, studies show that companies focused on employee engagement see a 75% decrease in sick days. Further, a majority of these companies’ employees—56%—perform at a higher level, and they are likely to see a 50% decrease in employee turnover. On the other hand, 40% of people who work for companies that fail to embed DEIA in their organizational structure have lower employee commitment.

“Everybody wants to belong,” says Tamicka S. James, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for U.S. Commercial, Medical and Government Affairs at Genentech. “You can’t have DEIA in the workplace without [a sense of] belonging at the foundation,” she adds.

Meeting resistance

However, there are still certain levels of resistance when it comes to embedding DEIA in an organizational structure. Many companies produce DEIA statements as a “value proposition or accountability statement of what is expected in a culture,” says Dr. Crystal Miller, Chief Learning Officer and Organizational Strategist at BiasSync. However, such statements can “remain a performative piece of the DEIA strategy,” she adds.

Often, leaders struggle with “wrapping their heads around the bad behavior of people they see as good,” says Dr. Atira Charles, one of the Ph.Ds. who works for BiasSync. These may be people they’ve worked with for many years and have a personal rapport with. But efforts to embed DEIA in the workplace require leaders to “separate traits from behaviors,” she adds. In other words, leaders must at least entertain the notion that someone they’ve been close to for years can still exhibit unconscious biases. Here, it’s important to “separate traits from behaviors,” Dr. Charles says.

Advancing equity in the workforce can entail convincing leaders that such efforts are “central to the work,” Dr. Miller says. Data proves that embedding DEIA in a company’s organizational structure as essential to its mission see improved performance and greater results. But often there’s a “misalignment between how organizational leaders see their role” and embedding DEIA in the workplace as central to their goals. Breaking down this resistance, Dr. Miller says, entails altering leadership’s “worldview.”

What to do

Weaving DEIA in the organizational structure is a personal effort and requires leaders—and their employees—to be vulnerable, open, and empathetic. There are several steps employers can take to embed DEIA in the workplace. According to experts, leaders need to:

  • “Stop trying to be heroes” and conquer the fear of making mistakes, Ms. James says.
  • Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. “Discomfort is necessary for real change to happen,” Dr. Miller says. “Comfort is a privilege.”
  • Establish “their own authenticity,” according to Dr. Charles. People can’t advance equity in the workplace—or teach DEIA fundamentals—without “telling their own stories.”
  • Follow the data. “You can’t change what you can’t measure,” says BiasSync Co-founder and CEO Michele Ruiz.
  • Engage in unconscious bias training and commit to a behavior change approach. Doing so is a huge step toward meeting workplace DEIA objectives.

Organizations that want to learn more about mitigating unconscious bias and its role in advancing workforce equity can start here.

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.