3 Initiatives for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

Charles Cornwell | Mar 31, 2021 Charles Cornwell 03/31/21

Leading organizations embrace change. Their goal is to recognize and appreciate the value of diverse backgrounds, equal opportunities, and a fair and welcoming workforce—prioritizing engagement efforts to fit the individualistic needs of all employees.

But there is still work to be done. The unique needs of employees aren’t static. Job satisfaction is constantly shifting and evolving, and the onus is on organizations to promote an open work environment that allows for the continued dialogue—and follow-through—necessary to keep prioritizing DEI initiatives and ensure employees are heard and supported.

To get a better understanding of how team members feel about their organization’s DEI efforts and workplace culture, we got feedback from more than 10,000 people. Here are some key takeaways from that study:

How can diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace be improved?

The first step is to define the components of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives:

  • Diversity - race + ethnicity, gender + gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious beliefs, age, + physical ability
  • Equity - promoting justice, impartiality + fairness of procedures, processes, and distribution of resources within your company
  • Inclusion - a company culture consisting of diverse teams where individuals are welcomed or feel they belong

All three of these components are equally important but our research shows equity is the most difficult for employees to discuss.


When broken down by industry, panelists working in a restaurant are the least comfortable bringing up all three DEI topics in the workplace. What’s more, there’s a 26-ppt difference between office workers (72%) and restaurant employees (46%) when it comes to comfort level of discussing inclusion efforts.


Across the board, less than half of panelists (46%) strongly agree they are aware of their organization’s DEI programs and only 33% feel the DEI steps their organization has taken are effective. When it comes to representation, only 40% of panelists strongly agree the business leaders of their organization consist of diverse individuals with diverse backgrounds. 

What are the gaps between DEI initiatives being implemented vs. those that matter to employees? 

Now let’s look at an example of DEI initiatives that are already being implemented vs. which ones are most important to employees. When asked “What DEI initiatives currently exist at your organization?”, hiring or assigning a top executive the responsibility of leading DEI was last on the list. Only 20% of respondents reported their company has made this effort. But when asked “Which DEI initiatives would you like your company to promote?” respondents put having a dedicated DEI leadership role higher up on their list.


Additionally, employee assistance programs (EAPs) came out on top with 34% of panelists saying their organizations are providing this service. Following were specific DEI training (29%), DEI recruitment strategies (26%), and public statements about behavioral expectations (26%). But when it comes to which initiatives employees would like their company to promote, the two most popular responses were training (23%) and creating DEI focus groups, outreach, and networking for employees (23%).

One more thing to note: 26% of organizations have issued public statements about DEI behavioral expectations, but this was at the bottom of the list for what employees cared about (19%)—demonstrating the gap between what companies think is important and what actually is important to employees.

How important are senior leaders in your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?

Over the last couple of years, the number of jobs solely devoted to promoting and leading diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at organizations has increased 30% in the United States. This lines up with our study which shows having a leadership role—as well as a taskforce or group devoted to DEI—at your organization has a big impact on employees’ perception of how well you’re executing DEI efforts.

When an organization holds senior leaders accountable and designates chief diversity officers devoted to DEI (which occurs 15% of the time), more than half (57%) of panelists strongly agree the steps their organization is taking are effective. However, when an organization has neither a top executive nor a group (which occurs 46% of the time), only 16% strongly agree the steps taken are effective.


An engaged workforce is a diverse workforce

Employees can clearly see a difference when their leadership team is all in on promoting DEI work, prioritizing social changes, and creating an inclusive workplace with a diverse group of people. With the heightened and necessary focus to end social injustice and systemic racism to create a truly diverse workplace, employers must do the right thing and implement robust DEI best practices.

SMG is helping brands measure and understand the importance of diversity in their business—from front-line workers and HR leaders to senior executives—providing clear insight on how to create the organizational change employees need. To learn the most important factor to optimizing your DEI and employee engagement approaches, download the report: Why customer-centric organizations prioritize the employee experience: 5 ways to reduce turnover + drive growth.

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