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Ask These 3 Questions to Set a Solid DEI Foundation

HR leaders who are committed to implementing impactful DEI initiatives but not yet seeing the results they expect should return to the foundation of those efforts.

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Why do people quit their jobs? Some might argue that employees leave for better opportunities, higher pay, and more enticing benefits. While those are certainly compelling reasons to consider another job, they don’t tell the full story. According to one survey of 2,000 individuals, about a quarter of employees — particularly those in marginalized groups — leave jobs because they feel like outsiders.

Disaffection can harm employee engagement so much that it ultimately leads to voluntary turnover, and research confirms that a lack of belonging can heighten the risk of employees burning out and underperforming. This feeling of alienation is can cause companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs to fail to drive lasting impact. After all, a diverse workforce is not necessarily an inclusive workforce.

HR leaders who are committed to implementing impactful DEI initiatives but not seeing the results they expect need to focus on the foundation of those efforts. DEI isn’t a cookie-cutter process, and there’s no endpoint. It’s a continuous journey, and every company begins at a different starting point.

Setting a strong foundation requires a thorough understanding of the current state of your organization. Use these three questions to assess your current status:

1. What is DEI?

This question might seem basic or unnecessary, but defining what DEI means to you is an important first step. Over the past year, DEI has grown increasingly popular. A 2021 survey of 800 business and HR professionals found that nearly two-thirds had DEI initiatives in place.

Social movements have compelled companies to implement DEI strategies, and that’s a good thing. An unfortunate byproduct of that shift, however, is that the term “DEI” is inching closer to corporate buzzword territory. We need to restore meaning to DEI because it’s so much more than a trendy management tool — it’s a deliberate shift to putting people first, creating opportunities for diverse talent, and committing to change on a fundamental level.

2. How comfortable is your team with discussing DEI issues?

Talking about DEI won’t always be comfortable — especially when it involves examining past shortcomings. These fears can spur even the most steadfast supporters of DEI efforts into inaction. Leaders can feel so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they either say nothing at all or speak only in vague, ineffective terms.

If this sounds familiar, you need to work to build your DEI muscle. And in this case, the only way out is through: To get comfortable talking about tough issues, you must practice talking about tough issues. It won’t always be easy, and you will mess up. Instead of getting defensive or giving up when that happens, be grateful for the opportunity to learn. When you approach DEI slip-ups with a spirit of openness and growth, you’ll know how to do better next time.

3. Where should you focus your attention?

If your DEI initiatives have faltered in the past, it might be because you were too ambitious. It’s perfectly fine to take a phased approach, and DEI success is progressive. When resources are limited, a more focused approach can actually deliver a much bigger impact. As you determine where to invest resources, consider what would make the most significant difference for your employees.

If you’ve made an effort to increase diversity across your team, for instance, you’ve likely also increased the diversity of your team’s health needs. You’ll need to focus on offering inclusive benefits — especially during a pandemic that has disproportionately impacted folks in marginalized groups. Does your current benefits package promote health equality? By focusing on inclusion in employee benefits, you can help your employees get the care they need.

For example, Paytient can be added to your existing health plan to increase the affordability of healthcare for employees. Paytient gives employees access to a set amount of funds they can use to cover a wide range of health-related expenses and then pay at their own pace — all with zero interest or fees.

Before you can make meaningful progress in your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, you need to gauge where you are in the overall journey. Go through the exercise of asking yourself these three questions, and you’ll be prepared to build a stronger foundation for your future DEI efforts.

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