Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are terms used increasingly in the workplace today. At the center of the movement is an effort to include employees from all walks of life. However, these terms can often mean different things to different people. What does DEI mean for the workplace, and how is it practically implemented?
On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we are joined by Dan and Burnea Lester. Dan is the Director of Vice President of Field Culture and Inclusion at Clayco. He directs endeavors that affect the community, including job site culture and inclusivity. Burnea is the Director of Communications and Community Relations at SITE Improvement Association St. Louis. She has more than 15 years of experience creating and maintaining strategic partnerships and building meaningful relationships.
First, we’ll explain what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mean in the workplace. Then, we’ll discuss why DEI efforts are essential to competing in today’s talent market. Finally, we’ll share how employers can spark effective change in their workplaces.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 101
For Burnea, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) come together into one meaningful word: intentionality. Diverse experiences and perspectives are essential for employers to consider. Equity in the workplace ensures everyone has access to opportunities and the resources they need to be successful. Inclusion is built on making people feel seen, heard, and understood. These three things should influence the way employers hire, recruit, and build their workplace culture.
DEI efforts open doors
“I want to make sure folks are aware when we talk about diversity and inclusion, oftentimes there is an inherent thought that we’re talking about the addition or the inclusion of individuals that are lesser than or unqualified by nature,” Dan highlights. “That’s what we have to really fight against.”
For example, DEI efforts are not about hiring unqualified workers. “We don’t want anybody unqualified working on our project sites, right?,” he asked. Rather, it’s important to give qualified workers who might have been previously overlooked the same opportunity, and to create a welcoming environment for them.
Learning to ‘prepare the house’
At Clayco, ‘preparing the house’ refers to structuring a workplace to help potential employee groups thrive. For instance, Dan highlights that the construction industry consists of about four percent women – despite women making up a large part of America’s population. “If you only have four percent women, you want to make sure that you have the the resources and the benefits that women need to be successful, especially when you’re talking about a labor intensive job cycle or job site,” he shared.
A competition for talent makes DEI efforts essential
In today’s job market, employers are constantly competing for the best talent. Employees no longer spend a lifetime with the same company. They also have more choices than ever about where they seek employment. Consequently, their job hunt is about more than just salary. “I think we are in a talent war – and I hate to call it a war – but we’re in a competition for talent,” Dan explained. “Everybody is looking for the top talent. The best and the brightest, if you will, and there’s not enough of it out there.”
This makes internal culture especially relevant. It means different things to different generations – who are all present in the workplace. Traditional workplace values are now mixed with newer perspectives. “I know kids today that would rather be homeless than be in an environment that is not conducive to their their voice being heard,” Burnea shared. However, Dan and Burnea have found a few desires that are common across all employee age groups:
- The ability to provide for their families or lifestyles
- Having a sense of purpose at work
- The ability to have a voice and make a difference in the workplace
People are an employer’s capital
The truth in many industries is that an employer’s workforce dictates their profit. Their greatest resource is their employees. “One thing that will end someone’s time in an organization is horrible or toxic work culture, period,” Burnea said. Dan shared that many employees leave jobs not because of benefits or perks, but because of their manager. Lower-level leaders may be equipped for the practical tasks of their role, but they also need to be effective at communicating and managing people.
“The reality is that people want to be treated with respect and dignity, and that goes a long way,” Burnea added. Companies with cultures that allow people to grow and move forward retain employees for longer.
Businesses that embrace DEI benefit from visibility
Change of any kind can be difficult for a organization. The purposeful message of DEI feels like a difficult challenge for some employers to surmount. “Nobody likes change,” Dan said. “We say we like it. We all know that change is inevitable, and that’s the only constant that we know, except we don’t necessarily work on it.”
However, Burnea finds that businesses who embrace DEI see a major benefit. “They get that visibility in the industry of being a great place to work or being a good company,” she explained.
Not only do these kinds of workplaces attract employees, but business partnerships as well. “I don’t know any contractor or organization that has taken an active approach to embrace this conversation of creating great company culture, great field culture, who has seen a negative response from that, or even negativity, or a decrease in how they do business.”
Sparking effective change
DEI measures are about doing what is necessary for all employees to be effective and successful in the workplace. “It’s scary, but there’s also people who have been there before you,” Dan shared. Employers should explore best practices and engage with their community before they get started. For employers who are incorporating DEI efforts into their workplace, Dan and Burnea recommend a few key steps. They include:
- Finding your champions. Employees with authority and influence can promote the DEI message and steer their teams in the right direction.
- Update your language. From your mission statement to hiring materials, the company message should reflect a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Start with clear communication. Depending on the industry, onboarding can be an expensive process. Share the benefits and resources employees can take advantage of, and expectations that are part of their new role, to avoid losing new team members.
- Create phantom levels. Adding ‘senior’ positions to job role hierarchies allows employees seeking recognition to progress through an organization. It also demonstrates that a company values its employees and wants to provide increased responsibility.
- Offer mental health benefits. Whether its through an employee assistance program or health insurance provider, mental health benefits provide a foundation for supporting employees.