How to Rock Your Workplace Equality Program

Written by:

Khaliah Guillory

The pressure is on for organizations of all sizes to pay attention to workplace equality. Women and minorities, including LGBTQIA+ employees and employees with disabilities, perform better if they feel supported and a part of the corporate culture, rather than a lone wolf or odd person out. Consequently, companies like GM and L’Oréal have consciously recruited and retained women executives and board members, closing the wage gap between the genders. But more work needs to be done at organizations of all sizes to make changes that decrease bias and increase inclusivity in hiring, retention, pay, and professional development at all levels.

The push for workplace equality is not a passing fad. In fact, it is a response to societal demand for equitable treatment among employers—demand that shows no sign of decreasing. That’s why HR departments are helming workplace equality programs. They see current trends and know that a diverse and equitable workforce is necessary to be a sustainable part of the future of commerce.

Need Guidance?

Whether the mandate to create a workplace equality program comes from the top-down or originates within the HR department itself, workplace equality program leaders often have little guidance or models to help them make the workplace equality program effective. I’ve spoken to many well-meaning HR representatives who see a need for more workplace equality but are unsure where to start. So in my training sessions and workshops, I focus on a few key actions HR departments can take to build effective workplace equality programs.

Get Honest

The first thing you can do is get very honest about how many women and minorities you hire and how many get promoted to managerial and executive positions. Do not shy away from this information. Use hard data as a baseline by which to measure future changes. Most likely, your workforce already knows the on-the-ground reality, and you have to know it, too, if you want employees to understand any changes you make to increase equity within the organization. Certainly, you need to own your present state so you can confidently communicate your plans to the company.

Only Work on 1-2 Goals at a Time

Your HR team probably has many goals for the workplace equality program. For example, some of the most common are:

  • Increasing the diversity of hires
  • Decreasing the pay gap between genders and races
  • Achieving more balance between genders and ethnicities in senior-level positions
  • Conducting at least one event per year to bring awareness to workplace equality
  • Adding more lines of communication to understand employee workplace quality concerns

Your team might have many more. The problem with this is that studies show that most organizations, people, and teams can only effectively work toward two or three goals at a time. It’s totally okay for the workplace equality program to identify dozens of goals, but you should select only one or two high-priority goals to start with. Next, after you select those goals, try to break them down into objectives that seem reasonable and achievable within a short amount of time.

Think Short-Term and Long-Term

Workplace equality programs often start with a lot of fervor and high motivation. However, the goals of a workplace equality program typically take a long time to achieve, which can quickly get discouraging. A more limited set of goals will help focus the work you are doing and be more likely to lead to success. In addition, breaking goals down in smaller parts often gives the team more achievable goals so that they can see progress more quickly.

Finally, never underestimate the motivational power of achieving a single goal and then getting to move onward to the next one. Identify two objectives and have the follow-up objectives on deck to start once you achieve your initial goals.

Measure Your Success with Numbers and Emotions

When devising goals for your workplace equality program, include both quantitative and qualitative measures of success. In one sense, workplace equality can be easily measured by counting the number of people in senior positions in the company, the number of “diversity hires,” and how long individuals stay with the company. But in another sense, workplace equality is a feeling or a cultural understanding that employees may intrinsically understand but not be able to explicitly communicate.

Talk to people to find out what they feel the barriers are to their progress in the company. Find out where they feel they have been most successful or where they feel most included. Feelings of belonging and appreciation play a big factor in true workplace equality program success. For example, if you have a good number of women in high-level positions, but none of those women feel that their positions are secure or that they are respected by other coworkers, you have a quantitative success but a qualitative failure. Be sure you are measuring success according to the conversations and qualitative measures you’ve identified as well as by more traditional numbers.

Reach Outside of HR

Identify advocates in departments other than HR. Request volunteers and ask around to find people who are invested in making workplace equality a priority. Then invite those people to be members of your workplace equality program and even to lead specific projects. If you already know a few people outside of HR who are invested, make sure one of their first tasks is to identify people in their departments or social circles who can serve as advocates for different groups, ideas, and activities the program committee wants to promote.

Look at Job Requirements Through New Eyes

Reconsider your job requirements, particularly the number of years required for upper management positions. Women, in particular, tend to take time off work to care for children or parents, which can result in longer breaks from work and more job moves than men. Get different people to review job requirements before posting new positions. If the same people have been looking at your job descriptions for years, they may be numb to experience requirements that could exclude promising candidates. It could be as simple as changing the experience requirement from 15 to 10 years for a senior position.

Recognize Different Leadership Styles

Do research into leadership styles and look for a range of leadership approaches among your employees. Not everyone leads in the same way. When filling executive, management, and supervisory positions, notice people who employees rally around, and ask employees which coworkers seem to have stand-out management potential rather than relying only on supervisors’ recommendations. Encourage hiring managers to expand their thinking about leadership and even provide training to the entire organization to help everyone identify strong leadership characteristics in others and in themselves.

Market Jobs to People with Non-Traditional Work Histories

Many companies have “return to work” programs, similar to the one at Morgan Stanley. These programs help employees who left the workforce for a variety of reasons reenter the workforce without sacrificing the years of experience (and salary growth) they had before taking time away. Such programs reach out to populations who are more likely to have erratic job histories due to family or medical circumstances.

Programs like this change the mentality of hiring managers and personnel throughout the organization, as they see the success of individuals who may have long breaks in their employment history. It can make people reconsider other factors that might be inhibiting equality in pay and position.

Establish a Mentoring Program

Start a mentoring program to pair experienced women and minority employees with people newer to the company. Be sure you actively recruit women and minority employees, since many mentorship programs can become overcrowded with mentors that fit within a narrow demographic.

Get Outside Help

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to get started when embarking on a project as massive as workplace equality. To make your workplace equality program as effective as it can be—or to simply help get it started—call in a professional. I talk to organizations every day who want to build an equitable workforce but who don’t know where to start. Contact a D&I specialist today to unleash the power of your workforce and to build a workplace equality program that improves both your bottom line and your employees’ daily lives.

Yes, building a workplace equality program requires a lot of heart, but a little experience and a proven plan can get you where you want to go more quickly.

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