December 10, 2021

Inclusion in the Workplace 2022: 11 Experts on Boosting DEI in the Post-Pandemic Era

heads poking out of a hole in the ground with an arrow that says Pandemic pointing to them

DEI, Diversity & Inclusion, Company Culture, Hiring, Inclusive Workplace, Inclusion, Pandemic Hiring, Recruitment Pipeline, Diversity Hiring, Women in the Workplace

For better or worse, the pandemic has forced many growing businesses into a complete cultural revamp. And although many employers have made great strides in the way they handle diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, there is still a lot of work left to do. 

Because despite the well-polished diversity statements and buzzworthy social media posts, the fact of the matter is many companies still use excuses like the “pipeline problem” to avoid making any real efforts to implement DEI.

It’s a special kind of short-term thinking that, as research has shown, can hold companies back in the long run. In fact, companies that embrace DEI are proven to have lower levels of employee turnover and an increased rate of worker job satisfaction and commitment.

We reached out to eleven HR experts to find out how growing businesses can boost DEI in the coming year and beyond.

DEI at Work — Tip #1: Offer relevant benefits

“The ‘Great Resignation’ has caused ‘The Great Rethinking of Values & Culture’ within organizations. Companies were forced to rethink their remote work policies, their recruitment strategies, and put in place initiatives that drive DE&I forward.”

— Asim Baksh, Operations Lead, We Work Remotely

As the Operations Lead at We Work Remotely, a company that helps other companies hire remote talent, Asim Baksh has witnessed the great exodus from in-office to remote work firsthand.

According to him, there are both pluses and minuses when it comes to remote work and DEI. 

On one side, remote work has increased companies’ “desire to hire across borders” and also given them the opportunity to “balance their EEO data by hiring candidates from underrepresented communities.” On the other hand, employers are facing whole new challenges, like “understanding what DEI means in the remote space.”

“While companies can enjoy the benefits of hiring remotely, they tend to have ‘first world complex,’” explains Asim. “Many feel that developing countries can't have access to the right internet, or technology, for example.”

Despite this shortsightedness, Asim still believes there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the DEI efforts of recent history.

“Covid made us all more aware of how our personal contexts affect the workplace. And employees are no longer settling for companies that mistreat workers, provide unfair advantages for employees of a certain demographic, or don’t value work-life balance,” he says.

He has a few practical tips to help employers deliver on those demands.

Ask the pros: How can growing companies keep their perks relevant for diverse talent?

  • Provide equitable opportunities for both candidates and existing employees.
  • Offer benefits that are relevant to ALL employees, such as equitable salaries, equitable opportunities for advancement, strong ethics and code of conduct documentation, flexible hours, etc.
  • Adopt tools and platforms that promote diversity hiring.

DEI at Work — Tip #2: Be proactive

“They [Candidates] want to see DEI as something that isn’t performative, and instead embedded as a core value throughout the organization. No longer can companies go through a hiring cycle without showcasing the importance of diversity to candidates.” 

— Greg Fontus, Lead Consultant, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Proactive Talent

As a member of the Haitian American community with 10+ years of experience as a speaker and consultant, Greg Fontus fully embraces the importance of celebrating and honoring all groups of people, and particularly those from historically marginalized communities. 

During his time as Lead Consultant, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Proactive Talent, Greg has seen that — now more than ever — candidates want to work at organizations where inclusion matters. For this reason, he’s looking at DEI as a competitive edge for the companies that take it seriously.

But for companies that lack a strong track record in this area, it’s not easy to prove themselves to candidates.

For many, the recent injustices brought to light during the pandemic have served as a rude awakening to the fact “that their organization has not been culturally relevant and culturally responsible in its DEI efforts.”

The way Greg sees it, “Employees are now bringing those concerns more boldly into the workplace by now questioning how their organization is responding and reacting to those issues and challenges that occur outside of the workforce yet impact the psychological safety of one inside the workforce.”

Fortunately, Greg has a few tips to help employers walk the walk.

Ask the pros: How can small and growing companies do better?

  • Value diversity as a proactive effort as opposed to a reactive one.
  • Make DEI hiring an intentional initiative across all company levels, especially the C-suite.
  • Don’t stop at hiring diverse talent, put supportive mechanisms (such as ERGs, clear lines of advancement, competitive pay) in place that show that you truly value diverse talent.

DEI at Work — Tip #3: Don’t just tell, show

“For any workplace that's gone virtual, so have their DEI initiatives during the pandemic…Listen to the speakers, ask questions, and take notes—just like you would if you were with your colleagues in real life.”

— Kathryn Minshew, CEO, The Muse

As the CEO and co-founder of The Muse, a career development company that was named one of Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies In The World in 2018, Kathryn Minshew knows what she’s talking about when it comes to employer-employee relations.

From her point of view, the adaptation of remote work brought on by the pandemic has forced companies to expand their recruiting efforts from major metropolitan cities to many other cities all across the country.

“This means businesses that were once focused on talent in major cities like New York and San Francisco—which are more expensive and therefore produce more homogenous candidate pools—have expanded their search across the country, creating space for more diversity on almost every level,” explains Kathryn.

According to her, the major challenge companies currently face is proving that they aren’t engaging with DEI simply for the sake of it.

“Recruiters and managers need to make clear why they're interested in the candidate based on their skills and experience, and communicate what support systems are in place to help that person to thrive in their role,” she explains.

Ask the pros: How can employers get their DEI message across?

  • Stay active and engaged during virtual sessions with both current employees and potential candidates.
  • Let DEI reflect across all levels and initiatives in your company. You can start with answering questions like ‘how much of your recruiting budget is spent on reaching diverse communities?’
  • DEI shouldn’t be your only point of appeal. Let candidates know why they should value working at your company.

DEI at Work — Tip #4: Diversify your hiring network

“I think one of the biggest barriers to recruiting success, especially as it relates to diversity recruiting are rigid requirements. Re-thinking requirements isn’t about lowering the bar, it’s about keeping an open mind about what it takes for a candidate to be successful.”

— Jenni Stone, HR Representative, Bausch + Lomb

For Jenni Stone, HR Representative at Bausch + Lomb, rethinking recruitment through the lens of diversity comes down to being honest about the most important skills a candidate needs to succeed in a role.

“While you should never compromise on the level of talent you recruit and hire, you can open yourself to more diversity when you are honest about the traits and qualifications that are must-haves,” she says.

Jenni also thinks DEI needs to be re-prioritized. 

“COVID impacted DEI because during a crisis we tend to drop things that are difficult in favor of operating efficiently. Maintaining a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and belonging will only strengthen the engagement and wellbeing of your teams at this critical and unprecedented time,” Jenni says.

Ask the pros: How can employers diversify their hiring?

  • Incorporate diversity messaging in your employer brand content, communications and outreach strategies.
  • Join online and in-group communities to diversify your hiring network.
  • Make connections with affinity groups and join conversations on diversity in your industry.

DEI at Work — Tip #5: Create a safe environment

“As a healthcare agency, the pandemic highlighted a lot of the existing barriers for minority groups to not only access quality healthcare services, but also in processes such as hiring and onboarding.”

— Rachel Hammerton, Director of Recruitment, Spark Lifecare

For recruitment pros like Rachel Hammerton, it’s crucial companies work to incorporate policies and structures that will help remove existing barriers to DEI.

“The main challenges for diverse hiring at this point in time include ensuring that our processes are not contributing to the ongoing challenges minority groups face when searching for positions,” she explains.

She and the team at Spark Lifecare have also realized that creativity plays a powerful role in ensuring the success of the company’s DEI initiatives.

“While the pandemic has created situations that may have potentially polarized the different ends of the spectrum for diverse hiring, we have had to become even more creative and innovative in our workplace approaches to ensure that not only DEI initiatives are continuing in this challenging time, but also that they are thriving, suitable, and appropriate for the current circumstances we are in,” Rachel says.

Ask the pros: How can growing companies adapt and evolve their DEI efforts?

  • Create a safe environment that facilitates growth for diverse talent.
  • Ensure internal structures and organizational culture elevates and supports DEI practices as the backbone of the business.
  • Seek ongoing feedback to ensure DEI initiatives are not being taken for granted.

DEI at Work — Tip #6: Lower the barriers to hiring

“As research shows, many women left the workplace, which creates a gap in the knowledge, innovation, and value that companies can create. This is a problem that still needs to be solved.”

— Ben Eubanks, CRO, Lighthouse Research & Advisory

In addition to running the research function at Lighthouse, Ben Eubanks is a well-known HR thought leader, podcast host, and all-around rockstar.

“The hiring market is currently very challenging and this has opened up opportunities for diverse candidates—they’re getting shots at roles they might not have been able to get in the past,” Ben explains.

But the market is still tough for diverse talent. 

The 2021 McKinsey Women in the Workplace report found that women are more burnt out from work compared to men. And although women leaders are stepping up at work, their efforts often go unrecognized and unrewarded.

Luckily, Ben has some advice that may help.

“Some of our new data at Lighthouse show that employers can demonstrate their appreciation and valuation of women in the workforce by offering more flexible benefits and time off that appeal to their specific needs.”

Ask the pros: What else can companies do to make sure they don't miss out on diverse talent?

  • The data show that diverse candidates are the most likely to be negatively impacted by a conviction record. Ben suggests opening your talent pool to fair chance candidates as an option for securing great candidates, while improving your DEI efforts

DEI at Work — Tip #7: Focus on employee success

“Customers expect diversity and employees expect diversity. It's no longer something to prolong, it's time to make real improvement.”

— Joey Price, CEO, Jumpstart: HR

As an award-winning HR executive and CEO of Jumpstart: HR, Joey Price has a lot to say about doing diversity hiring right.

“The biggest change in diversity hiring since the pandemic is that there's been an increase in the public's demand for companies to be inclusive at all levels of the organization,” he says.

Joey also believes there is a false assumption that diversity begins from the bottom up.

“Companies assume that satisfying diverse recruiting initiatives means building entry-level pipelines, but the reality is that diversity can and should be reflected in leadership,” he explains.

Ask the pros: How can employers be more intentional about DEI?

  • Treat employees fairly and provide them with an inspiring mission.
  • Create a positive work environment and workplace culture.
  • Provide employees with enough room for growth and development (plus work-flex where available).

DEI at Work — Tip #8: Differentiate where you can to attract diverse candidates

“Companies that are supportive of all-remote working options have access to a much broader and more diverse pool of talent than companies that require in-person work of all employees.”

— Jonah Phillips, CEO, My Worksheet Maker

CEO of My Worksheet Maker Jonah Phillips, believes remote work has made companies rethink their hiring processes.

The way he sees it, since non-remote companies have to limit their focus to local recruiting, they may have a harder time hiring diverse candidates — leaving an open opportunity that remote-first companies like his can take advantage of.

“The geographic diversity offered by all-remote work unlocks all sorts of other types of diversity as well: employees from other regions or countries can bring radically different backgrounds and perspectives to the table,” says Jonah.

For companies that have adopted the hybrid work model, Jonah says it’s crucial managers take time to evaluate employees' work objectively so they don’t exclude remote employees.

“There are easy mental shortcuts that it's normal to make and while these shortcuts may work if everyone is in the office and the work process is easily observable, they fall flat when some people are working remotely and risk devaluing your remote workers,” he cautions.

Ask the pros: How can smaller companies keep their hiring processes inclusive?

  • Offer candidates perks they can’t get at big companies.
  • Be creative with your recruiting.
  • Be more open to candidates of different backgrounds.

DEI at Work — Tip #9: Be a company where diverse talent wants to work

“Smart organizations are realizing that they must ‘hire’ diverse talent from within, by investing in development to cultivate an internal pipeline of future leaders from diverse backgrounds.”

— Ben Brooks, CEO, Pilot Inc.

According to Ben Brooks, leader of the team at Pilot Inc., while recent events like the murder of George Floyd in the US has made more companies rethink their commitment to DEI, today’s talent shortages have meant that the traditional HR approach to hire or ‘buy’ diverse talent hasn’t been very effective.

“Smart organizations are realizing that they must ‘hire’ diverse talent from within, by investing in development to cultivate an internal pipeline of future leaders from diverse backgrounds,” Ben reasons.

Because most DEI efforts were designed around in-office interaction, the transition to remote work totally transformed hiring. “The pandemic has blown a hole through these approaches and now DEI and HR leaders are experiencing a near-vertical learning curve to design DEI initiatives that move the needle in a hybrid and remote work context,” shares Ben.

For experts like him, the real question for employers is: How will you keep up?

“Employees have greater perspective beyond the walls of their organization thanks to working out of the office, transparency of information on the internet, and the media constantly suggesting that they should seek better opportunities,” explains Ben. 

“All of this has resulted in employees' expectations of their firms, and subsequent DEI programs, to be massively elevated, and this has happened far faster than HR or management has been able to keep up.”

Ask the pros: How can companies rise to meet workers’ DEI expectations?

  • Create a compelling brand and employee value proposition that attracts the best diverse talent.
  • Foster a workplace culture that makes talent from underrepresented communities feel they’ve been set up for success.

DEI at Work — Tip #10: Improve workplace culture

“Companies understand more than ever that their retention practices are just as important if not more important than hiring practices.”

— Debi Yadegari, CEO, Villyge

CEO of Villyge, Debi Yadegari, believes the biggest challenge to DEI right now is the rate at which women are leaving the workforce.

“After decades of work to close the gender gap, companies have experienced the loss of female employees in record numbers,” she says.

To solve this issue, employers should provide more support to caregivers. 

“When companies provide better support for their caregivers (working parents and employees addressing elder care issues), the opportunities afforded to working women are elevated because (still today) women bear the majority of this responsibility,” Debi explains.

Ask the pros: How can small and growing companies attract diverse employees?

  • Work with hiring partners that can deliver tangible ROI and proof of retention.
  • Provide a supportive workplace for employees. 

DEI at Work — Tip #11: Focus on the internal customer

“The future of many jobs is either remote or hybrid. This virtualization is an opportunity to invest in other talent with less mobility and accessibility.”

— Dr. Patricia Anderson, Independent Consultant

For Dr. Patricia Anderson, the biggest opportunity in DEI is the focus on accessibility.

“Accessibility begins with providing inclusive spaces in the recruitment process. And this accessibility removes barriers to entry and continues throughout the employee’s engagement,” she says.

Post-pandemic, it’s not enough for companies to simply check boxes — their DEI strategies need to be culturally agile. 

“In order for companies to be agile, as some were during COVID, and all need to be during crises, their DEI practices must be mature. Companies who simply checked boxes were ill-equipped as the pandemic morphed to include global racial injustice,” she explains.

Ask the pros: How can employers better serve their diverse employees?

  • Invest in employee upskilling.
  • Focus on the internal customers (your employees) who will in turn ensure your external customers are taken care of.
  • Use data to drive your DEI hiring decisions.

The future of DEI won’t look like the past

At the end of the day, DEI in the workplace isn’t just about hiring candidates from diverse backgrounds. It is about equipping them with the tools and support they need to succeed in their role.

And at the company-level, it’s about showing up with the attitude that you’re not just capitalizing on the HR flavor of the day. You’re ready to show up for your people — and keep showing up for them — in the long term.

We know it's no small task. But by focusing on creating a stellar hiring process and investing more time and effort into the ways you can make hiring more human, you can create an inclusive workplace that will continue to serve both your current and incoming employees for decades to come.