Practical Tips for Employers Seeking to Create or Expand Workplace DEI Programs

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Almost all decision makers at companies can agree that having the right people for the job is paramount to running a successful operation. Many of these decisionmakers believe that having a robust and legally compliant DEI program results in a more engaged workforce and vibrant workplace culture that not only attracts talent from all communities, but also retains that talent for longer periods of time. The key question is, exactly how does an employer develop and implement a successful DEI program, especially in light of the increased scrutiny being placed upon employer DEI efforts (which we blogged about here)? The following are some practical tips that employers should consider when creating or revamping their existing DEI programs:

  • Understand the law within your jurisdiction and implement all required workplace policies – It is imperative to speak to legal counsel to ensure that the company is fully compliant with any existing legal obligations and understand the legal parameters of what can be done versus what cannot be done. At bottom, all employers are required to implement some form of DEI measures under federal and/or state law. Indeed, these measures include enforcing up-to-date equal employment opportunity, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies or practices.
  • Get to know your employees – Employers should gain an understanding of their existing workforce before setting any DEI goals. One effective way to do that is to issue workplace engagement surveys to gather demographical information and areas of concern regarding company culture. These surveys must be thoughtfully crafted to elicit the relevant feedback and instill confidence in employees that the organization is soliciting this information for legitimate and lawful reasons. Indeed, diversity in the workplace means so much more than employing individuals who are members of varying protected classes (i.e., race, religion, age, ethnicity, disability status, sex, sexual orientation, etc.). For example, diversity also means individuals with differing: (i) perspectives and beliefs shaped by cultural, personal, and professional experiences; (ii) socioeconomic statuses; (iii) thought processes; (iv) family backgrounds; and (v) experiences living in various geographic areas. Therefore, a survey focusing only on information regarding protected characteristics will not be an effective tool to developing and implementing a successful DEI program.
  • Conduct workplace training programs that people actually pay attention to – Many employees have experienced sitting through tedious, stale, and non-interactive workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training. While some training is better than no training, the educational impact of conducting specifically tailored interactive and interesting anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training that equips employes with practical tools and takeaways is tenfold. The expression “knowledge is power” is true when it comes to fostering a workplace where people feel welcomed and are treated lawfully. Some jurisdictions including New York, California, Connecticut, and Illinois, specifically require employers to conduct certain workplace trainings at various intervals of the employment cycle. Therefore, and as noted above, employers should speak to their counsel to assess whether training is required within the jurisdictions in which they operate.
  • Recruit from many different applicant sources and audit your job ads – ‍An organization that uses the same few sourcing channels for applicants will tend to attract the same type of candidates from year to year. Broadening applicant sources can often lead to a more diverse applicant pool. Further, reviewing your job ads to find ways to be more inclusive to appeal to candidates of differing professional backgrounds will also increase the chances of reaching a more diverse applicant pool.
  • Develop a mentorship program – Creating a supportive mentorship program for new hires can help them feel more comfortable and integrated into the company culture at a much quicker rate than if they did not have such support. Further, mentorship relationships often create real, lasting bonds within the workplace that positively affect employees on a professional and even personal level.
  • Mind your messaging – Even the most well-intentioned message can go awry if the wrong language is used. Companies should carefully consider their internal and external messaging regarding DEI efforts and policies, as well as statements regarding recent local or world events.
  • Conduct pay equity audits – Pay equity audits are a useful tool for employers to ensure that employees are compensated equitably for similar work, regardless of their protected characteristics like gender, race, religion, age, etc. These audits can assist companies in identifying potential areas of exposure before a lawsuit is filed, while providing information to understand what disparities need to be further investigated or remedied. Employers considering this option should highly consider involving counsel in the audit process due to the potential benefits arising from the application of the attorney-client privilege.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list as there are many other practical DEI measures that companies can take, such as developing scholarship or grant programs and maintaining employee affinity groups. When creating or revising DEI programs, it is important for employers to seek legal counsel for this extremely nuanced and developing area of law, as well as obtain practical guidance regarding the many ways DEI can be fostered inside the workplace.

As the law continues to evolve on these matters, please note that this article is current as of date and time of publication and may not reflect subsequent developments. The content and interpretation of the issues addressed herein is subject to change. Cole Schotz P.C. disclaims any and all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all of the contents of this publication to the fullest extent permitted by law. This is for general informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Do not act or refrain from acting upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining legal, financial and tax advice. For further information, please do not hesitate to reach out to your firm contact or to any of the attorneys listed in this publication.

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