Fostering a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) requires the active commitment and support of senior leadership and a holistic approach to training that mitigates biases and cultivates awareness and allyship. While all employees of an organization play an important role in creating a fair and inclusive workplace, CEOs and C-suite executives have the critical responsibility of building manager and employee buy-in and support for underrepresented colleagues. 

In a recent Traliant survey of US businesses across multiple industries, 71% said their executives are involved in decisions endorsing and advancing DEI. However, only 13% of respondents said their executives are visible in those activities. About half (48%) of survey respondents said their human resources (HR) team owns the organization’s DEI strategy. Another 44% said their executive team takes ownership and 8% said no team owns the organization’s DEI strategy. 

To be effective, it’s vital for managers and employees to see a company’s DEI program as executive-led and encompassing the entire organization.  

Cultural change starts at the top 

Cultural change starts with a CEO, who must clearly communicate that DEI is a strategic priority, why it makes good business sense, how it moves the company beyond where it is today and how it aligns with the company’s values and goals.  

C-suite executives are tasked with execution of a company’s DEI strategy. They must clearly define for managers and supervisors what diversity is, why it is important, and the implications of not embracing people’s differences and diverse experiences so everyone understands what’s at stake. 

The actions by the CEO and C-suite, and their responsibility to model DEI behavior, is key to winning the manager and employee support necessary to drive cultural transformation. 

All employees should participate in comprehensive DEI training 

When it comes to education, 65% of survey respondents say their organization conducts some form of DEI training. The remaining 35% of the respondents said their organization recognizes the importance of DEI but hasn’t begun a formal training program. 

DEI training is essential to helping all employees develop and practice the mindset, skills and behaviors needed to adopt a DEI culture. This includes those in leadership and people management positions, as they are the most influential positions within a company. 

At a minimum, DEI training should cover the 6 topics below.  

1. Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion 

Building DEI awareness is fundamental to cultivating an inclusive and equitable culture. When team members respect each other for who they are and the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and talents they bring to work, it creates a positive work environment where everyone feels valued, supported, and empowered to contribute. 

2. Building cultural competence 

Improving cultural competence increases appreciation for how individual backgrounds and experiences affect personal beliefs, perceptions, and decisions to improve staff interactions, working relationships, and collaboration.  

3. Mitigating unconscious bias 

Raising self-awareness of our own unconscious bias and how to prevent these stereotypes, prejudices, and preconceived opinions from influencing workplace decisions and interactions is essential to building a culture that’s fair and non-discriminatory. 

4. Managing microaggressions 

Addressing intentional or unintentional slights, snubs, and insults (known as microaggressions)  reduces staff conflicts to improve employee mental health and promote inclusion. 

5. Accommodating religion, spirituality, and beliefs 

Creating a faith-friendly environment for individuals to express their religion, spirituality and beliefs fosters an inclusive culture to provide more fulfilling work experiences and the resilience to meet daily challenges. 

6. Supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion 

Welcoming and supporting individuals of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community creates a psychologically safe culture in which all employees can feel included and participate as their authentic selves. 

Achieving DEI maturity takes regular communication 

An organization reaches DEI maturity when its leaders, managers and employees can sustain DEI practices as part of doing business. This becomes possible when training is supplemented and reinforced by regular communication promoting inclusion, including town halls, team meetings and one-on-one discussions between managers and employees. Pulse surveys and focus groups can also help track sentiments and progress on DEI goals. 

Unfortunately, only 8% of organizations surveyed communicate about DEI to employees more than once per quarter. About a third of respondents (30%) communicate DEI progress on an annual basis and 33% only communicate DEI goals and progress every two years. Ideally, the CEO and C-suite leaders should provide more regular updates about how an organization is doing in reaching its DEI goals. 

It’s not enough for companies to say they want DEI. Executives must be willing to lead this change through their active support and participation of a multi-prong DEI program that includes clear goal setting, ongoing and comprehensive training, and regular discussion of DEI behavior and benefits.

Maggie Smith Traliant creates engaging and effective compliance training courses that help organizations stay up to date on workplace requirements and expectations, instill respect and understanding in employee interactions, and enable employees to be their best selves at work.
Back to top