How to Make a Lasting Impact on Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategy

Acts of racial injustice and racism over the past year have thrust diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the spotlight for many companies across the United States. We’ve observed organizations decry racism on social channels and in public communications, and witnessed the public reckoning of companies and leaders accused of not practicing inclusion, ensuring equity, and promoting diversity in their own organizations. 

DEI consultants and change makers have never been so busy. Top diversity and inclusion thought leader, Lauren Aguilar, PhD, said in June 2020 she was suddenly fielding calls from companies asking for anti-racism training — language, which although accurate and necessary, companies had not previously requested. 

The re-energized Black Lives Matter movement spurred by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor galvanized the demand for corporate accountability, and it’s here to stay.

Employers who are overwhelmed by the prospect of changing current practices or fearful of getting things wrong — it’s time to put those concerns to rest. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. That’s ok. What’s important is to put real resources behind your DEI strategy and ensure executive sponsorship. 

For employers, corporate executives, and HR leaders looking to make a lasting impact on your DEI strategy, efforts, and initiatives, here’s what to know.

Section 1

Pay attention to generational demands

Generation Z, the fastest growing segment of the workforce, says their number 1 concern is social justice. For this generation, social justices includes fair pay, fair opportunity, and fair systems, for: 

  • People of racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds 
  • Those with varying levels of physical and cognitive abilities, and
  • Individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations

Two-thirds of Gen Z college students and recent graduates surveyed said they’d only accept employment at an employer which has built “an inclusive company culture” that ensures “a sense of belonging to employees from all backgrounds.” 

Millennials also join Gen Zers in demanding inclusivity. According to Deloitte, Millennials are much more likely to be engaged in their companies when they have an inclusive culture. 83% report being actively engaged when their organization fosters an inclusive work environment, compared to only 60% who are actively engaged when their organization does not.

Millennials are much more likely to be engaged in their companies when they have an inclusive culture. 83% report being actively engaged when their organization fosters an inclusive work environment, compared to only 60% who are actively engaged when their organization does not.

Source: Deloitte

Section 2

Have a holistic approach

In 2015, Intel did something no other tech company had done or would commit to doing: they set and published diversity goals. They also invested $300 million into hiring for diversity, and surpassed their targets. In its annual diversity report, Intel said, “We exceeded our annual hiring goal, achieving 43.1% diverse hirings against a goal of 40%.”

“But what happens when you have more diverse talent and you do nothing to help them feel included or like they belong?” asked Anu Mandapati, a certified coach and VP of Inclusion with Purpose at Talking Talent, a global consultancy. “They leave,” she said. 

And at Intel, just 1 year later, the company was struggling with retention. For example, while Intel met their diversity goals for Black employees, hiring 209 Black employees, the company lost 201 Black employees the same year. Intel learned the hard way that DEI isn’t the same as representation, and companies can’t focus exclusively on hiring more diverse candidates. They have to turn their attention to culture as well.

“Organizations need a holistic strategy to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging,” Mandapati said. 

Section 3

Make the application process accessible

While many organizations are committed to building accessible workplaces as a pillar of their DEI initiatives, they may be inadvertently missing the mark from the beginning. 

“I talk to companies all the time that reiterate their commitment to building accessible organizations, but which have major accessibility barriers in place in the application process,” said Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, COO of Be My Eyes — a free app that connects sighted volunteers to blind and low-vision individuals. “But if blind or low-vision applicants struggle with completing the application due to accessibility, they may become discouraged from applying at all.”   

On top of challenges accessing the application process, candidates of diverse abilities may have questions about the accommodations available to them if they’re hired into a position.

“Often that information exists somewhere online but is hidden behind accessibility barriers,” Hauerslev Jensen said. “Lack of accessibility during the application process signals to applicants with a disability that they may not receive the resources or accommodations that will help them succeed during employment.”

“Lack of accessibility during the application process signals to applicants with a disability that they may not receive the resources or accommodations that will help them succeed during employment."
Section 4

As recruiters include more people of color and women in the finalist pool, they help change the perception of who is eligible for that position.

Require diverse hiring slates

One of the most effective ways to increase your diversity of hiring is to require diverse candidate slates.

“Recruiters should be handing off a stack of diverse hiring options to the hiring manager because research shows that if we’re hiring people 1 at a time, we’re less likely to see that we aren’t hiring diversely,” Aguilar said. 

What’s more, Aguilar noted that individuals of various identity groups have a better chance of being hired if the selection of candidates is diverse. Research published in Harvard Business Review found that if there are 2 female finalists in the finalist pool, the odds of hiring a woman for the position are 79.14 times greater. The same research shows significant results in regard to race, too. If there are a minimum of 2 Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the finalist pool, the odds of hiring a BIPOC individual for that position increase 193.72 times. 

This research suggests that it’s important for recruiters to change the “status quo” of those perceived as eligible for a position by including more than one woman or person of color for a position. Here’s why: senior leadership tends to be risk averse. Business as usual is preferred to change, and when a single person of color or woman is represented in the finalist pool, these candidates are viewed as outliers, which can be perceived as risky by those making decisions. As recruiters include more people of color and women in the finalist pool, they help change the perception of who is eligible for that position.

Section 5

Provide leadership-sponsored corporate communications

We know that buy-in from corporate leadership is essential to the success of any company-wide initiative, but this is especially true for DEI. Yet many leaders shy away from owning DEI programming, believing it to be HR’s territory. 

Executives may not be accustomed to talking about DEI, and may fear getting it wrong, or not knowing what to say at all. This is irrelevant. It’s imperative that messaging around DEI is coming from senior leadership, and not solely HR or diversity teams. 

While HR folks or diversity teams are most commonly those planning and executing the work, senior leadership needs to illustrate their sponsorship by authoring the communications.

“Unfortunately when it comes exclusively from HR, the unintended effect is that it’s seen as a regulatory function,” Aguilar said.

Section 6

Have a growth mindset and demonstrate vulnerability

In order to have authentic conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, employees must feel psychologically safe. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, introduced the term “psychological safety” in 1999 to describe a phenomenon she observed through her research on high-performing teams. She described the concept as “the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

Psychological safety changes the way we come into tough conversations and situations, and it can’t exist when shame is part of the equation. To eliminate a culture of shame, leaders need to embrace the tenets of a growth mindset for themselves and their teams. 

Forget for a moment that “growth mindset” was 2006’s favorite buzzword. It soon came to feel empty and vague, like all the buzziest business terms, but it’s not. Psychologist Carol Dweck, PhD, coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” to characterize the two main differences of belief that people hold related to their abilities, intelligence, and learning. 

Her research found that people who believe they can improve understand that effort makes their attempt stronger, and therefore these individuals are more likely to increase the time spent and effort exerted in order to reach a goal. 

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, having a growth mindset helps mitigate the fear of making mistakes.

“Some people have said to me, we’re talking about DEI, why are you bringing ‘growth mindset’ into this?” Aguilar said. But embracing a growth mindset is adopting the idea that everyone has the capacity to learn and grow, and that includes making mistakes — all of which contributes to the psychological safety of a team. “In order to create cultures of inclusion, leaders need to say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake, and this is what I’ve learned from it,” Aguilar said.

“In order to create cultures of inclusion, leaders need to say, ‘Hey, I made a mistake, and this is what I’ve learned from it.”

Lauren Aguilar, PhD, diversity and inclusion thought leader

Section 7

happy employees in meeting collaboration
Marking interruptions when they happen and correctly attributing ideas are two powerful micro-inclusions to practice in meetings.

Challenge meeting norms

Challenge meeting norms for both a quick win that signals your company’s commitment to DEI, and makes lasting improvements to your inclusion and belonging efforts

“Meetings are the place where we feel our differences, we feel or don’t feel our belonging, and the play where a lot of diversity, equity, and inclusion dynamics play out,” Aguilar said. 

Leaders can challenge or change meeting norms with a few simple rules:

  1. Seek input from everyone in the room. 
  2. Leaders speak last.
  3. Encourage employees to turn their cameras on, if they’re able to. But understand that everyone has different accessibility needs. 
  4. Practice micro-inclusions, like marking interruptions and attributing ideas. 

Micro-inclusions are the small subtle ways we signal that others are valued, respected, full-contributing work partners. They’re the antidote to micro-aggressions, and the proactive way we can communicate belonging for everyone, but especially for employees who experience doubts about belonging because they are the 1 or the few of their identity group. 

Marking interruptions when they happen and correctly attributing ideas are two powerful micro-inclusions to practice in meetings. For example, if Sean gets excited about Anissa’s idea and jumps in to share his thoughts, leaders should stop the conversation and say something like: 

“Thanks for your enthusiasm, Sean, but I’d like to loop back and hear what Anissa had to say about her idea.”

In this way, leaders will have

1. Identified the interruption, and

2. Ensured the idea is attributed to the correct person. 

Before beginning the initiative, share the focus in a company-wide communication that comes from upper leadership.

“This quarter, we’re beginning an initiative to create more inclusive meeting norms. The initiative will begin on Monday and you’ll find the details of what we’re focusing on below.” said Aguilar. 

Section 8

Don’t skimp on calibrations

Calibrating manager performance reviews before awarding bonuses or promotions can be a powerful tool to combat bias and support your DEI strategy. 

“You can’t overemphasize the importance of calibrations,” said Emily Goodson, founder and CEO of CultureSmart, a people and culture consultancy firm. 

Research has found that women are more likely to receive vague and subjective feedback, while men are offered specific feedback tied to their performance — information that helps them better succeed in the workplace.

“To help counter this, leadership should calibrate and fact-check manager reviews before using them as the sole decision-maker,” Goodson said. 

Aguilar said it’s helpful to have tools handy which prompt managers to provide objective evidence to support subjective observations or claims. For example, a tool like calibration cards, which Aguilar developed with her team at a previous employer, are particularly helpful. 

A two-sided, physical card that leadership can hold or keep handy during calibrations, the cards are labeled on 1 side with words which serve as a clue that bias is sneaking in. On the other side are questions which prompt facts for the statement.

For example, a manager may share that they think Situ is ready for a promotion because she is high-potential. Another manager may refer to a card in their hand which prompts them to ask, “Would you be able to share with us an example of a time when Situ demonstrated that high-potentiality?”

Aguilar said that calibration cards help in a number of ways. “They bring levity to the environment to help foster psychological safety,” she said.

They also help avoid anchoring on the most senior person in the room, and can mitigate the effect of groupthink. 

Section 9

Talk about pronouns

Encourage employees to share their pronouns by creating a company-wide habit of introducing oneself with name, pronoun, and position in the organization. 

For cisgendered individuals (those whose gender identity corresponds with their birth sex), sharing pronouns regularly can help encourage transgender or nonbinary individuals to do the same. 

This practice also signals that we understand pronouns cannot be assumed based on an individual’s appearance, and illustrates we want to make our team members feel affirmed in their identity. 

Like corporate executives shying away from decrying racism for fear of getting it wrong, some individuals may feel uncomfortable sharing their own pronouns or inquiring about another’s because they’re unfamiliar with the verbiage commonly used. Corporate messaging — coming from the top, of course — can offer practical tips to help bridge the gap between a lack of familiarity and comfort. 

The CEO could send a message that says something like this: 

Sample CEO Message Regarding Pronouns

Dear Valued Team Members, 

I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Susan Lin and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m the CEO OurCompany, and I’m proud to be leading our team of diverse individuals coming from different backgrounds, countries, native languages, sexual orientations, races, religions, physical and cognitive abilities, and gender identities. 


As you’ve read recently from some of my other emails, our company is proud to be working toward building a more inclusive workplace for all of our employees. We know we haven’t always gotten it right in the past, but we’re committed to being better. As such, we’ve developed programming to support a variety of inclusivity and belonging goals and strategy that, we believe, will foster a more meaningful, psychologically safe, and innovative workplace where all of our employees can bring their true selves to work. 


This quarter’s initiative is on sharing pronouns and begins next week. 


Along with our HR team, I’m encouraging to share your pronouns with your colleagues, if you feel comfortable. Some ways to do this are in your email signature and via your introduction, either in-person or through virtual communication. 

This is how these may look:

1. Email signature


Susan Lin 


CEO, OurCompany


2. In-person introduction

“Hi, I’m Susan, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. Nice to meet you!”


I know this may be new for some of you, and that some employees may not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns. That’s OK. My hope is that as more of our colleagues share their pronouns, other individuals will feel empowered to do so. Together we can work to create a culture and community of inclusive, openness, and belonging at our company. I’m in. Are you? 

Many thanks and my best wishes to you all.


Warm regards,

Susan Lin

Section 10

business meeting
Your DEI strategy is an ongoing effort that requires continuous support, attention, leadership sponsorship, resources, and investment.

Remember that your DEI strategy is a perpetual effort

Building diverse, equitable, inclusive workplaces where individuals feel a sense of belonging is not an easy challenge. Organizations must remember that their DEI strategy is a perpetual effort that requires ongoing support, attention, leadership sponsorship, resources, and investment. Forget quick fixes like simply hiring more diverse employees in favor or examining your DEI strategy through the lens of the entire employee lifecycle.