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9 ways to promote equity in the workplace (and how to lead by example)

October 6, 2022 - 17 min read
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    The success of a workplace hinges on an inclusive and equitable experience. 

    In order to do so, organizations need to understand what it takes to create an equitable workplace. With diverse talent from all different backgrounds making up today’s workplace, it’s important for teams to understand how to cultivate a work environment that allows all team members to thrive. 

    Nearly 80% of workers report that they want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). In the past couple of years, a focus on a more equitable workplace has become more important for many organizations. In fact, 40% of the workers in the survey cited above report their company has made DEIB more of a priority. 

    But achieving equity in the workplace is more complicated than it seems. Systemic racism and implicit biases prevent equitable access to opportunities for many diverse employees. And while many organizations are working to create more diverse teams, companies still struggle with creating an inclusive environment. 

    In this post, you’ll learn what defines equity in the workplace. You’ll also learn how to foster an inclusive environment where all employees can reach their full potential. 

    What is equity in the workplace?

    First, let’s start by defining what we mean by equity in the workplace. 

    Workplace equity starts by closing racial and gender gaps in employee pay and advancement. But equity also looks at key initiatives — like unconscious bias training — to eliminate implicit bias that impacts employee performance.

    We all carry bias that impacts our decisions, mindsets, and behaviors.  Equity recognizes this truth and refers to a distribution or allocation of those resources or opportunities to create a level playing field.

    A recent analysis of diversity among executive teams found that companies with 30 percent more women executives were more likely to outperform companies where the percentage of female executives fell between 10 and 30 percent. 

    Why is workplace equity so important? 

    Equity in the workplace hinges on equality, openness, and belonging. And even diverse workplaces can still struggle to create a business that is completely free of bias and discrimination. But while prioritizing equity takes hard work research shows that businesses benefit from creating an equitable workplace. 

    According to a report from McKinsey & Company found that businesses with gender, ethnic, and culturally diverse leadership are more likely to financially outperform businesses that are not.

    Companies determined to be in the top quartile for diverse leadership in 2019 in The McKinsey analysis were 36 percent more profitable than businesses placed in the bottom quartile. 

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    Workplace equality vs. workplace equity, what is the difference? 

    While equity and equality sound similar the implementation of the terms have different outcomes. Equality refers to when every person or group is given the exact same resources or opportunities. But different people and groups have different circumstances resulting in unequal access to opportunities or resources. 

    For example, some employees experience barriers when entering the workforce, to begin with. Workers may not have the traditional four-year college degree due to barriers to cost and tuition. Others might not have a traditional work background, like that picture-perfect resume. And still, others experience biases, microaggressions, and behaviors that negatively impact their career trajectories.

    It’s important to recognize that not all employees are starting from the same starting line. When we look at pay parity alone, we can see it in the numbers. With a lens on pay transparency, we see inequity disproportionately impact women (and especially women of color).

    According to US Census 2020 data, women earned 83 cents for every dollar a white man made. But not all women are equitably paid, either. On average, Black women are only paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to a white man. Further, Latinx women earn 57 cents for every dollar paid to a white man.  

    But to build a fair, diverse, and inclusive workplace an organization needs to have equality and equity.   


    How does equity benefit organizations and employees?

    The bottom line is workplace equity is a good thing. While becoming a more equitable workplace will take some hard work the endeavor is worth the effort.

    Equity in the workplace means widening the pool of employees who are able to grow in a company and can lead to more diverse leadership in the future. Since creating an equitable workplace requires investing in employees, equity can lead to increased employee retention and employee engagement as well. Workers like working for places that feel want to invest in them.

    For organizations, it can be good for employee retention and employer branding. Data show that people who feel that they belong in a workplace have 34% higher intent to stay at their organization and are 167% more likely to recommend their company as a place for others to work. 

    Rightly so, more companies are taking on the work of becoming more equitable. And more workers want to work for organizations that value equity, according to a 2021 CNBC/SurveyMonkey workforce survey. 

    Almost 80 percent of the respondents to the CNBC/SurveyMonkey poll said they wanted to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

    The same 2019 McKinsey & Co. analysis found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. 

    Due to this increased demand for equity, taking the time to make a company more equitable could improve its imaging, leading to a more diverse and talented workforce. 

    3 examples of equity in the workplace

    Accommodate health conditions or disabilities

    One example of equity in the workplace is building DEIB programs that are inclusive of health conditions or disabilities. For example, employees that are neurodivergent require supportive work conditions that help them thrive. This could be offering neurodivergent coaching to the employees or providing distraction-free workplaces, for example. 

    Disclose wage data

    Another is providing pay transparency in job applications or implementing skills-based hiring for new roles.

    By providing pay transparency to your workforce, your organization promotes pay parity and pay equity. It also helps to close the gender and racial pay gap.

    Provide diversity training 

    A final example is promoting diversity training programs in the workplace. Implementing programs like unconscious bias or inclusive leadership training helps to foster belonging. 

    There is no one-step solution to creating workplace equity. It’s a time-consuming process that requires real commitment. But here are a few recommendations on how to get started. 

    9 ways to promote equity in the workplace 

    1. Drive awareness around equity in the workplace 

    The first thing that any organization should do is research the history of workplace equity to understand why the concept is so important. Look at studies on workplace equity and talk to experts.

    Workers who are interested in improving equity in the workplace should work together to talk to others about the importance of the concept. Leaders should lead by example and show their support for DEIB initiatives. Without an awareness of where you’re starting from, it’s hard to set goals for where you’d like to go.

    2. Evaluate workplace equity 

    Take the time to measure how equitable your workplace is. Is workplace leadership accommodating to workers with disabilities? Is there a financial or incentive-based reward system in place? Is the pay equitable? Does the organization have a diverse workforce made up of people of different races, ethnicities, religions, economic backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations?

    It’s OK to take an honest look at the organization and evaluate where are its weaknesses in terms of equity. If the company doesn’t have a ton of workforce metrics to review, conducting an employee engagement survey on equity to help determine where things stand. 


    3. Prioritize wage equality 

    When many people think of workplace equity they think of pay equity. One of the quickest ways to get the ball rolling on making a workplace more equitable is by prioritizing wage equality. Despite some progress over the last few decades, racial and gender-based pay gaps still persist. 

    Women of all races earn on average 0.82 cents for every dollar a man of their race earns, according to a 2020 analysis from the Center for American Progress. That disparity is even more pronounced for women of color. For example, the analysis found that Black women on average make just 0.62 cents for every dollar a Black man makes.

    A good first step to tackling the wage gap is by trying to remove any stigma around discussing salary in the workplace. Colleagues should be able to share how much they make and compare salaries to others in similar roles to see if everyone is being paid fairly or based on the criteria. 

    4. Share equity targets and progress

    Any organization looking to become more equitable should consider publicly stating its intentions. A public commitment to becoming more equitable allows an organization to be held accountable by outsiders and insiders alike and will more likely result in real positive steps forward for change. 

    Make sure to set concrete goals for equity. For example, if the company is mostly male-dominated, they may pledge to hire a certain percentage more women in the coming year. 

    5. Prioritize equitable representation among the workforce

    A company that is serious about improving workplace equity should take a serious look at the makeup of its workforce and leadership. If necessary, leadership changes should be made in order to reflect a new commitment to diversity and inclusion.

    Workplace leadership should also evaluate whether or not there are diverse employees. Look at workplace data to gain a deeper understanding of workforce demographics, if your company does such a thing. 

    Again, a company-wide survey on workforce representation could be helpful in determining where the organization could be doing better in terms of making sure that there are diverse employees and all ethnicities, and genders are represented, and whether there are employees that are neurodiverse.  

    Another way to address inequity is to make sure to note whether workers of color or women are getting as many promotions or raises as their male and white co-workers. 


    6. Update hiring practices

    One of the easiest ways to change up the workforce is by changing where new job listings are posted. Using the same avenues to get new workers repeatedly is a sure way to promote inequity.

    Look at your candidate sourcing strategies. Are all the new hires recent graduates of the same colleges or universities? Do they cut their teeth in the same handful of internships at the same dozen or so companies?

    Look at where new job positions are placed and whether those channels could be attracting a particular type of applicant. Once a company recognizes if it tapping the same applicant sources over and over again it will be easier to branch out and seek new workers through previously ignored connections or avenues. 

    How are you bringing in a more diverse pool of potential talent? Are you adopting a skills-based hiring model? Not every person has the same access to the same opportunities, like a top-tier university education straight out of high school. 

    Hiring managers should make sure that they are looking at potential candidates that have the skills needed for company roles based on experience and not just necessarily make offers to applicants who have certain school names stamped on their resumes. 

    7. Examine your onboarding process

    Onboarding is a great way to introduce new hires to the company culture and is typically where new workers learn lofty things like the company’s mission and values and more practical things like co-workers and HR protocols.

    Onboarding is typically standardized to expedite how quickly new hiring can get to work. It is also done this way in order to ensure that all newcomers feel as if they are on the same page. But this type of standardization doesn’t work for everyone and doesn’t address different needs that some groups may have.  

    Having a two-part onboarding process is one way that companies can make the process more inclusive. The first part, or the early onboarding stage, would be the standardized version that every new employee gets. While the second, or late onboarding stage, would take place a few weeks after an employee’s first day to talk about any issues or individual needs that they might have.

    Another way of making the onboarding process more inclusive is by making sure to talk about the company’s commitment and goals to equity, diversity and inclusion

    8. Create a DEIB council

    Building an equitable workplace takes a lot of work and it can be easy to lose track of the progress being made or backtracking.

    Designating a dozen employees and creating a sort of leadership team that serves on employee resource groups like diversity or equity councils could help keep the fight toward equity organized. Those on the council could potentially meet every month to discuss the company’s equity targets and how progress is going to achieve those goals.

    The group could also serve as a channel or fellow workers to share their thoughts on ways the company could improve its workforce equity efforts or to give feedback on things that they think are working to help diversity in the workforce.

    Having an open and safe space for employees to share their thoughts on company culture, practices, and workflow and how that intersects with equity is an important part of the process of improving the employee experience and creating a truly equitable workplace.

    9. Promote inclusive leadership 

    Your leaders have incredible influence over the success of your business. Research tells us that inclusive leaders have better performing, higher engaged teams. In fact, we’ve found that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.

    BetterUp can help build inclusive leadership skills with your leadership team. By working one-on-one with a coach, your leaders can develop the skills they need to unlock the full potential of your workforce.

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    Published October 6, 2022

    Madeline Miles

    Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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