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To support all employees to bring their best selves to work everyday, people practices such as respectful workplace, bereavement, and flexible working policies; inclusion education; and a focus on accommodation and flexibility can be a strong foundation.

However, to ensure these people practices have the impact that was intended, two elements must be in place:  the culture must support them, as demonstrated through leadership communication and uptake; and leaders who implement them must be able to do so in a bias-aware way.

A diverse group of happy co-workers celebrating a win together at the office

Keys to equitable implementation of these policies are:

  • Making sure all employees are aware of the available policies, and the rights and obligations they provide.
  • Using discretion in an equitable, bias-aware way (i.e. so all employees feel comfortable using them without being concerned that it could affect how they are evaluated).
  • Setting the example and demonstrating the organization’s commitment to inclusion by visibly utilizing the practice themselves.

Feeling supported will influence employees’ willingness and abilities to both engage at work and stay.

Are your people practices fully supporting engagement and retention?

Supporting resources

To be effective, people practices must be backed up by an inclusive culture

Education and Communication: Ensure all employees are aware of the value of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and respect, and that leaders consistently demonstrate this through their actions. Support and engage employee DEI initiatives/groups, and participate in external initiatives to extend your commitment beyond the organization.

Flexibility: Ensure flexible working arrangements are equally available and accessible to all employees.

Embed DEI Through all People Practices: Acknowledge differences and varying needs in all people practices to ensure equitable outcomes.

Monitor Progress on DEI: Gather demographic and employee experience data, and regularly review practices to identify barriers, the impact of initiatives and areas of success to communicate and build on.

Ways to do Diversity Training Right

Be explicit about behaviours: Go beyond awareness, and teach about specific appropriate actions employees can take when confronted with difficult situations.

Make it voluntary vs mandatory: Creating a sense of ownership and autonomy can lead to better outcomes and less backlash.

Create new norms: Include action-planning to enable employees to collaborate in setting team norms. Then leaders need to set the example by adhering to and championing them.

Call attention to barriers: Focusing only on differences risks that real inequities and systemic barriers in organizations will not be addressed.

Be specific: Focusing on specific aspects of diversity and their intersections (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation) is more effective than a broad-brush approach.

Invest the time: Training sessions spread out over multiple weeks, and allocating enough time to allow for practice of new skills, is ideal.

Integrate with other initiatives: Offering training, along with other DEI practices helps demonstrate commitment.33

A young black professional leading a team meeting with her co-workers

Common DEI Barriers to Engaging and Retaining

You hear from some Employee Resource Groups that not all “families” are the same

Sometimes unintended barriers exist in the definition of “family” in bereavement policies, relocation policies and benefits coverage. This could be a disadvantage for:

  • Indigenous employees and individuals from various cultural backgrounds who may have an extended network of family and community members who were involved in their rearing.
  • LGBTQ2+ employees or individuals from some cultural backgrounds or certain religious backgrounds who may have a “chosen family”.
  • Providing flexibility by adopting an employee-led definition of “family” on a case-by-case basis can support employees in line with their values and personal situation.

You notice a lack of uptake of flexible working options among certain groups of employees

The impact on inclusion of having policies that offer all employees flexibility and a work-life balance is limited if it is not supported by the organizational culture.

A shift from focusing on employees’ presence to their performance is crucial to encourage individuals to use flexible programs and ensure that such usage will not obstruct their career progression.

Leaders can play an influential role by:

  • Not promoting a culture of extended working hours, visibly participating in these programs, and promoting them amongst their employees.
  • Timing staff meetings or events during ‘core working hours’ (not early or end of day).
  • Addressing any micro-inequities (comments, etc.) directed at people who use flexible work options.
  • Looking for and addressing any barriers in promotion and development decisions.

You want to address the “double jeopardy” risk of exclusion experienced by employees holding many marginalized identities

Not all women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities experience the workplace in the same way. Other aspects of an individual’s overlapping identity, such as class, sexual orientation, or religious practice, can lead to a “double jeopardy” of exclusion.34

Research has shown that visible minority women experience more harassment than men and White women. Harassment is linked to attrition.

For women working in STEM or trades organizations, effective supports to help their persistence and combat negative stereotypes and their effects include forums to receive social and professional support against feelings of isolation, such as:

  • Mentoring programs.
  • Employee resource groups.

You want to make sure organizational culture is not a barrier to asking for accommodation

A study by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI) on people with disabilities in the workforce found that 30% of white-collar professionals in the United States have a disability. But only 1 in 10 discloses their disability to their employers. As a result, some individuals would not ask for any accommodation needed to work to their best.35

As the workforce ages, it is suggested that the population of employees with disabilities in any company’s workforce likely outnumber the population of visible minorities or LGBTQ2+ individuals at the company—and it’s likely to grow in the future.

To support persons with disabilities to openly share their stories, organizations must introduce practices that can catalyze culture change, such as:

  • Employee resource groups.
  • Engaging and training designated disability allies.
  • Working with local agencies specialized in providing access to specific groups to seek their guidance and have the workplace assessed for barriers.