When I first started speaking with clients about their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging needs, I noticed an overwhelming focus on diversity and hiring metrics. At first, I thought this was because clients cared more about doing something visible than doing the right thing. Hiring more people from underrepresented backgrounds is easy to quantify and looks good to your board and customers.
As I’ve spoken with more clients, I’ve learned that many business leaders struggle to define and measure inclusion, equity and belonging. Without clear definitions and frameworks, it’s hard to know how your organization is doing or what changes to make.
So, I set out to find “the best definitions” for my clients. I researched, read, and assessed. But I kept coming back to a simple concept that I used while leading HR and Operations for early and mid-stage education startups:
All employees, regardless of background or difference, have what they need to thrive at work.
I use the word “thrive,” because it encompasses productivity, employee engagement, growth, success, and more; the word “have” rather than “have access to,” because true equity is being able to fully realize an opportunity; and the word “need” rather than “deserve” or “want” or “what management thinks people want.” “Need” implies that individual employees are whole, resourceful people, who know what is best for them. People thrive best in an environment where they’re able to openly voice their needs and have them met by the organization.
In order for all employees to thrive at work, a lot of pieces need to come together into a cohesive system.
At Lead with Equity, our inclusion, equity and belonging framework includes ten categories:
- A work environment that is safe & accessible
This is the foundation for an inclusive and equitable workplace. It includes things like making your workplace physically accessible to all, and free of sexual harassment. Psychological safety also falls under this bucket. Without this important foundation, the rest of the areas on the list are hard to sustain.
- Physical & mental health & well-being
We can’t do our best work if we’re not feeling well physically or mentally. This is why employers provide benefit programs. Looking at the balance of benefits you provide, and who receives what types of benefits, can help pinpoint areas where you can improve equity.
- Colleagues who respect & value me
Many of us spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families. In order to thrive at work, we need to have positive relationships with our colleagues. Gallup even includes a question in their employee engagement surveys about whether employees have a best friend at work. This category also includes being accepted and valued by our colleagues for all we bring into the workplace, whether that’s our way of talking, our way of thinking, our style of dress, or anything else.
- The necessary resources to do my job
This includes things like having enough time to be successful with my projects (rather than being loaded with so many projects you can’t be successful), access to budget to support your projects & initiatives, authority to make decisions on matters related to your work, and support from your manager and others within the organization.
- Opportunities to learn, grow, and advance
Do all employees have access to training opportunities? Mentoring opportunities? Studies show that mentoring programs in particular can boost diversity in managerial positions. Do employees have equal opportunities to take on stretch projects? A big part of this is also the day-to-day feedback that employees are getting from their supervisors and colleagues: is it frequent, unbiased, and actionable?
- A fair & unbiased evaluation of my performance
The foundation of a fair and unbiased evaluation is a set of evaluation criteria that are transparent and communicated to employees in advance. On top of that, do managers have the training they need to write and conduct performance evaluations with an eye for any hidden biases?
- Compensation that adequately reflects the value of my work
There are several things at play here. The first is your compensation structure, and how transparent it is for employees. The more transparent, the better. Then you have compensation data across bands: do you have any inequities you need to address? The less tangible piece that can be discovered in employee interviews & surveys is whether employees feel that their compensation reflects the value they are providing.
- Recognition for my accomplishments
Everyone likes to receive recognition in different ways. Not everyone wants to be shouted out at an all hands meeting; some prefer a thank you with a hand written card directly from the project manager. Some just want it to be reflected in their year end bonus and don’t care about other forms of recognition.
- Respect for my life outside of work
This is Lead with Equity’s way of talking about work/life balance. It reflects the reality that work and life may not be in balance every moment of the day, or every day of the year. We’ve found that employees want employers to acknowledge that they have priorities outside of work, to respect that those priorities sometimes have to come before work, and to negotiate with each employee to find a solution that works for everyone, rather than giving the employee unfair options or an ultimatum.
- A voice in decisions that affect me
Not every organization can be a democracy, especially the bigger the organization gets. But organizations can establish decision making frameworks that give voice to employee concerns and opinions, and incorporate those into their decisions.
It’s a lot to think about, but there are plenty of resources and support out there once you have a framework that works for your organization. For early and mid-stage startup organizations in particular, there’s an opportunity to infuse inclusion, equity and belonging into your organizational systems as you establish them for the first time or change them to accommodate your organization’s growth.