Five Ways to Keep DEI Top of Mind as You Return to the Office

More than ever, employees are taking DEI concerns seriously—and that won’t change when your physical workplace reopens. Here are some suggestions to build an office discipline around inclusion issues.

DEI—and the challenges of maintaining it—became a major discussion point in the workplace during the pandemic.

But just because your office is getting ready to reopen doesn’t mean you should turn your eye away from this important issue. Much the opposite, in fact: Taking your foot off the gas around DEI initiatives could exacerbate inequality in the long run. In addition, failing to take DEI issues seriously could scare off the next generation of employees from working at your association.

A Washington Post story from February noted that many younger workers were taking steps to analyze employers for their track records on DEI—and disregarding ones with negative histories.

And that’s to say nothing of keeping your existing employees engaged on these issues. With that in mind, here are tips for keeping DEI top of mind amid an office comeback:

Include DEI in every conversation involving office returns. As the past year has proven, if DEI isn’t included in discussions within your organization, it may not come up organically—and that can be a major risk to any progress you’ve made over the past year. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion principles can solve for organizational objectives,” explained Cie Armstead, director of diversity and inclusion at the American College of Healthcare Executives, in an interview last fall.

Revisit your DEI accountability plan. When measuring diversity efforts within an organization, outcomes matter more than ever. A return to the office adds another dimension to the objectives—and means you might need to take a fresh look to confirm that your plans are still on track. Heba Mahmoud, senior manager of diversity initiatives at the Consumer Technology Association, explained in comments last fall the importance of periodically analyzing progress on diversity. “One of the key ways that I think we can measure inclusion is engagement surveys,” she said. “Ask people how they feel about their inclusion within your organization.”

Actively share DEI resources on a regular cadence. If you want your employees thinking about diversity on a regular basis, you can’t just mention it once and never speak of it again. With that in mind, Glassdoor notes that many employers are increasing their distribution of DEI resources. (One way to do this: Have a regular speaker come in to talk about diversity issues.) And those resources shouldn’t just be shared with your team, either—sharing suggestions and advice with your members and emphasizing the commitment your association has to DEI speaks volumes to your team as well.

Embrace lessons from the remote-work era. During the pandemic, employers had to work significantly harder to ensure that their team members were seen and appreciated, but also that their concerns were heard loud and clear. As McKinsey put it: “Leaders must be compassionate, strive to understand the challenges of their teams, and respond in ways that promote inclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic complicates this goal.” One benefit of having to work harder at these goals of diversity and inclusion—by, for example, being more explicit about acknowledgement and building spaces where employees can speak out—is that your organization can take those lessons with them back to the office.

Bring lessons from remote recruitment, too. One surprise many organizations found when recruiting remotely was that it was something they could not only do, but do well. And in recent months, there’s been a big focus on remote and diverse recruitment as well—relying less on connections and more on a willingness to hire the best person from a wide array of backgrounds. The Society for Human Resource Management also cited these two trends as important ones going forward, and they will often work in tandem, even as much of your team heads back to the office.



(syahrir maulana/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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