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Bridge the gap between DEI and business systems optimization

Discover how integrating DEI into your business systems can improve operations and drive success. This guide presents a framework for auditing processes, setting goals, managing change, and promoting continuous improvement in both DEI and overall organizational performance.

Dr. Sam Rae

Dr. Sam Rae

DEI and business systems optimization

The push to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to the workplace has gained considerable traction in recent years. Reports show that a full 100% of Fortune 100 businesses have made a public commitment to DEI, and among small businesses, stats show that more than 80% are committed to making DEI a priority.

While these commitments are encouraging, translating them into effective action is another thing altogether. Even those who see DEI as the future of work often find it challenging to truly integrate DEI into their operations.

One effective way to ensure that DEI is integrated within your organization is to consider it part of your business systems optimization efforts. DEI has been shown to accomplish many of the same goals that businesses seek through system optimization, so bringing the two together can create a synergy that further drives your business’s effectiveness.

Audit operational processes as part of your business analysis

The first step in my framework to optimize your operational systems is to establish a solid DEI foundation. It’s important for leadership to be clear about the company’s vision for DEI and understand how it aligns with the overarching company mission. The DEI foundation will serve as a north star to guide all future DEI efforts and goal development.

Once you’re clear on that north star vision, the next step is conducting a holistic systems audit. To bridge the gap between DEI and systems optimization, leadership should review each step within the organization’s key operational procedures and processes across all departments with a lens of equity, accessibility, and intersectionality.

This involves analyzing key operational processes, such as information management, human resources, and quality management, and also reviewing qualitative data, like exit interviews and survey results, to get a full picture of the experiences of all major stakeholders.

By identifying and addressing gaps, your organization can ensure every process and policy is optimized to meet the diverse needs of all employees. This approach integrates aspects of DEI into a company’s operations, streamlines business systems, and promotes inclusive growth and sustainable success.

As companies audit their systems and processes to thoroughly integrate DEI, they often overlook the role of their communications department. It’s crucial to ensure that the processes within your communications department are transparent and clear.

They should reflect a diverse representation of your company’s workforce and customers, use inclusive language consistently, and align with your company’s DEI vision and goals.

Other factors that should be noted when auditing communications include:

  • Accessibility: Ensure your communications channels are accessible for everyone, including those who require additional accommodations, such as individuals who are neurodiverse or have hearing or visual impairments.
  • Cultural sensitivity: Ensure your communications practices promote a culture of understanding and respect for diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, practices, and preferences to foster inclusion and mitigate biases. A good way to achieve this is by incorporating different cultural and ethnic perspectives in your internal and external messaging. It’s important that the language and imagery used respect and include diverse cultural contexts.
  • Gender inclusivity: It’s important to consider diverse gender identities and expressions not only in communication practices, but also in efforts both internally and externally. This could involve using gender-neutral language and encouraging the use of pronouns in communications, coupled with educating others on the importance of doing so.

Include DEI in organizational goals and metrics

Goal setting and strategic planning is a key driver of business optimization. As you define the goals for your company, it’s important to use the information and data you collected and assessed during your audit, to develop DEI-related goals and metrics that will fill those gaps.

Studies show that racially and ethnically diverse organizations outperform those who fail to establish diversity by 36%, and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at the executive level are 21% more likely to generate higher profits, meaning companies can enhance performance by committing to goals that increase diversity. This can include goals that seek more diverse hiring and recruitment practices, as well as promoting diversity in leadership positions.

benefits of diversity in leadership

Statistics from McKinsey also show that organizations with a commitment to DEI have higher levels of employee engagement, which in turn leads to better employee retention.

Thus, companies struggling to improve their retention can do so by setting goals for increasing equity and inclusivity in the workplace. Establishing employee resource groups and ensuring equity in compensation and promotion are ways to drive improvement in those areas.

Leverage DEI effective change management

Optimizing systems and integrating DEI into your operational systems means you’ll have to introduce some changes. To help all stakeholders navigate change effectively, it’s important to use one of the many change management models to guide your efforts.

Managing change is a process that combines several skills we’ve mentioned earlier in this article, like communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution (in other words, removing barriers), and requires the involvement of all of the company’s major stakeholders.

Before starting the processes mentioned above, the leadership team must be comfortable with change and confident in making difficult decisions. This could include things like parting ways with stakeholders who no longer align with the direction the company is going.

Middle managers should be ready to handle pushback from their direct reports and team members while also managing their own responses to the changes. It’s important for the leadership team, including managers, to maintain open lines of communication, promote accountability for themselves and others, and be transparent.

This ensures that all stakeholders are informed of the changes ahead and have the opportunity to gain clarity if needed.

Employees should be given enough time to mentally adjust to the changes, and be open and compliant with new policies and procedures.

Finally, when it comes to navigating change, it’s important to include diverse perspectives from all levels of the organization in the decision-making process. This inclusive approach fosters commitment and investment from all stakeholders, and allows for a smoother integration of DEI into your company’s systems.

Allow DEI to be the channel for continuous improvement

Systems optimization is an ongoing process that involves gathering and assessing data, evaluating progress, and considering relevant feedback from both internal and external stakeholders.

Gathering insights from all stakeholders, provides richer data, and will paint a comprehensive picture of how well the company is meeting its goals or if there are areas of opportunities.

The most effective business systems optimization techniques will be those that consider the entire organization. By allowing DEI strategies to inform systems optimization, your organization can ensure a comprehensive approach that results in optimal results.

Dr. Sam Rae, EdD, MPH, is a DEI Strategist and Systems Analyst with over a decade of experience and the Founder and CEO of DSRD Consulting. She is also the founder of DEI Offload™, an app developed to bolster mental health and foster community within the DEI industry. 

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