DEI in action: 3 practical steps to drive diversity and inclusion across your organization

Debra Timmerman Debra Timmerman Vice President, MSP Solutions, Direct Sourcing, Career Transitions and Executive Coaching

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a new talking point. It’s a topic that makes headlines, dominates panel discussions, and appears front and center in mission statements and value propositions. It’s something that global customers ask me about often – they want to know: What changes will deliver the most impact? How much will it cost? And how can we be sure that we act sensitively and get it right? These leaders often want to take bolder action on DEI but feel unsure about what to tackle first.

When it comes to diversity, PwC’s 2022 Global DE&I Survey found that leadership and employee perspectives don’t always match up – 54% of business leaders believe that diversity is a stated value or priority area for their organization compared to just 39% of employees. While a 2022 Gallup study, reported on in Harvard Business Review, found that just 31% of employees say their organization is committed to improving racial justice. Leaders know that diversity and inclusion are important – they’ve seen the McKinsey research that shows diverse teams are more innovative and perform better financially. They know welcoming all types of experiences and viewpoints is the right thing to do. However, bringing that vision to life can be a sticking point.

I don’t have all the answers on DEI. I’m very much on a learning journey with the clients I support. But I am very lucky to be part of an organization that has always pushed the boundaries of DEI strategy and to work with leaders with deep DEI expertise and experience. In this blog, I share insights from Keilon Ratliff, Kelly’s Chief Diversity Officer, on the simple but impactful changes that can help leaders build more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable workplaces.

1. Build truly diverse supply chains

Contingent workers are often overlooked or far down the priority list when it comes to DEI initiatives. But as the contingent workforce becomes an increasingly large and integral part of organizations, they should become an important part of diversity conversations. Keilon advises that often the only diverse metric around contingent workers is diverse supplier percentages, but this doesn’t always translate into greater opportunities for diverse workers. He explains the power of “a true proactive strategy around supplier diversity” where workforce providers actively partner with diverse businesses to nurture growth and opportunities – going far beyond a number in a spreadsheet. I encourage all of my clients to carefully consider DEI across their contingent workforce and to actively search for opportunities to support new diversity initiatives in this space.

2. Listen to affinity and worker groups

Clients often ask me how they can support the needs of a variety of diverse groups. One of the best ways to implement and improve experiences for diverse workers is to listen to them. Employee resource groups (ERGs) and affinity groups – communities of individuals with shared identities, often around race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability – are common across large organizations; 90% of Fortune 500 companies are estimated to have ERGs, according to a Bentley University study. But despite the prevalence of these groups, not all organizations are engaging with them effectively (or at all). Keilon sums it up clearly, saying, “these groups are the voice of your culture,” and taking time to seek their advice and understand their experiences is time well spent.

3. Create consequential accountability for leaders

Without making DEI a meaningful metric for senior leaders across an organization, it can often fall to the bottom of priority lists. Keilon explains, “if you’re not holding yourself accountable, there’s always going to be lip service, because DEI is very easy to think about in an intangible sense – it feels good, it’s the ethical thing to do – but not everybody knows what to do with it.” I believe that making DEI an important, measurable, and consequential metric is one of the single most powerful steps leaders can take to drive action. And research shows that making DEI a strategic priority works – the Gartner 2021 Leadership Progression and Diversity Survey found that organizations with consequential accountability will reach leadership gender parity 13 years earlier and racial parity 6 years earlier than those that don’t.

An impactful and successful DEI strategy isn’t something you can build overnight, but small, focused, and meaningful steps forward soon add up. None of the recommendations above require large financial investment and most can be implemented quickly and simply, but they can all have a significant impact for diverse candidates and colleagues. I’m incredibly proud to be part of an organization that increases opportunities for all, and you can read more about the ways Kelly’s Equity at Work initiative is helping to remove the barriers that exclude people from work, here.


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