Published November 9, 2021How can a medium-sized company empower its employees to support diversity and inclusion at work? In the fall of 2019, we began to explore this question at our company, ROI Revolution. While ROI Revolution was deeply committed to diversity and inclusion and the HR department was actively working toward it, there was not a high level of visibility into ongoing efforts. Additionally, employees across the company were not deliberately involved in contributing to a sense of inclusion and belonging beyond the company’s emphasis on living our core values.
As we – two individual contributors and recent hires – researched diversity and inclusion strategy examples, we did not find many models that fit a company of ROI’s size. Most case studies we read came from large companies with enough employees to support a DEI officer and a handful of specific employee resource groups (ERGs). Our HR team was coming to the same conclusion in their own research.
As we and our HR contact came together and brainstormed how to promote diversity and inclusion in our workplace, it became clear that we needed to create our own model tailored to a small- or medium-sized company.
Thus, our employee-led, 20-member Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee was born.
Our Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices
The Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) Committee was launched in March 2020 and has since celebrated heritage months, hosted virtual events, organized a discussion series, created newsletters and lists of employee media recommendations, and offered support and resources to employees reckoning with anti-Black and anti-Asian violence.
The success of the committee has largely rested on six factors.
1. Senior Management Support and Involvement
Members of the company’s senior management were actively involved in the planning of the DIB Committee. While it began as a grassroots idea for a diversity and inclusion program, support and buy-in extends through all levels of the organization. The leadership of the committee comprises two employee co-leaders, an administrative liaison, an HR sponsor, and a “committee champion” from senior management.
2. Careful Planning
ROI Revolution’s DIB Committee was created through thoughtful research and planning over a period of many months. It was not a hastily conceived, top-down response to current events. The careful planning and timing were fortuitous because the committee had been active for several months before the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests for Black lives and was, therefore, well-organized and positioned to respond quickly to offer support.
3. Active Employee Members
In addition to the five members of leadership, the DIB Committee rests on the shoulders of its 15 employee members. Self-selected, they are individual contributors and managers across various departments who are committed to diversity and inclusion.
We empower committee members to be involved with the activities or topics that they feel passionate about or identify with personally. This has added authenticity to our work. The members plan heritage months and events, create content for newsletters and our internal wiki page, and lead discussion sessions. In the post-Covid world, they look forward to assisting with recruiting efforts by attending events and speaking with prospective employees. Their efforts and ideas push the company to an ever more inclusive culture.
4. Peer Advocacy
One of the DIB Committee’s most important roles is to be a sounding board for employees’ ideas or concerns related to diversity and inclusion. When an employee brings a question or issue to us, we encourage them to speak with the appropriate manager, but are happy to communicate with management on their behalf if more appropriate. Although ROI Revolution has an open and supportive culture with office hours for all management, it can be intimidating for some to go directly to a senior team member or even to know who to approach. The DIB Committee offers an additional dedicated channel and safe space for employees to voice their thoughts, receive feedback, and feel supported.
5. Acknowledgement of Individuals
Another powerful aspect of the DIB Committee’s work is its acknowledgement of the individuals who work at ROI Revolution and the different backgrounds and experiences they bring to our organization. This begins with our celebrations of heritage months throughout the year, which give visibility to people at the company and in our community. We have created content and events for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride, Veterans Day, National Immigrants Day, and many more. Additionally, we have found ways to support the organization in addressing traumatic current events like George Floyd’s murder and the Atlanta spa shootings and provided employees with resources to begin to grapple with them. We believe it’s important to acknowledge such events rather than to shy away from them or pretend like they don’t affect the people we work with.
6. Shared Responsibility
As is frequently stated during company meetings, creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. The DIB Committee includes employees from all levels of the company, who in turn educate and involve their coworkers in efforts to make our workplace ever more inclusive and diverse.
An Open Space for Discussion
During last summer’s protests for Black lives, we sensed an opportunity for the DIB Committee to create a space for employees to talk about race. At the suggestion of senior management, we launched a monthly discussion series, with participants split into small groups led by members of the committee. Attendance was voluntary and facilitated by holding the sessions during work hours (paid time).
Throughout the remainder of 2020, we held monthly DIB Discussions, each one centered around a documentary, book, or podcast related to the experience of being Black in the United States. Over the course of the year, 54% of all employees and 100% of senior management attended at least one conversation. In the feedback we’ve collected from participants, common themes are that employees value being held accountable to digest the resources, having a safe space to discuss difficult topics, and interacting with people from across the organization in a casual setting.
Specific comments include:
“I think this will help employees learn how to better communicate about these topics. It will also help me as a POC feel supported and more comfortable in the workplace when issues of color are addressed openly.”
“This opportunity for continued dialogue is invaluable.”
“I enjoyed being able to have this type of discussion during work hours and it was refreshing to talk to a group of people I don’t normally talk to about topics that I’m thinking a lot about, but don’t necessarily have the dedicated space to talk about outside of these meetings.”
In 2021, we settled into a quarterly cadence for the DIB Discussions and widened the scope to include a variety of marginalized groups. Attendance continues to be high and to generate feedback such as this:
“I’m grateful for the space in a professional setting to understand my coworkers’ perspectives on issues unrelated to work. I enjoy participating in sessions that directly impact the inclusiveness of our company culture.”
In addition to the discussion sessions, the DIB Committee educates team members about various communities and supports members of those communities through a host of other activities. These include Cook-Alongs led by employees who share personal recipes, trivia events, and an extensive online resource bank that includes local minority-owned businesses, media recommendations, and other resources to further their education.
A Tailor-Made Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
We’re sharing our experience with the DIB Committee to provide an example of how to create an inclusive culture at a small- or medium-sized company. However, we encourage anyone looking to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace to also consider the specific needs and culture of your own company.
To be impactful and lasting, diversity and inclusion efforts can’t come only from HR. It’s important to involve employees from all levels and areas of your organization and to get buy-in from senior management before launch. A diversity and inclusion program that’s tailored to your workplace can involve and empower the entire company to create a culture of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.