Considering a diversity and inclusion policy for your workplace? Learn about the most critical elements that your policy must include to be effective.

Increasingly, more workplaces are instituting a diversity and inclusion policy. Also known as a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policy, its purpose is threefold:

  • Promote a welcoming, diverse and discrimination- and harassment-free workplace
  • Highlight the values and best practices that your company prioritizes to both internal and external stakeholders
  • Establish your company’s status as visionary – forward-looking and dynamic

Why is a DE&I policy so important?

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, companies that institute DE&I policies tend to see tangible benefits, likely because:

  • Diversity of thought, backgrounds, experiences and skills promotes more idea sharing and innovation, rather than homogeneity and groupthink, which can lead to competitive advantages.
  • Employees’ feelings of inclusion and contentment with their workplace can raise morale and productivity, which can improve retention rates.
  • Companies that publicize their diversity initiatives may attract an expanded talent pool.
  • Companies with diverse management may enable heightened awareness of, and sensitivity toward, discrimination and harassment issues. This can aid in faster detection and resolution of these incidents.

And, frankly, having a DE&I policy is what current and prospective employees expect of companies – especially among Millennials and Generation Z, whose members tend to prioritize diversity at their place of employment more than any other generations.

These workers frequently cite diversity as a primary factor they consider when fielding job offers. To them, jobs and workplaces are an extension of their identity, and it’s important to them for their values to align with their employer’s. If employees or job candidates perceive that diversity isn’t a value that your company shares with them, or that your company doesn’t support vigorously enough, you could miss out on high-quality talent.

As you craft your organization’s DE&I policy, here are the core elements that should be included.

Declaration of your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion

This is a concise and high-level overview statement in which you define what diversity and inclusion mean for your company. Since every company is different, your organization’s culture, strategic vision and values should be reflected in your definition of diversity and inclusion. It should not be a carbon copy of another company’s DE&I statement.

With this statement, you can ensure that all your company’s stakeholders interpret the language of your policy consistently.

For example, how does your company define diversity? Which characteristics are part of this definition? Furthermore, which types of diversity, specifically, does your company seek to cultivate? Common examples include:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • National origin
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Parental status
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Veteran status

What does inclusivity mean to your company? Is it an environment in which everyone is:

  • Treated fairly and similarly?
  • Given the opportunity to speak up and contribute?
  • Embraced and accepted for their differences?

You’ll notice that these are all aspirational, qualitative goals. DE&I policies typically aren’t so specific as to include numerical targets – ironically, that can expose a company to liability for discrimination. Any mention of specific, quantitative goals is better reserved for a strategic plan rather than a DE&I policy.

Definition of policy scope

To whom does your company’s DE&I policy apply? Best practice is to include all stakeholders, ranging from full- and part-time employees to contractors, vendors, suppliers and job applicants.

Explanation of the policy’s purpose

Once you’ve established the basic parameters of the policy, you should outline why your company is implementing a DE&I policy. Questions to consider:

  • What value does your organization see in a DE&I policy?
  • What positive impacts resulting from a DE&I policy does your company anticipate?
  • How do you want all employees to feel when they come to work? Many employers cite the desire to empower their employees to come to work as their authentic selves, comfortable in expressing their ideas and participating fully within the team – assured that their contributions will be considered.
  • More broadly, how do you want any stakeholder to feel when they interact with your business?

Alignment of the policy with company values and vision

Reiterate your company’s core values, mission and vision. Demonstrate how your DE&I policy supports and complements these concepts.

Stakeholder responsibilities

In keeping with the desired concise, high-level tone and broad language, avoid listing any examples of behavior that isn’t tolerated under your company’s DE&I policy. These examples could be limiting.

Instead, focus on your stakeholders’ responsibilities to uphold the DE&I policy. Common examples of responsibilities:

  • Understand one’s individual role in promoting diversity, implementing policies correctly and modeling desired behaviors.
  • Treat others with dignity and respect.
  • Behave inclusively at all work functions, on and off the worksite.
  • Complete diversity training to enhance knowledge.
  • Enable others to gain access to opportunities to develop skills for career advancement.

Training and compliance

Describe the diversity and inclusion training that your company requires, how often training takes place and what each course entails.

Most companies already have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policy that describes the disciplinary actions for non-compliance with discrimination and harassment policies. However, you should address these disciplinary actions in your DE&I policy as well. It may be repetitive, but it can provide additional clarity.

Reporting mechanisms

Explain to stakeholders what to do if they have directly witnessed or suspect behavior that conflicts with the DE&I policy. You can also explain the investigation process that commences once a report is made – including the steps and who’s involved at each stage.

This information is important to include so that stakeholders know that your company will enforce the policy and hold accountable those parties who have indeed violated it.

Some options:

  • Establish a single point person in your organization to accept reports of violations and route them to the appropriate parties for investigation.
  • Promote an open-door policy that encourages employees to go to their managers with concerns.
  • Offer an anonymous reporting mechanism for employees who don’t feel comfortable speaking about these matters in a face-to-face conversation.

Where to publish your diversity and inclusion policy

Your DE&I policy should be written in your employee handbook. It should be its own separate, standalone policy so that employees understand the priority that your company places on diversity. Consider making your DE&I policy equal in status to any other organizational policy in the handbook.

Keep in mind, a handbook is internally focused – it’s for employees. DE&I policies are of great interest to external stakeholders, too – especially job candidates. For these audiences, their first experience with a company is often via the website. For this reason, you may make your DE&I policy accessible on your company’s website in the recruiting or employment section.

Summing it all up

Implementing a diversity and inclusion policy is an increasingly core element of companies’ core mission and values. It can enhance your company’s image and culture, attract a broader talent pool, and enable better business performance across the board, among other benefits. Equally important, it aligns your company with the expectations of a rapidly growing segment of the job market.

A DE&I policy should be fairly brief, concise and high level, but there are basic elements that any policy should address.

To learn more about DE&I policies, as well as other critical HR policies that your organization should consider implementing, download our free e-book: 10 must-have HR policies that no business can do without.