Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) awareness is at an all-time high, thanks in part to social justice movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. While workplaces are heading in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.

According to BofA Global Research, it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap at today’s pace of change. In 2020, there were no Black senior executives in any Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 companies. More than 75% of Nasdaq companies don’t have a woman, under-represented minority, or LGBTQ+ board member.

Below are key points to consider for your DE&I strategy to get us closer to a more equitable, ethical, and financially robust future, along with steps to take to drive meaningful change.

DE&I is an Economic Engine

If we embrace DE&I fully, we have an opportunity to build better and fairer. Closing the gender and race gap in education and employment would have generated $2.9 trillion more in economic output in 2019 alone – $70 trillion more since 1990. Our new, post-COVID-19 reality of flexible work-from-home models, online activism among Gen Z, and corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments are also catalysts that will boost DE&I efforts. Prioritizing DE&I will deliver greater results for your business, too. Empirical evidence finds that companies with superior scores on workforce and board diversity earn higher ROEs and have a lower earnings risk than lower-ranked peers.

Women Leading the Way

The growing participation and advancement of women in the workforce is boosting productivity, income equality, and economic growth. Yet driven by existing inequities, women’s jobs were 19% more at risk during the pandemic, compromising progress. If action is taken now to achieve gender-parity improvements, including investments in education, family planning, maternal health, digital and financial inclusion, and addressing the burden of unpaid care, $13 trillion could be added to global GDP, according to analysis from McKinsey.

LGBTQ+ Acceptance on the Rise

If the LGBTQ+ population were a nation, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world. Twenty-eight countries have legalized gay marriage, and in 2019, the World Health Organization announced it would no longer consider transgender a “mental disorder.” This isn’t to say things are perfect – today, only 81 countries offer some form of employment protection for LGBTQ+ workers, and LGBTQ+ employees continue to see critical gaps in workplace benefits and access to healthcare.

Mental Health Can’t be Ignored

Addressing mental health topics openly and honestly, and connecting employees to trusted resources, mentors and support, strengthens a company’s culture and workforce productivity. While nearly half of U.S. adults will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, only 60% will report it to their company, either out of fear of stigmatization or uncertainty over whether mental illness is a “legitimate” disability claim. We can expect this to change, however, in part because of the importance younger generations place on mental health issues and expanded mental health benefits at workplaces.

Putting DE&I into Action: What You Can Do Now

You can work to create a more inclusive workplace environment by evaluating the needs of your stakeholders and business. Here are key questions and steps to consider:

  • Is your workplace designed with DE&I in mind? Consider an external audit of your internal structure and processes, or get advice from an expert in inclusive design Use data to benchmark where you stand and create measurable goals.
  • Expand company audits beyond diverse representation to metrics that assess equity and inclusion. For instance, are tenure, promotions, and raises equal across represented groups? If not, take swift action to address discrepancies.
  • Public comments should reflect internal policies and practices. Before making a statement about supporting social justice, for example, review your company’s policies and make sure you are aligned in your actions.
  • Make changes that demonstrate your DE&I commitments. This can include ensuring representation of diverse talent, from the executive level on down; strengthening leadership accountability and capability; enabling equality of opportunity through fairness and transparency; promoting openness and tackling micro-aggressions; and demonstrating unequivocal support for diversity.
  • Sometimes employees just need to talk, either in “safe spaces” among themselves or with senior leaders. Try creating internal online and in-person groups for people to share ideas and experiences. Ensure that senior leader are available and open to honest conversations.

More than a reactive policy to manage negative behaviors, DE&I must be prioritized as part of a broader corporate strategy. We now know that more diverse and inclusive companies make for better investment results and business outcomes. There is now both a workforce expectation and a business imperative for DE&I efforts that create a better future for all.

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