How to Build a Diversity and Inclusion Program

 – December 20, 2021
How to Build a Diversity and Inclusion Program

By bringing a group of people together, such as employees, chances are high that they represent different backgrounds, genders, cultures, ages and identities. Having this kind of diversity, a catch-all word that represents the differences that exist between individuals, can be a tremendous asset to an organization. All businesses can benefit from fostering an inclusive environment and creating a natural sense of belonging.

Narrowing down a diversity and inclusion program into four categories can help organizations stay focused with their intent and messaging. These include the following:

  • Internal diversity — This reflects characteristics a person cannot change such as the year they were born, nationality, ethnicity or genetics.
  • External diversity — These are the other characteristics that define a person, but are not defined by birth such as appearance, lifestyle and religious beliefs.
  • Organizational diversity — Also known as functional diversity, this generally refers to factors identifying employees within the business such as job function or management rank.
  • Worldview diversity — A person’s fundamental life philosophy or life perspective comprises their worldview, and this can change as they are exposed to new life experiences.


Within a diversity and inclusion program, there are challenges that need to be addressed. Here are some of the most common along with viable action plans:

  • Promoting respect — An organization’s leadership should encourage helpful, polite and kind behaviors which are paramount to helping employees feel accepted by others, improve engagement and provide opportunities for all. They also need to adopt daily practices that model how diversity and inclusion are consistently upheld across every aspect of a business.
  • Conflicts — When conflict arises within an organization, proper conflict resolution training and attention to inappropriate behaviors can reduce or even eliminate a negative work environment.

  • Gender diversity issues — An awareness of gender diversity as it relates to pay equity between men and women needs to be considered. Organizations also need to be mindful that gender diversity is not binary and can include transgender, androgynous employees or any gender that isn’t male or female.

  • Prejudice, harassment and discrimination — Diversity and inclusion programs should make it clear that any form of prejudice, discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated.

  • Generation gaps — Generational differences can trigger struggles with change, a sense of personal relevancy and misunderstandings across a seemingly different set of values. Having perspectives from multiple generations can make a team stronger, but gaps may become an issue if not addressed.

  • Disabilities and special needs — Seek the advisement of an HR professional to ensure compliance with local, state and federal regulations regarding a fair work environment with special equipment or accommodations.

Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion Programs

Diversity programs can give employees varied perspectives, a greater sense of optimism and better problem-solving skills due to working alongside colleagues with unique backgrounds and ways of thinking. A company could attract a wider pool of talented applicants as job seekers want to work with an organization that supports them. These programs can also help current employees feel more engaged, empowering their productivity and creativity. Additionally, staff can feel confident that when it comes to promotions and leadership development, no employee is being overlooked.

Developing a Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Plan

The following steps can help build out an effective diversity and inclusion program:  

  • Establish an understanding of best practices for talent acquisition — Invest time to establish standardized practices and develop a diversity recruitment plan template.

  • Compile internal demographic data — Gather a snapshot of current employee composition in a way that respects employee privacy and complies with antidiscrimination laws. 

  • Identify any outstanding issues — As it relates to employee demographics, consider teams, departments or divisions who may be represented by only a few groups and could benefit from a more diverse population. 

  • Address any policies or internal practices that affect diversity — Consider company culture, employee referrals, political preferences or even certain holidays over others, and how this could influence diversity and the spirit of inclusivity within a business. 

  • Create business objectives to address these issues — Establish specific business objectives to measure and benchmark progress on diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

  • Set examples by upper-level management — Examples set by upper-level management with respect to modeling behavior both in small tasks and in setting company policies and structures can significantly influence the success of diversity and inclusion efforts.

  • Implement and communicate initiatives — Branding materials play a role in communicating the diversity and inclusion efforts to current and potential employees and customers. Make sure images accurately represent the organization’s practices and efforts.

  • Measure success and adjust — Initiatives and practices should be continuously measured for success and adjusted to reflect the changing nature of employee needs.  

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

The following suggestions can help increase diversity and encourage inclusion in the work environment: 

  • Create a safe space — Employees should be able to trust the integrity of their colleagues so they can share unexpected and creative perspectives without fear of discrimination or harassment.

  • Hold yourself accountable — Accountability sends a message that an organization takes responsibility for creating an environment that helps employees feel included.

  • Acknowledge important holidays — The calendar is filled with months and holidays highlighting the accomplishments and celebrations of groups that have been traditionally silenced. Black History Month, Women’s History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month are some of the opportunities to acknowledge and embrace different perspectives, cultures and beliefs.

  • Establish a mentorship program — Diversity and inclusion are about putting systems in place, such as a mentorship program, to support staff to achieve their full potential in their role within an organization.

  • Develop internship and talent development programs — Organizations can benefit from programs that help workers see what it’s like to work at a company, explore different departments and how they may be able to make important contributions in the future.

  • Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) — Employees who join groups based on shared interests, characteristics or life experiences can develop a greater level of understanding, respect and compassion for colleagues who look, think and experience the world differently.  

By making continuous, concerted efforts focused on diversity and inclusion, organizations can gain a strategic advantage that can benefit their business and the community at large. Among the many benefits, companies with successful diversity and inclusion practices generally also have a strong corporate culture that amplifies benefits to the business, its employees and society. The path can be challenging but ultimately worth it, both financially and socially. To help organizations 
develop initiatives and policies and implement them efficiently and effectively, employers should consult with legal counsel and their advisors to ensure compliance in this space and consult with experts on HR, benefits, payroll and human capital management. 

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