Fresh Starts: 5 strategies for re-evaluating your DEI program

A group of employees in an office

The fall is a wonderful time of the year that generally signals a shift in our work environment and attitudes. For organizations that want to retain current talent and attract much needed diverse talent, this is a great time to re-evaluate the effectiveness of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs and identify gaps that may need to be filled.

The pandemic and its fluctuating regulations created challenges for many workers. In particular, women, racialized persons, members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and persons with disabilities experienced heightened barriers to career advancement and wellbeing.

Although many companies have expressed a desire to overcome these explicit and implicit biases and an intent to hire, promote and retain diverse candidates, there is still a lot of work to be done. As we examine potential gaps in your DEI strategy, it’s important to remember there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to DEI. Inherently, DEI is about our differences, and a robust plan will be flexible and multifaceted.

For organization to move towards a safe, healthy, diverse and inclusive culture, consider these five strategies.

How to re-evaluate your DEI Program

  1. Create safe spaces for open dialogue

Building a psychologically safe and inclusive culture starts with acknowledging the unique experiences of underrepresented individuals.

While working at home, many racialized and marginalized persons indicated that they felt less subjected to microaggressions (subtle or unintentional discriminatory comments and actions) and blatant racism than when physically in the workplace. To address problems for workers returning to the office, encourage courageous conversations that build empathy and understanding. Have leaders demonstrate vulnerability by sharing their personal identities and challenges. This helps create a safe space for others to be open about their identity and past experiences.

  1. Provide a flexible hybrid model

Research shows that flexibility is the key driver that makes remote work a positive experience, especially when it comes to work-life balance. As many organizations shift towards a hybrid model of working, the unique challenge of balancing flexibility while still striving to connect people arises. While some may have felt isolated working from home during the pandemic, there were many others who realized benefits from this work arrangement—especially women, who face significant workplace challenges based on domestic labor and caregiving inequities.

For women who are the primary caregiver, working from home enabled more time to spend with their family, schedule appointments, juggle the needs of their dependents and manage ongoing daily responsibilities.  According to a study by the Future Forum in January 2021, people working at companies that allow for flexibility where and when they work reported up to 53% higher productivity scores compared to those that did not.

  1. Foster a sense of belonging

Everyone wants to feel a sense of connection.

But individuals from underrepresented groups generally are not as comfortable expressing themselves. At times, they feel an intense pressure to downplay certain aspects of who they are by adapting the way they look, dress, behave and speak to blend in. They want to feel safe, and that means being able to bring their authentic selves to work without judgment.

Feelings of inclusion can be created in organizations with and without an office. Organizations can make deliberate changes to how employees collaborate in person and when working remotely by investing in technology and training workers on how to leverage these platforms.

Creating Employee Resource Groups (sometimes referred to as affinity or network groups) enables individuals that belong to underrepresented groups and allies to socialize, network, learn and celebrate together, which creates a sense of belonging among their peers. This feeling of belonging is further cultivated through intentional inclusive behaviors demonstrated by leaders that make individuals feel seen, heard, respected and valued.

  1. Promote mental wellbeing

Pandemic lockdown measures have increased feelings of loneliness, isolation, restlessness and anxiety and impeded the ability to work functionally for some. On top of that, after years of working from home, others have understandable apprehensions associated with returning to the workplace.

Here are some ways organizations can support the mental health of workers in remote, hybrid and in-office work environments this fall:

  • provide clear information about safety protocols
  • promote work-life balance—and have leaders demonstrate it
  • encourage individuals to take breaks (i.e., go for a walk, exercise, take a vacation)
  • advocate connection with colleagues, family members and friends

For those that may need additional support, promote the awareness of available employee and family assistance programs and encourage the confidential usage of these resources.

  1. Empower diverse talent

Organizations need to go beyond diverse hiring and promotion policies.

Creating mentorship opportunities for multiple candidates to develop and grow is a great start with lasting benefits. Organizations can also showcase internal diverse talent to highlight executives that are seen as role models who redefine norms of leadership. These leaders can act as sponsors for diverse talent by connecting them to internal stakeholders, introducing them to their network, sharing their wisdom and guidance, providing endorsements and creating opportunities for them to develop and grow into senior positions.

Leverage this unique moment for change

We are in the midst of a talent shift. People want to work for organizations that value more than just performance. When you apply these strategies as part of your employee value proposition, you will increase attraction and retention of your diverse talent. With the fall seasons just beginning, capitalize on this opportune time to implement a major organizational shift.

Learn more about how to get a fresh start this fall.


A portrait of the author: Siobhan CalderbankSiobhan Calderbank is a dynamic keynote speaker, consultant, award-winning author and project management professional with over 20 years of experience. She is an experienced senior HR, Talent Management leader and focuses on talent development, learning, change management, and diversity and inclusion. Siobhan can be found on her website: