Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a hot topic in all workplaces right now, and for good reason. In this competitive landscape it is harder and harder to recruit and retain great people. Employees want work that is much more than a paycheck; they want to have a manager and organization that cares about them, a healthy work life balance, and to be treated as a unique and valuable contributor to an organization whose mission they are passionate about.
DEI is key to all of this. Employees who are respected for who they are and have equal opportunity to thrive will be more engaged at work and easier to retain. Last, and most obvious, DEI is just the right thing to do. It is our responsibility as leaders at our organization to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, demographics, disability, sexual orientation or anything else, has a workplace where they can be successful and where they feel valued. That is really the heart of employee engagement and the only way an organization will thrive; by utilizing the diversity of opinion, background and skills of their people. In this article I will tell you what DEI is and my experience measuring an organization’s current status and progress on DEI through an employee engagement survey.
So what is DEI? Formal definitions are as follows:
Diversity: the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Equity: the quality of being fair and impartial.
Inclusion: the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
MEASURING DEI IN YOUR AGENCY:
But how would an organization measure where they are at with DEI?
The best way to measure your organization’s strengths and opportunities with DEI is to survey employees with an employee engagement survey. After all, each employee brings their own unique background and skills to work and they have their own unique work experience.
At a large health system in the Midwest, we did this in May of 2021 for all 30,000 of our employees and physicians. Being an academic medical center, it was important for us to have questions that were evidence-based and had benchmarks from organizations of comparable size. However, design a survey that fits your workforce, sector and needs.
As with any employee survey, it is imperative to make sure the questions are actionable for the front-line leader. When designing the survey, ask yourself “As a leader, is this a question I can impact?” Because the goal of an employee survey is not only to measure strengths and opportunities of an organization, but to create positive change at a department level around the results. So here are the questions we asked at our hospitals:
THE SURVEY QUESTIONS:
- People I work with treat me with respect
- I have the same opportunities for professional success as my colleagues
- I feel encouraged to bring my whole and authentic self to work
- I feel like I belong in our organization
- I feel comfortable speaking up when I see intolerance, mistreatment or bias in actions
- My opinion is valued by my team
- Our organization is a place where I am able to perform up to my full potential
- I feel recognized for my contribution to our organization
Scores on questions were a Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree).
The survey had 8,236 responses! We always made an effort to send short pulse surveys since we sent multiple surveys per year and employees were more likely to respond if they could complete the survey in less than 3 minutes. Short surveys also make the results less intimidating for leaders to take action on.
CREATING POSITIVE CHANGE FROM THE SURVEY RESULTS:
Now comes the easy part – sending the survey to your employees, and the hard part- creating positive change based on the results. Here is a snapshot of what we did based on the findings of our DEI survey:
- Our survey tool required that we ask employees to identify the category they fall into for race and ethnicity. Over 1,000 employees selected the option “prefer not to answer” which told us that we had a lot of work to do around building trust with our employees that engagement surveys would never be used to identify them and their feedback would never be used against them.
- As a system, our lowest scoring item was “I feel recognized for my contribution to our organization” which told us that we needed to assess, improve and better communicate the reward and recognition programs that we had. In addition, we felt it necessary to dig in deeper with employee focus groups on what makes employees feel recognized and whether we were even hitting the mark with our efforts.
- One of the other lowest scoring areas was “I feel comfortable speaking up when I see intolerance, mistreatment or bias in actions” which informed an upstander training that was created by our DEI team and rolled out later in 2021 to all employees.
- Most importantly, as soon as the survey ended, we gathered every leader in a room together and had them review their results from the survey. We explained the importance of having conversations at a department level about DEI and remaining open to what their teams had to share. The end goal of this survey and every engagement survey, was to create positive change, so we encouraged them to identify something that the team could work on to foster an environment of DEI.
So there you have it! Nothing about it is rocket science, the hardest part is just getting started. What do you think are the biggest challenges for your organization in DEI?
Ligita Cunningham is a leader with 10 years of experience in Human Resources, Organizational Development, and Performance Excellence. She has specialized in creating strategies that engage and retain healthcare employees. She has obtained an MBA in Health Administration and an MPH in Global Health Disparities.
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