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Emmi Banner April 20, 2022 6 min read

ZZ Culture: DEI

At the beginning of 2022, I decided to take on the challenge of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace at ZayZoon. My personal passion for DEI in the workplace has grown over time, primarily because of these 3 reasons: 1) every company I’ve ever worked for has had difficulty attracting and retaining diverse talent, 2) involvement in workplace DEI organizations has fundamentally changed the way I view the world and 3) many companies see the world or their consumers through a monochromatic lens & businesses can actually be a leading force in societal change. 

Unconscious biases are at play in the workplace (& everywhere). We have all heard the stats on the benefits of prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Higher engagement, which is the key factor that promotes higher performance & effort, greater returns, lower turnover. 
  • Diversity and inclusion are a competitive advantage. More diverse teams have higher financial returns, focus more on facts & are more innovative.

 

In my experience, I’ve learned that most companies have a difficult time attracting and retaining diverse talent. During the dialogue and awareness coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2019, many companies promised to put an action plan in place for DEI. In many instances, these were words on a page instead of actionable changes that happened within the DNA of these organizations.

 

So how does a company actually implement a DEI focus or policy? These are some questions that might arise when considering the “what” & “why” & “how”:

  • How big should my company be before drawing in focus on DEI?
  • What does prioritizing DEI actually look like when brought to life in the workplace? 
  • Should DEI efforts be bottoms-up or top-down?
  • What are the most important initial steps? What should happen farther down the line?
  • How can I measure the success of these initiatives?

At the heart of any organization are its people - that’s why it doesn’t matter the size or scale of an organization. As I mentioned above, more diverse teams do better when it comes to financial outcomes and innovation. Equity, inclusion, and belonging are table stakes when it comes to eliciting more engagement, better employee acquisition, and stronger retention.

DEI efforts can be successful when initiated from the bottom-up or top-down. However, if efforts begin bottom-up, tangible support from leadership is necessary. This is true for both small and large companies. If a company has the financial resources to be able to hire for a role or team to specifically focus on DEI, more power to them. There will be the ability for more deeply focused efforts. 

In my experience, this is what I’d recommend a rollout plan to be:

  1. Take a look in the mirror. Are there only men on your leadership team? Does your company become more diverse as you go to lower levels of the company? Think & consider.
  2. Lead an anonymous company survey to assess the current state of DEI at the company and identify the largest gaps. Some tips:
    • Launch the same survey anonymously every 6 months to assess progress
    • Only layer in diversity metrics when the sample size wouldn’t be small enough to identify actual employees. This must remain anonymous.
  3. Start a dialogue with anyone who wants to participate. This could happen in the form of panel discussions, open dialogue, discussing books or articles. As I mentioned, unconscious biases are everywhere. The only way to unlearn these unconscious biases is to become aware of them and actively make choices to combat our nature. More on this later. 
  4. Celebrate different cultures & celebrate them equally. For example, if you are going to celebrate Black History Month, also celebrate Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. 
  5. If you can afford to offer an unconscious bias training, do it and make it mandatory for all employees, especially those who manage others. 
  6. Write down specific goals, i.e. “At least 2 women on the board by 2023”
  7. Ensure every effort is made to minimize biases when hiring new team members:
    • Make a rubric - measure recruits based on the rubric and not on “feel” or “fit”
    • Ensure the candidate pool is balanced. While you will ultimately hire the best candidate for the role regardless of diversity metrics, opening your consideration set will enable a higher possible outcome of recruiting more diverse talent.
    • Ask every single candidate the exact same questions. See first bullet. 
    • For hiring managers, small talk and a deep review of resumes are necessary. For panelists, try to focus on the content. Many best in class companies will not even share resumes with the panelists before, so as not to let unconscious biases take over before you’ve even met the candidate (name, school, background all are elements that will influence you to like or not like someone before you even meet them)
    • Consider hiring individuals who come from underrepresented communities for internship roles. Consider hiring users/customers to work for your company. 

Ultimately, regardless of industry, size, and scale, prioritizing DEI is a necessity. It improves the way in which we do business, improves employees as individuals, and paves the way towards mitigating systemic racism and glass ceilings within society.