Defining Workplace Diversity

a women in a wheel chair celebrating with her co workers

It seems like everyone has their own definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The more we discuss it, the more different opinions arise.

But if we focus on each element individually, we can simplify what DEI is all about:

  • Diversity refers to our different characteristics, seen and unseen.
  • Equity means meeting people where they are and providing resources to help them thrive.
  • Inclusion invites others in and makes them feel welcome.

DEI is about belonging. People have more opportunities to succeed in a workplace where they can feel comfortable being who they are.

Understanding diversity

Robert James, JD, MBA, MHA, VP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of Corporate Strategies at Highmark Health, has always been passionate about diversity. He's noticed differences and inequities from a young age, and now uses that awareness to create impactful change as a DEI leader.

“When we talk about diversity, we are talking about a range of characteristics, seen or unseen, innate or acquired,” explains James. “Diversity includes factors like race, ethnicity, age, gender identity, LGBTQIA+, veteran status, or being differently abled or neurodiverse.”

Diversity also includes all our other identifying attributes — such as religious practice, lifestyle choices, health conditions, and every like, dislike, experience, and perspective that is uniquely ours.

“As soon as some people hear the word ‘diversity,’ they tune out,” says James. ”They feel like they are not included in a diverse group, so they don’t engage. But that is anything but the truth. Everyone should raise their hand when asked if they are diverse. Because we all bring certain individual characteristics to the workplace and beyond.”

Employee attraction and retention benefit from DEI

Workplace diversity has a solid business case, beginning with talent attraction and retention.

“A workforce that has a higher sense of inclusivity and belonging is going to be more engaged,” explains James. “Engagement, in turn, drives improved talent attraction and employee retention — along with higher productivity and better financial results.”

Building a culture of belonging doesn’t happen overnight. But the effort pays off, as people who feel comfortable at work tend to be more collaborative and innovative. According to Boston Consulting Group, companies with above-average diversity report 45% of revenue from innovation.

“This is especially important to us at Highmark Health,” shares James. “DEI is not optional if we want to be an organization that drives better health outcomes, improves health equity, and provides cost savings for all of our members. That’s why we cast a wide net to attract top talent.”

DEI initiatives not only help attract top talent from diverse job seeker communities, they also support retention. Another study from Boston Consulting Group reports that workers within a diverse and inclusive culture are three times happier at work than those in less diverse and inclusive environments. These workers also enjoy better work-life balance and workplace relationships.

Diverse workforces do better

Valuing diversity pays dividends for businesses. Diverse and inclusive companies consistently turn in better financial performance — thanks to workers who are more engaged and productive.

The data is undeniable:

Shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow reports that higher diversity in management equates to higher cash flow, net profit, revenue, return on equity (ROE), and stock performance. James recommends that companies — no matter their size, scope, or industry — take the time to integrate diversity into their culture. The benefits are clear.

Improving diversity at work

Creating a more diverse workplace does not have to be an overwhelming effort. You can get started on a meaningful DEI journey with a few simple steps, including:

  • Incorporating diversity into the company mission statement and core values.
    • For example, Highmark Health’s core value “People Matter” states that “every person contributes to our success.”
  • Creating intergenerational mentoring and affinity groups.
    • Many companies create Business Resource Groups (BRGs) that bring like-minded employees together to improve the business and grow their careers.
  • Promoting and valuing open communication (employee forums, town halls, etc.).
    • Never miss an opportunity to talk about the company’s stance and expectations surrounding diversity.
  • Encouraging professional development at all levels of the company.
    • Break down barriers to career development with self-paced learning, leadership training, and internal mobility programs.

Your employee health benefits administrator can also play a role in creating a more equitable workplace. It’s possible to offer a comprehensive program that meets all of your employees’ health, lifestyle, and family/partner needs. 

Want to learn more? Read about DEI and health equity in “Six Health Care Trends for 2023.”

Highmark Health is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

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