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