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Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion — Your actions speak the loudest

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion — Your actions speak the loudest

6 Minute Read

Many organizations are apprehensive about venturing into the unknown waters of EDI. Only about half of Canadian organizations have a formal set of EDI policies or strategies.

Your EDI strategy is not complete once you’ve written down well-worded statements and commitments; you must follow through to action. The real question is: what actions should your organization be taking?

Your strategy should be customized to your circumstances, including your size and budget. They could include:

  • Workforce demographics surveys, focus groups, exit interviews, etc.
  • Internal training
  • Mentorship programs
  • Stronger reporting mechanisms
  • Employee resource groups
  • And more

Like most paradigm shifts, the embracing of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) policies and strategies in the workplace has happened gradually. But suddenly, a tipping point is reached, and awareness of and involvement in the change becomes a reality — rather like the notion that wearing seatbelts is an obviously good idea.

We’re not quite there, however. Even in a multicultural country like Canada, there is still much work to be done. A June 2022 survey from The Harris Poll found that less than half of Canadian companies (40 percent) have a concrete EDI policy, with an additional nine percent saying they plan to implement one in the near future. That means roughly half of organizations are still on the sidelines.

Some major events between 2020 and 2022 — including the death of George Floyd, the nationwide reckoning pertaining to residential schools, and the workplace inequalities that were exposed or exacerbated by COVID — shed a light on the importance of EDI in the workplace and motivated many organizations to take it more seriously. This is supported by what our team at MNP has observed: the number of requests and RFPs for EDI consulting and advisory work is steadily increasing.

Some organizational leaders and business owners want to renew their focus on EDI because they see a business case for doing so. Others are motivated by fear of reputational damage or have experienced internal pressure from employees. But generally, most organizations we work with have sound intentions, but lack the expertise and experience to build and execute EDI strategies that will have measurable impact.

Nowadays, crafting the right words and messaging for EDI within your organization will not suffice as a strategy. Your words are important, but they only hold meaning if they’re supported by actions. 

Words are the starting point If your EDI strategy has any hope of instigating meaningful and lasting change in your organization, you need to start by being informed and building consensus on what words mean. It’s easy to get lost in the semantics of EDI (because it’s constantly shifting), and get discouraged or worried that you’ll make a mistake.

It’s important to remember that your willingness to learn is a crucial first step, and that learning something new will always make you feel incompetent at first. There are some helpful definitions you can start with that are basically universal. 

For example, this adage is useful for all organizational leaders:

Diversity is a fact. 

Equity is a choice. 

Inclusion is an action.

Belonging is an outcome. 

Part of understanding EDI terminology is knowing what terms to avoid using, and why. This should be treated as table stakes, but unfortunately harmful and prejudicial language is still too prevalent in Canadian society.

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Actions speak louder than words

Building and executing an EDI strategy in your organization isn’t easy — the right thing to do is seldom the easy thing. Many business owners and organizational leaders allow their fears of “getting it wrong” to paralyze them into inaction, choosing to say the right things but avoid actually changing their operations or challenging their assumptions. But remember that inaction is a choice in itself, and it’s the wrong choice.

Many organizational leaders wonder what actions they should be taking, and how to roll them out smoothly. Your EDI strategies and policies should be customized to your circumstances; there is no templated approach that will fit all organizations.

Below are some examples of actions your organization can consider implementing. Perhaps not all are viable for you — this list is designed to spark ideas about what’s possible.

Current state assessment and discovery

This is a straightforward and useful first step, regardless of your organization’s size, industry, or other factors. 

Every organization needs to know where they are if they are to progress along an EDI maturity continuum.

This phase should include a thorough review of your current practices and organizational culture. There are tools that can help measure where you are and the distance to your goals, including the Barrett Cultural Assessment. Our recommendation is to perform your initial assessment and discovery with the help of unbiased internal or external advisors with EDI expertise.

Workforce demographics surveys, focus groups, exit interviews, etc.

How well do you understand the demographics of your own team? How many are part of minority and equity-seeking groups? It seems like a rudimentary question, but most Canadian employers don’t have the data to know how their team members identify, particularly since many individuals self-identify across a number of diversity-related dimensions, including sexual identity, gender identity, race, and disability.

The 2022 Canadian Census was the first one that allowed Canadians to express their self-identity in multiple ways. Conducting an internal census of your own organization that allows for the full expression of identity will help your employees feel seen and heard and provide you with initial insights about where to focus your EDI strategy.

As your organization grapples with questions of what EDI initiatives to roll out, where you’re succeeding, where you fall short, and what you should prioritize, engage with all your employees and solicit their input through focus groups, interviews, and surveys. The answers you receive may yield uncomfortable truths for your organization’s leadership to confront, but having those conversations is vitally important and healthy.

Employee resource groups (ERGs)

These groups can take many different names — some organizations call them employee action groups, committees, ERGs, etc. — but they all share the same purpose. They’re voluntary, employee-led groups that work towards creating more inclusive and equitable workplaces.

Team members who choose to participate in ERGs are often united by their sense of passion and urgency for a certain cause. They will act as ambassadors for your EDI efforts and be your boots on the ground when you want to turn words into action.

Setting up these types of groups, communicating about them internally, and encouraging your staff to participate is an action that will beget more action.

Philanthropy and community action

Most organizations have causes and non-profits that they donate time and resources to. As part of your EDI strategy, you can perform a thorough review of your philanthropic and community engagement initiatives.

Are your organization’s resources and time allocated equitably? Are you supporting the people and groups you intend to support? Are your community efforts and donations aligned with your organization’s EDI goals and objectives?

Reporting mechanisms

Build your EDI strategy under the assumption that your team members from marginalized, minority, and equity-seeking groups have all experienced micro-aggressions, harassment, or discrimination at some point in their work life. If this were to happen in your workplace, you need the right reporting mechanisms in place.

Reporting incidents can be intimidating; it’s an act of trust between employees and leaders. Employees who don’t believe you will take appropriate action will prefer to seek new employment rather than report an incident. You can help mitigate this with a variety of tools and systems that guarantee anonymity and safety, as your circumstances allow.

Training enhancements

There are many forms of training that can help improve EDI in your workplace: Unconscious bias training, inclusive leadership, effective allyship, and many more. The training should begin at the top with your people leaders, who will be your best ambassadors for the changes your organization intends to make.

Even if you experience resistance from some employees at first, consider making training a mandatory part of the onboarding and performance review process. Encourage your employees to set yearly EDI-related goals they can work towards.

Mentorship programs

Mentorship programs are a strong tool to create a sense of belonging for all people on your team. They can also help you build a diverse and inclusive leadership team from within, as you give development opportunities to equity-deserving groups.

Even if mentorship is already part of your organization, consider building formal mentorship programs that prioritize equity and fairness.

Bringing in the right expertise

As your circumstances allow, hire an internal head of EDI or an external consultant who specializes in EDI work, to lead your change efforts. Having the right expertise behind you will not only minimize your risk of “getting it wrong”, and reduce your fears about EDI, it will also maximize the positive outcomes of your actions and show your team that you take these initiatives seriously.

It’s time to act

If this list of actions feels intimidating, you’re not alone. Start where you are and make incremental improvements; your strategy can outline what you need to do in year one, two, three, and beyond. Keep in mind that action begets more action.

In the end, we all want to bring our authentic selves to work, feel a sense of belonging and psychological safety in the workplace, and make our world better. Let those intentions lead you to action, rather than letting your fear of EDI paralyze you. Now is the time to invest more seriously in your team, and in society at large, through a prudent EDI strategy.

Contact us

To learn more, contact:

Mary Larson, MBA, ICD.D, Partner
[email protected]

Daniel Kasun, Senior Manager
[email protected]


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