How to Create a DEI Committee So More Voices Can Be Heard

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A diverse group of people holds connecting puzzle pieces over their heads.

DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion — and organizations everywhere are seeking ways to realize these ideals in their workplace. What does it take to create an effective DEI committee? DEI committees develop strategic approaches to making their organization more accessible, equitable and inclusive of all stakeholders. It’s challenging and rewarding work — and a number of resources are available for leaders seeking to found a DEI committee from scratch or kick-start progress toward achieving current DEI committee goals.

Organizations have many reasons for investing resources in DEI initiatives. Benefits of successful DEI initiatives include:

Assembling the right DEI team is just the beginning. Explore best practices for understanding what DEI committees are, how to form one, how to recruit members and how to establish achievable committee goals.

What Is a DEI Committee, and Why Is It Important?

DEI committees can be established to support organizations of any size, structure and location.

After deciding to form a DEI committee, an organization’s leaders should gain an overview of what a DEI committee actually is, learn from examples of what other DEI committees do and understand why they are becoming more common in the workplace.

What Does DEI Stand For?

The component parts that DEI stands for honor diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce — and workplaces that commit to these goals can gain an edge over companies that fail to do so.

Diversity

Diversity means variety. Every individual brings a unique perspective and experiences to work. In the workforce, diversity manifests in the employment and promotion of workers from many different backgrounds. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognizes this list of facets of diversity:

  • Age
  • Religion
  • Gender identity
  • Socioeconomic status
  • National origin
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Veteran status
  • Vocational experience

How do organizations benefit from diversity? Fundera found that diverse teams are 70% more likely to succeed in new markets, according to a 2020 study. This makes sense, given that diverse perspectives help organizations think flexibly and creatively about new projects. Glassdoor reports that diversity is valued by most of today’s job seekers, suggesting that companies that undervalue diversity will be left behind.

Equity

Equity in a workplace means that all employees receive fair treatment.

Pay equity refers to the important practice of paying all employees their fair market rate. Organizations that pay all people with the same job title the same salary are abiding by equity, for example. Equitable organizations, as fair and respectful workplaces, reap many benefits that ultimately improve the organization’s bottom line.

Pay equity is important for businesses to remain legally and socially responsible, and can also yield other benefits, such as:

  • Heightened workplace morale
  • Less employee turnover
  • Bringing on more talented employees

Inclusion

An inclusive work environment is one where all people are respected and valued. Employees may have different personal goals but still feel supported to take risks, voice disagreement and rally behind a shared vision for the organization.

As nurse leader Jeffrey Pietrzak told Forbes, “I feel strongly that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts help cultivate an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging. With that sense of belonging, employees then seem to feel the openness and safety to contribute their ideas. These ideas brought to the table from diverse mindsets become a driving force by which organizations innovate, evolve and thrive.”

Because they foster a sense of belonging, inclusive organizations tend to enjoy benefits such as:

What a DEI Committee Does

Companies form DEI committees to prioritize an inclusive working environment, identify systemic inequities and ultimately improve the organization’s workplace culture.

What does a DEI committee do? That depends on an organization’s specific needs. Common DEI committee initiatives include:

As task forces to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within an organization, DEI committees may adopt any of a number of different goals and practices depending on their organization’s needs and current DEI efforts.

For example, organizations that have never had a DEI committee before may need tools for identifying potential DEI committee members. Other organizations with established but underperforming DEI initiatives may need to revisit their DEI committee goals or reprioritize their aims to make the greatest impact.

Why DEI Committees Are Becoming More Common in the Workplace

It’s no surprise that DEI committees are becoming standard for companies and organizations. The U.S. population is more racially and ethnically diverse today than it was 20 years ago, according to 2020 census data.

Demographic changes in the U.S. more broadly have implications for organizations that are failing to keep up with demands to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion. As a 2020 McKinsey executive summary report on diversity noted: “For diverse companies, the likelihood of outperforming industry peers on profitability has increased over time, while the penalties are getting steeper for those lacking diversity.”

Benefits of passing DEI initiatives include:

  • Hitting financial goals. Claire Schmidt, a leader at AllVoices, told Forbes that inclusive companies are up to 120% more likely to hit their revenue targets compared to companies that don’t prioritize inclusion.
  • Thriving company culture. Inclusive companies tend to have employees who feel respected, feel safe and strive to reach their full potential.
  • Improved adaptability and innovation. Companies that focus on DEI innovate more quickly, gaining an advantage over their competitors.

Statistics showing the need for DEI, from left to right.

As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, workplaces must strive to be more inclusive. According to Glassdoor and the Williams Institute, about 46% of LGBTQ workers say they’ve been treated unfairly in the workplace; nearly 50% of Black and Hispanic workers have quit a job after experiencing or witnessing discrimination; and more than 75% of job seekers say workplace diversity is important.

How to Create the DEI Committee Structure

Once leaders know why diversity, equity and inclusion matter, they need to establish a DEI committee. For a DEI committee to succeed in its aims and sustain momentum over time, it must have a stable membership of key stakeholders.

When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive and better as an organization,” Pat Wadors told Predictive Index.

The steps to creating a well-structured DEI committee include:

1. Identify Potential DEI Committee Members

Identifying and recruiting diverse members from different backgrounds is crucial when forming a DEI committee. Doing so will increase the odds that the committee will be able to address the DEI challenges the organization faces.

When recruiting DEI committee members, leaders may want to make sure to consider employee diversity in terms of:

  • Positions and departments, including staff, management and upper-level management
  • Racial and ethnic backgrounds
  • Social positions with respect to gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Social positions with respect to disability
  • Age groups and prior vocational experiences

2. Recruit Volunteers

Organization leaders need to ensure that committee members understand their participation is voluntary, not mandatory. Workers who choose to join a committee may have a greater stake in its outcomes than employees who are forced to join such a committee.

3. Create Organizational Buy-In for DEI Efforts

A DEI committee does a great service to the organization. As such, DEI efforts may be sustained longer when committee participation counts toward employees’ workplace accomplishments during employment reviews.

4. Define Clear, Actionable Goals

A crucial first step for a DEI committee is to define and establish the group’s mission. The committee can begin by drafting a mission statement, explaining the group’s purpose and intent. Then, it can define both short- and long-term measurable goals to focus the committee’s efforts.

For organizations that have never had a DEI committee before, identifying current DEI benchmarks may be an immediate goal of the new DEI committee. After measuring diversity, equity and inclusion metrics, DEI leaders will be better equipped to make an argument for resources and policy changes.

5. Establish Processes to Communicate and Weather Change

Every committee needs to establish norms and processes to deal with change. Employees may move into new roles or leave the company entirely, and a DEI committee can fall apart if clear processes have not been established to adapt to new contexts.

DEI committees should consider establishing processes to address:

  • Adding new members, if others express interest in participating
  • Maintaining a regular meeting calendar (monthly, biweekly, etc.)
  • Managing possible conflicts or dissent
  • Communicating, such as in text groups, Slack groups or email groups

Steps to forming a DEI committee, from left to right.

Starting a DEI committee involves 3 key steps, according to She+ Geeks Out. 1. Invite workers of various demographics to participate. 2. Involve mid- and upper-level management in the DEI council. 3. Define the council’s mission, focus and goals.

How to Establish DEI Committee Goals

After establishing its structure, a DEI committee sets specific goals.

Why Setting DEI Goals Is Crucial

Organizations with vague or underdefined DEI initiatives (such as “improve inclusion”) will have little evidence to show whether their efforts are succeeding. By setting clear, actionable committee DEI goals and monitoring the results, organizations can make their case for why investing in diversity, equity and inclusion is a profitable and efficient use of organizational resources.

Compile Data to Serve as a Benchmark

A key step when starting a DEI committee is to compile data about the organization’s workforce. Committee members may have ideas about how to improve DEI companywide, but evidence of need may be required for these initiatives to gain broad support.

Organizations must take care to gather sensitive data in a legal and thoughtful manner. Some of the data collected for DEI initiatives may contain personal information that is subject to heightened protections under privacy law.

Tips for collecting sensitive data for DEI initiatives include:

  • Exercise transparency in how data will be used. Employees and potential employees must be told what sorts of information the DEI committee wants to collect, the purpose of collecting this information, how long the data will be retained and what rights participants have with respect to their sensitive information.
  • Solicit and collect only necessary data. DEI committees should collect the minimal amount of data they need to accomplish their stated purpose — nothing more.
  • Take steps to anonymize and aggregate all sensitive data. Any data collected by a DEI committee should be anonymous and aggregated so as to protect the privacy of the participants.
  • Minimize and protect data access. Only individuals on the DEI committee who need to access such sensitive information should have access to it. Permissions and policies that govern the collection, processing, security and transfer of DEI data must be implemented before data collection commences.
  • Designate a data protection officer. Appointing a specific individual to safeguard data is a good idea for organizations of any size and may be required for some companies under international law.

Some of the most important work of a DEI committee involves identifying problematic trends, such as an organization’s propensity to only promote white men into leadership positions, or an organization’s propensity to only hire individuals of a particular gender for certain roles (for example, only hiring women to work as receptionists or secretaries).

Brainstorm, Prioritize and Set DEI Goals

Promoting equity and inclusion is a long-term project. DEI committees should be strategic about which initiatives they promote and when for maximum buy-in and impact.

Some goals that a DEI committee may prioritize:

  • Diversity training to help new and existing employees internalize the company culture
  • Flexible work that promotes inclusion, including hybrid schedules and work-from-home programs that can promote better work-life balance for employees
  • Strategies for workers to identify and overcome their unconscious biases
  • Diversity mentorship programs to increase visibility and improve communication among workers
  • Strategies for workers to discuss their pay and total compensation with one another to increase transparency and pay equity
  • A communication plan for communicating DEI goals to leadership and teams throughout the organization
  • Employee resource groups to put DEI resources into the hands of more employees
  • Programs focused on supporting specific populations, for example, women and nonbinary employees, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities and people with families

Celebrate Successes Along the Way

DEI efforts take time, energy — and a lot of creative thinking. In addition to reporting progress on DEI committee goals to leadership and teams across the organization, DEI committees should also celebrate their “wins” along the way.

Why is it important to celebrate DEI successes? Human diversity itself is a cause for celebration. When workplaces are equitable and inclusive, people are empowered to do their best work. The success of any DEI initiative has ripple effects on an entire workplace culture — which can result in greater productivity, job satisfaction and innovation.

DEI Is Good for Employees and Good for Business

Diversity, equity and inclusion are important for today’s businesses, and creating a DEI committee is a strong start to making these values a reality at any organization.

Businesses spend around $8 billion per year on DEI training, according to Forbes, and it’s easy to see why. Diversity drives innovation and empowers organizations to relate to stakeholders from across the globe. Equitable and inclusive workplaces signal to employees that their contributions are valued. Workers stay at companies that value diversity, so organizations that prioritize DEI spend fewer resources on recruiting, hiring and training new employees due to high turnover.

With some strategic planning, stakeholder buy-in and maintained effort, DEI committees can advance real change, leading to companies that are more equitable and inclusive than ever before.

 

Infographic Sources:

Glassdoor, Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey

She+ Geeks Out, “DEI Steering Committee — Part 1: 3 Steps to Forming an Effective DEI Steering Committee”

Williams Institute, LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment