Employee Experience

8 expert tips for fostering equity in the workplace

Organizations that promote equity in the workplace level the playing field for all of their employees – and benefit from the competitive advantage of employing diverse talent.

Forward-thinking organizations are setting their sights on fostering a more equitable future for their employees. We took a closer look at what diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) means, examined the difference between equity and equality, and gathered eight expert tips for promoting equity in your organization.

What does equality in the workplace mean?

Equality promotes an individual’s right to be different. It means fair treatment for all, regardless of gender, race, disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or age.

In the workplace, equality means equal rights to all opportunities and freedom from discrimination, which is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

In many countries, equality in the workplace is protected by law. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.”

What’s the difference between equity vs. equality?

Where equality gives everyone access to the same opportunities, equity in the workplace means that there’s proportional representation in those same opportunities. In other words, equity levels the playing field.

What does that look like in an organization? Inclusion, for starters. Workplace inclusion ensures all employees feel welcome to participate and contribute.

What is diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion – frequently referred to as DEI – is the umbrella term for the programs, policies, strategies, and practices that execute a company’s mission to create and sustain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

A culture of equity and inclusion is not only critical to the success of diversity efforts, but creating an equitable and inclusive workplace also creates a positive employee experience.

“You can’t have true inclusion without diversity,” said Judith Williams, Global Head of People Sustainability & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP. “If everyone has the same background, expectations, and experiences, inclusion is really easy. You don’t have to think about what it will take for people with different backgrounds and experiences to excel.

“It’s when you actually get diversity in your organization – a mix of gender, a mix of generation, a mix of cultural background – that you begin to ask the fundamental questions about: ‘Are we inclusive?’, ‘Are we being equitable?’, ‘Do people feel like they belong?’, and ‘Can everyone bring their best selves to work?’”

How do you promote equity in the workplace?

Broadly, fostering equity in the workplace looks the same for each organization: equal opportunities and fair representation for everyone. However, beneath the surface, there are nuances unique to each organization; nuances that will determine how you can successfully promote equity in your workplace.

Here’s how to get started.

Tip #1: Do your DEI research.

Step one? Be informed; learn the history, background, and context. “We need to educate ourselves first,” said Judith. “There’s a plethora of anti-racism resources out there that can be yielded via a simple Google search.”

Tip #2: Dig into your data.

The next step in promoting equity in the workplace is to understand where you are in terms of metrics. This will require collecting and analyzing your people data to assess the demographics of your organization, including your leadership team. Once you have the data, you can set benchmarks and metrics for the DEI goals you want to achieve.

Tip #3: Set measurable targets – and hold yourself accountable.

Whether for interviews, pass-through rates, or metrics around demographics of who you hire, organizations that set measurable targets will be more successful in fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce.

Ready to take it one step further? Follow in the footsteps of brands like Adidas and make a public commitment to hiring from underrepresented groups.

Another way organizations hold themselves accountable to measuring DEI progress is by tying measurable outcomes to compensation – especially for those in leadership, but also to the overall bonus pool. Microsoft, as an example, has said that bonuses for their entire company will be tied to successfully achieving their diversity metrics.

Tip #4: Look at your hiring practices.

Look at your talent pipeline and the strategies your talent acquisition team uses to attract new employees. Be strategic about where you’re posting open positions. Go beyond the homogeneous networks to tap into diverse talent pipelines you might have previously ignored and/or didn’t realize existed.

For some demographics, you have to be proactive with your search strategies by posting on certain websites, advertising in specific publications, or doing outreach through dedicated organizations.

DEI is a powerful competitive advantage when it comes to hiring

Rusty O'Kelley, Managing Director at Russell Reynolds Associates

“Companies that recruit a diversity of candidates – and create inclusive and equitable work environments that encourage diverse employees to stay – will win the war for talent.”

Watch Rusty O’Kelly’s XM Talks session on impacting DEI now [7 minutes].

Tip #5: Hire for culture contribution.

Conventional advice says to hire for culture fit, but progressive companies up the hiring ante by recruiting new employees for culture contribution. That means, hiring employees that not only align to your company’s values, but also bring diverse experiences and backgrounds to the table, too.

“In tech, we often hire for culture fit,” said Judith. “Instead, we should hire for culture contribution. We need to think differently and ask ourselves: ‘What does this new hire bring to my team that I don’t already have; what skills, background, and perspectives?’"

We should hire the best person for our team, not just the best person for the role

Tip #6: Institute intentional (and extended) onboarding programs.

More than ever, onboarding needs to extend beyond a new employee’s first week. Build onboarding programs that provide ongoing support for at least six months, or even the first year, to ensure new employees are set up for success.

“As part of onboarding, ensure that new employees – especially those that are from underrepresented groups – have a mentor,” said Rusty. “Then, check back in at regular intervals to reassess and ensure that the mentor-mentee relationship is a good fit.”

Tip #7: Avoid a diversity tax.

Sometimes organizations already have well-meaning policies in place, but the execution of those policies creates a diversity tax on the few.

For example, when you want to diversify your interview loop but you have just three women on your team of 100, you’ve essentially created a whole separate job for them – one they might not have time for, nor will help them get promoted.

Tip #8: Align ERGs with leadership sponsors.

Align your employee resource groups, or ERGs, with executive leadership sponsors to enable conversations around how to improve DEI in your workplace. This alignment also helps educate leadership about where the diverse talent is in the organization.


Dive deeper into your DEI strategy with SAP's Judith Williams