Nectar and SHRM announce strategic partnership for employee recognition and rewards
Learn More
Company Culture

10 DEI Strategy Best Practices: How To Create An Inclusive And Equitable Workplace

Rebecca Noori

The corporate world has experienced a minor diversity victory: there are now more female CEOs running S&P 500 companies than male CEOs named John. Research by Lauren Harris, a Stanford graduate, analyzed a company leadership database and used first names to put statistics into human terms. Fun fact: Female bosses tied with leaders named James in 2019 but now outnumber any single male name following a surge of ten women CEOs joining the ranks. 

The research is as depressing as it is relatable. But it stresses the importance of building a company DEI strategy that offers an equitable and inclusive experience for employees of all backgrounds and identities. This guide digs deep into why any type or size of organization should build a DEI strategy framework, best practices for doing so, and expert tips to support you along the way.

What Is DEIB? 

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is the practice of creating an environment that welcomes people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse identities and perspectives. DEIB ensures everyone feels safe, supported, and respected.

In the workplace, this requires a comprehensive approach to organizational culture. All employees of any race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, level, or cultural background, must be able to bring their whole selves to work without fear of discrimination or exclusion.

What Is A DEI Strategy? 

A DEIB strategy, commonly known as a DEI or diversity strategy, is an action-based plan designed to reduce disparities and create a culture of inclusion in the workplace. It outlines goals and objectives for increasing diversity within the organization and building an environment where everyone can thrive.

An effective strategic plan also addresses any systemic issues related to discrimination, such as pay equity, while providing resources for employees affected by racism or other forms of discrimination. Here’s how your strategy should tackle each aspect of DEIB:

  • Diversity: Understanding representation throughout your organization, including how well you attract underrepresented candidates to apply for positions at your company and if they advance through your hiring funnel.
  • Equity: Monitoring how employees develop throughout your organization through fair performance review practices, equal opportunities for promotion, and receiving equitable compensation.
  • Inclusion: Tracking employee sentiment to understand if your company supports your workers with inclusive policies and opportunities to express their ideas and opinions.
  • Belonging: Offering the opportunity for workers to feel connected to each other, creating an environment of psychological safety, and enabling team members to feel safe around each other without fear of workplace bullying.

How your strategy should tackle each aspect of DEIB

Why Invest The Time To Create A DEI Strategy? 

Committing to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging isn't just the right thing to do; it also offers distinct business advantages. Here are a few reasons companies should invest time in creating a DEI strategy.

Attracting Highly-Skilled Talent 

By creating an employer brand with a reputation for valuing and supporting diversity, organizations can expand their talent pipeline, access a broader range of skills and perspectives, and ultimately secure top-tier talent that contributes to the company's success. Glassdoor's Diversity and Inclusion Workplace survey reveals that DEI visibility is important to 76% of job seekers when evaluating companies and job offers.

Making Your Organization More Competitive 

200+ studies conclude that workforce diversity results in greater engagement, innovation, growth, and customer service. However, McKinsey & Company reveals that companies gain a greater competitive advantage when diversity is present at the executive level. For example, companies in the top quartile for C-suite gender diversity are 25% more likely to boast above-average performance than those in the bottom quartile. The benefits are even more significant for companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity, which are 36% more likely to offer above-average performance than those in the bottom quartile.

Attract And Retain Customers 

Customers care about supporting companies that reflect their values and beliefs. When companies prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, it demonstrates they respect people from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities. The reward? HBR research found that diverse companies have a 19% higher innovation revenue than companies that have been slower to commit to DEI.

4 Problems With Regular DEI Strategies  

DEI strategies are vital for building fair and inclusive workplaces. But organizations can face some roadblocks when implementing their DEI initiatives, particularly when they've rushed the planning stages. Common problems include:

1. They’re Too Infrequent 

DEIB isn't a checkbox exercise. It requires an iterative process of assessment, continuous improvement, and regular, candid conversations to create sustainable change. We spoke to Co-Founder Liz Kofman-Burns, who explained why her DEI consulting firm Peoplism opts to work with companies committed to diversity over the long term rather than those looking for a quick fix.

“In our view, when someone says "Hey, I want to do one initiative," that's never going to be a successful approach. That's why we don't offer one-time, one-off training, like unconscious bias training, because there's no evidence that a one-time initiative is going to work."

2. They Inadvertently Harm Marginalized Groups  

Positive intentions alone won't cut it when drafting a DEI strategy. A half-hearted approach can harm the underrepresented groups you strive to protect. For example, research shows that anti-bias training can create more bias as you raise awareness of stereotypes and provoke the implicit biases we all possess. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that exposure to stereotype messaging resulted in: 

  • Increased expression of stereotypes.
  • Reduced willingness to collaborate with those who defy stereotypes.
  • Greater stereotypical treatment of people based on their identity categories.

3. They Lack Momentum

A well-drafted DEI strategy is a solid starting point, but you also need people resources to execute your action plan and make your efforts sustainable over the long term. George Floyd's murder in 2020 was a significant catalyst for investment into DEIB, with organizations of all sizes and industries pledging to support underrepresented groups and spark real change in the workplace and broader society. 

Since then, the economic climate has impacted diversity progress, and many organizations have decided to make cutbacks in DEI. Korn Ferry reports that the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) role at S&P 500 companies now has the shortest average tenure of less than two years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CDOs are increasingly frustrated that there is a lot of energy and talk around DEI, but more investment or resources are needed to drive positive action.

4. They Don’t Focus On The Right Organizational Goals 

60% of organizations report having a DEI strategy, but many don't create clear goals or collect additional insights to measure progress toward achieving these goals. In a Harvard Business Review article authored by social psychologist Evelyn R. Carter, and Co-Founder and Managing Director of Paradigm Natalie Johnson, their research revealed that only:

  • 26% of organizations have gender representation goals.
  • 16% have race representation goals.
  • 28% of organizations hold C-Suite executive teams accountable for DEI progress.

The data is loud and clear: companies lack a roadmap to create positive DEI change and don't highlight the people responsible for leading the march.


The four major problems with regular DEI strategies in the workplace.

10 DEI Strategy Best Practices To Implement In Your Organization 

The best way to overcome common diversity roadblocks is to develop a deliberate, sensitive, and comprehensive DEI strategy for your organization. Robust DEI initiatives take time, as explained by Ndubuisi Uchea, CEO of insight and creative consultancy Word on the Curb, who cautions: 

“Strategies and initiatives are created overnight when the issues they’re trying to correct have existed for millennia.” 

Build the following best practices into your long-term DEI framework:

1. Customize And Baseline Your DEI Strategy 

Your diversity strategy should be unique to your organization. Each company has its own DEI track record and goals, so it's fruitless to follow a one-size-fits-all approach based on what your competitors are doing in this area. Liz Kofman-Burns confirms:

"A lot of what is going on with DEI is that people just hear about something in the news or LinkedIn and then try to recreate that at their company without having a real sense of what their company needs or a strategic plan around what they should be doing."

"A lot of what is going on with DEI is that people just hear about something in the news or LinkedIn and then try to recreate that at their company without having a real sense of what their company needs or a strategic plan around what they should be doing.”

This customization starts with taking a current state analysis of your DEI position. What are your company's existing strengths and weaknesses, and where are there opportunities to progress? For example, you might start by looking at representation, which admittedly is just one area of DEI, but it's an important starting point.

Bradley Franks, Head of Sales at diversity hiring platform Applied stresses the importance of understanding your current position in relation to the industry benchmark if you want to improve representation in your company. He said:

"We speak to a lot of organizations who know that their representation of color is way below that of the region—the first thing to do is establish what that looks like.

After you've done that, collecting information on the representation of people you have in your organization through surveys and questionnaires that focus on socioeconomic background is really important.

And then actually focusing on what the diversity of your talent pool looks like by having all candidates complete a form when they apply to your roles, and understanding the drop-off rate of those candidates throughout your hiring process, up until those you end up hiring is really important for actually having any tangible impact on the representation of your talent."

2. Establish Your DEI Goals 

Part of your customization process will be selecting strategic goals that resonate with your company. Again, it's worth tailoring these to your organization based on data analysis, employee feedback, and core company values. For example, your goals might be to:

  • Increase representation of people of color in leadership roles by X% over Y years.
  • Reduce bias in your recruitment process by X%.
  • Update your anti-discrimination policies by Q3.
  • Create X new employee resource groups by next year.

Company example: Work management software platform publishes its annual Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance policy which includes clear DEI goals to build an inclusive and supportive workplace for all employees. As shown below, has committed to: 

  • Engaging with external diversity consultants to formalize a D&I policy and company strategy.
  • Host at least 7x ERG events per quarter, globally.
  • Provide external coaching for all employee resource group leads.
  • Increase representation of women in R&D by 5% (from 21% to 26%) this year.
  • Provide D&I training to all People team employees and company managers.

A look at's 2023 people goals.

3. Determine The Resources You Need To Execute An Effective DEI Strategy 

A DEI strategy can be an expensive investment, so you must budget effectively for it. Some resources you may require include: 

  • Access to external analysts, such as diversity consulting firms.
  • Salary for a Chief Diversity Officer and team (as needed.) 
  • Additional resources for in-house cultural diversity initiatives, such as the cost of hosting employee resource groups.

Smaller businesses without a dedicated DEI budget can still drive progress in their organizations. Some ideas include: 

  • Leaning on leadership to become mentors for minority employees.
  • Using free software programs to gather representation data.
  • Watching free diversity training videos to educate your people managers and people team members.

4. Invest In Inclusive Sourcing 

Attracting a diverse selection of candidates to join your ranks begins with inclusive sourcing. If your organization uses the same tried-and-testing recruitment methods to find applicants, and they all happen to be white men, your DEI strategy might focus on casting a wider net. This boils down to crafting an inclusive job description and posting it in a wide range of places to attract a diverse selection of candidates. 

Bradley Franks explains the importance of going through your job description with a fine tooth comb to weed out any words that may dissuade female applicants. 

“We know that if you have masculine coded language, words like "analytical," words like "lead" etc., they are not inherently masculine traits, but they are masculine coded. And an oversaturation of them will disproportionately impact the volume of female candidates that actually throw their hat in the ring and apply to your roles."

Liz Kofman-Burns agrees that the content and quality of a job description can be a game-changer for attracting people from minority backgrounds, especially when listing the skills and competencies required for a role. 

"A lot of times, people just copy and paste a job description that has existed before, or worse, a competitor has created it. But you need to be very clear about what is truly required for the job, rather than just this laundry list of qualifications.

We know that underrepresented folks are less likely to apply to jobs if they feel they don't meet all the qualifications. Sometimes those qualifications are actually not needed for the role, so you're just getting people who are overconfident rather than competent.

Writing a job description that is inclusive, doesn't use biased language, and training hiring managers and talent acquisition teams on how to do that is really important."

Post your inclusive job ad across several job boards that actively target underrepresented groups, including:

5. Follow Structured Hiring Processes 

Unfortunately, attracting diverse candidates doesn't guarantee they'll be treated equally throughout the hiring process. For example, a German study on female Muslim migrant workers revealed that candidates with ethnic-sounding surnames must send out 4.5 times as many applications as candidates with white-sounding surnames to secure an interview. Bradley Franks told us:

“Sourcing candidates from a wider pool is a critical step in hiring for diversity, but it’s only the first step. There are over 180 different unconscious biases that cause blind spots, impact our decision-making, and significantly impact callback rates for interviews.”

“Sourcing candidates from a wider pool is a critical step in hiring for diversity, but it’s only the first step. There are over 180 different unconscious biases that cause blind spots, impact our decision-making, and significantly impact callback rates for interviews.”

One of these biases is "affinity bias," where recruiting teams and interviewers are drawn to candidates who are "just like them." Overcome this challenge by using your DEI strategy to introduce a more structured hiring approach, which Liz Kofman-Burns believes can beat psychology here:

“We typically like people who are like us, so we're looking for cues that we're similar or not. The more you have a structured process, the less likely you are to succumb to those kinds of biases. That's the big piece in training interviewers on reducing biases and giving everyone a fair shot in the interview process." 

Bradley Franks agrees with the undeniable benefits of structured hiring and digs a little deeper into how it works: 

“Without a structured approach, interviewers often only remember the most salient parts of the interview and are left with a general impression of the 'vibe' around a candidate, which builds homogenous teams.

To overcome these challenges, an effective structured interview method should focus on three core elements. First, ask all candidates the same set of questions to ensure consistency and equal opportunity for each individual.

Second, each interviewer should score candidates independently and provide their own notes, allowing for a comprehensive evaluation.

Third, use a 1-5 Likert scale or a similar marking rubric to create a standardized evaluation system.

By implementing this structured approach, companies not only promote inclusivity but also enable their teams to make objective hiring decisions based on merit and qualifications rather than personal biases or subjective impressions."

6. Ditch Employee Referrals 

Another popular recruitment strategy that can harm your DEI initiatives is relying too heavily on employee referrals. This is when you ask your current employees to refer friends, family, or past colleagues to work for your organization instead of using more formal and expensive recruitment methods. Liz Kofman-Burns explains why giving into this financial temptation is dangerous if you want to progress diversity in your organization. 

"HR teams tend to love referrals, and companies like them because it's a cheap hiring tactic. But if you have a homogenous workforce, you're just going to get more of the same, because we know that people's friendship networks are pretty homogenous. So, you're basically reinforcing the status quo there. If you do have a referral process, make it an inclusive one. Be very proactive and prompt people to think about underrepresented groups who are not just exactly like them." 

Company example: Social networking platform Pinterest successfully implemented an inclusive employee referral program by challenging existing workers to refer candidates from minority groups. Pinterest experienced a 24% increase in female referrals and a 55-fold percentage boost in the volume of referred candidates from underrepresented backgrounds.

7. Look Beyond Diversity To Equity, Inclusion, And Belonging 

Much of DEIB focuses on the first letter of the acronym: diversity. But an effective DEIB strategy goes beyond the aesthetics of representation to create a work environment that allows everyone to thrive in their careers. Liz Kofman-Burns explains how regularly she sees this in her work:

"So many organizations start with diversity in terms of representation and hiring. Really, they should be starting with equity, inclusion, and belonging. Because there's very little use in recruiting people into an organization where they're not going to succeed or feel included. And they're going to leave. It can't just be a focus on diversity—of course, that has to be part of the puzzle; you can't have a diverse workforce if you're not recruiting and hiring people from underrepresented backgrounds. But you need those other pieces as well. If you're just throwing all your efforts into recruiting, but your performance management is super unfair, and people don't feel included, that's not a good strategy that's going to lead to long-term success."

Jo Major, Co-Founder of Inclusive Recruitment Foundations, gives some powerful suggestions to accelerate your approach to equity and drive meaningful progress.

"Equity is the absolute bedrock of any DE&I strategy. If you miss this bit, you may as well go home. Your "equity foundations'' could include: 

  • Inclusive leadership training
  • Fair and inclusive policies
  • Commitment to equal pay
  • Hybrid & flexible working
  • Anti-racism work
  • Faith inclusion
  • Accessible workspaces and tech
  • Great family-building policies
  • Mental well-being
  • Language and banter policies
  • Neurodiversity training
  • Solid anti-discrimination policies
  • Inclusive benefits

All of this great work creates equality in your organization; every employee should now have fair and equal treatment and access to the same opportunities to work, learn, and develop regardless of their identity, background, and circumstances."


A group of employees having a meeting. A woman of color is holding the meeting and standing in front of a whiteboard.

8. Decide How To Track Your DEI Strategy Success 

Measuring your DEI strategy is the only way to see if you are progressing toward your goals. There are numerous ways to track diversity progress, including:

  • Taking baseline analysis metrics such as representation data, then reassessing in 12-18 months.
  • Sending out employee engagement surveys to understand sentiment across your organization - do minority groups feel supported, and do they have equal opportunities to progress in their roles? 
  • Conducting quarterly focus groups to discuss employees' personal experiences with diversity and inclusion.

9. Include Majority Groups As Part Of The Solution 

DEIB business strategies often focus on improving the situation for minority groups, but that doesn't mean you should leave majority groups out. Some majority group members may recoil when DEI initiatives gain pace. They may feel blamed, anxious that they could lose their existing career opportunities, or confused about where they stand in the overall picture of the organization. 

Liz Kofman-Burns strongly believes that most people have a sense of justice and want to do the right thing to support their colleagues. The key is to include rather than exclude them from your DEI progress: 

“It's important that training initiatives aren't seen as "You are doing this wrong, and you are the problem." Because people tend to become defensive. A more successful approach is to bring people in and say, "You can be part of the solution. Here's the current state: we know that bias and discrimination still happen. You, as a manager, as a colleague, and as a member of a privileged group, can help. You can make the situation better for your own colleagues and make this a better company, a better workforce."

Nectar Tip: Avoid organizational silos by inviting your majority group colleagues to join employee resource groups as "allies" and passionately advocate for change on behalf of their peers. This is especially effective when you involve majority group leaders, such as white male managers, to support team members from minority groups.

10. Obtain Leadership Commitment

Leadership development and buy-in are critical for any organizational change. Leadership teams must be prepared to receive training to:

  • Understand and accept the importance of DEIB strategies.
  • Embrace diversity in their own actions.
  • Proactively shape an inclusive culture within the organization.

A purposeful strategy might incorporate space to interview organizational leaders annually on their commitment to DEI initiatives and assess their progress in achieving their business objectives.

Foster An Inclusive Company Culture With Nectar 

Here's the TL;DR: DEI isn't a once-a-year workshop. To create an inclusive workplace, organizations must develop an ongoing, comprehensive diversity strategy that encompasses the entire employee lifecycle and involves everyone in the organization, from the C-suite down, to drive real progress and change.

“My biggest piece of advice is to find some way to develop a strategy. Think about it like any other important initiative that you're taking on in your company. It needs resources, time, and accountability,” shares Liz Kofman-Burns, “It is hard because there's a lot of information out there around DEI, and some of it is conflicting, and it's really hard to get through the noise. But I'd say find someone either internally or externally that can help you get a strategy you feel really confident about that’s going to work for your organization.”

"My biggest piece of advice is to find some way to develop a strategy. Think about it like any other important initiative that you're taking on in your company. It needs resources, time, and accountability."

At Nectar, we understand that every organization is unique and has different diversity goals, which is where our tools are the perfect partner for your DEI strategy. Use our Challenges feature to encourage team members to join an ERG or participate in a diversity event. Or try the Recognition tool to call out a colleague's inclusive behavior and share it with the rest of your company via Nectar's social feed. You could also use our shoutout tool to recognize everyone on important, diverse holidays.

For each of these tools, you can either gift or offer Nectar points to your employees, which they can redeem for various Rewards such as branded company swag, Amazon products, gift cards, charity donations, or custom rewards that your company picks.

Ready to incorporate Nectar into your new DEI strategy? Schedule a free demo today. 

Create a culture people won't want to leave with Nectar

Actionable workplace tips & insights for fellow people lovers

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

You might also like...

Promoting Company Core Values: Definition, Importance, and Examples
Company Culture
Promoting Company Core Values: Definition, Importance, and Examples
Do people at your company live the core values? This guide will demonstrate specific ways to promote your values and embed them in the company DNA.
read now >
How to Build Trust in the Workplace (10 Simple Steps)
Company Culture
How to Build Trust in the Workplace (10 Simple Steps)
Learn how to create a culture of trust in your organization in this step-by-step guide. Plus, see answers to the most frequently asked questions.
read now >
What Is Employee Morale? (And How You Boost It)
Company Culture
What Is Employee Morale? (And How You Boost It)
What exactly is employee morale? And how does it impact culture? Learn how to boost morale and create a positive environment.
read now >