How to Legally Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Holland & Hart - Employers' Lawyers
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Holland & Hart - Employers' Lawyers

June brings the confluence of Pride Month as well as the newly minted federal holiday, Juneteenth.  Over the last few years, as social justice issues have been at the forefront, many companies have published statements or made pledges committing support to such important topics and issues.

The struggle for employers has always been turning words into action, in a fair, supportive, helpful, and legal way.  There are potential pitfalls for employers as they look to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and try to iron out potential equity issues with respect to pay, promotions, and benefits.  Employees are also increasingly looking for ways to voice their opinions—and employers are required to balance the broad spectrum of such opinions.

So what can employers do as they look to support underrepresented populations in its workforce or as they try to implement more formal diversity, equity and inclusion programs?  Here are some thoughts:

  • Get advice from employment counsel on the legal parameters for what a company can/cannot do in this space;
  • As you approach the process, look for ways to be over-inclusive (i.e., not just focusing on traditional “protected categories” but including other underrepresented populations such as first-generation college graduates, those that were raised in non-traditional homes, adopted individuals, etc.);
  • Look at creating a vibrant ally network and be over-inclusive on who can participate in your DEI committees;
  • Carefully look at hiring practices (focusing on increasing the candidate pool, requiring that at least one diverse candidate be considered, and clearing up your interview process and questions);
  • Implement effective mentoring programs and affinity groups to provide support (again, look to be over-inclusive in what employees get to participate);
  • Audit your payroll (for example, take an organizational chart, without names, but include salaries; then add in the gender and ethnicity figures to visualize where pay inequity may exist);
  • Consider what leaders of your organization believe in DEI and are willing to participate, and have them participate and lead out (but this should include more than just your diverse leaders); and
  • Be consistent and do not give up; this will often feel like baby steps, but keep moving forward and do not be discouraged.

Numerous articles speak about the “business-case” for DEI—regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, in a world where competition for talent remains extremely high, implementing the above programs can improve the lives and morale of many of your valuable employees.  

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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