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The Relationship Between Culture and DE&I

A group of people clapping in a meeting room.

​A good company culture is more than just snacks, perks and benefits. Employees and job seekers increasingly view diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as a key attribute defining a good company culture, according to recent reports.

About 1 in 4 job seekers in 2021 said DE&I is the most important area of investment to improve company culture, according to a survey by LinkedIn Talent Solutions. The report suggested that boosting DE&I efforts to create a more diverse workforce helps employers build a dynamic relationship with employees.

"A strong DE&I presence creates a culture where employees feel empowered to be authentic and bring new ideas based on their unique knowledge and experiences," said Risha Grant, an award-winning DE&I speaker and expert based in Tulsa, Okla. "You will not have a good company culture if DE&I is not present."

Diversity allows workers from underrepresented communities to connect with their peers and feel celebrated. Ineffective DE&I efforts can cause these individuals to harbor negative views of their company's culture, Grant said.

She said employees may feel their input is undervalued in a homogenous culture. If companies continue to seek culture fits instead of culture additions, they may fail to compete with more diverse organizations in areas such as recruitment, retention and innovation.

"If your culture is not one that respects and includes workers based on their differences, even with the greatest of recruiting efforts, diverse candidates will not thrive and will not stay," said Yuvay Meyers Ferguson, assistant dean of impact and engagement and associate professor in the School of Business at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Minority Workers Less Likely to Praise Culture

Recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed a discrepancy in the way people from different races and backgrounds view their company's culture.

One survey, The Culture Effect: Why a Positive Workplace Culture Is the New Currency, indicated that Black workers were more likely than white workers to say their organization's culture made it difficult to balance their work and home commitments.

Additional SHRM research found that white (61 percent) and Hispanic (71 percent) workers were more likely than Black workers (40 percent) to rate their workplace culture as "good" or "very good." Black and Hispanic or Latino workers were also more likely than white workers to be actively searching for a new job.

Trust issues may be feeding into how Black workers view their culture, according to a 2021 report by management counseling firm McKinsey and Co. The survey showed that Black workers were less likely than white workers to say their company treats them fairly and rewards them for good work.

Paying minority workers equally, providing reasonable pathways to promotion and empowering these individuals to share their experiences without retaliation can create a sense of belonging among employees from underrepresented communities.

"[Employees] want to connect with their peers and to the work they do," said Sirmara Campbell, chief human resources officer at LaSalle Network, a staffing, recruiting and culture firm in Chicago. "The more companies create a sense of belonging for all employees, the more they will want to work hard and give back to that organization."

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Overcoming Workplace Bias

The Importance of Leadership

Campbell said a thriving, diverse company culture requires leaders to build relationships with staff, spend time training them and learn about them as unique individuals.

"Culture is what retains employees during the down times, like the pandemic and subsequent financial recession, because culture builds loyalty," she said.

The LaSalle Network provided tips for improving a company's overall culture:

  • Focus on career development. Investing in employee development is a direct reflection of a company's investment in employees. Employees who achieve their learning goals are more likely to use those skills to support the company.
  • Enhance communication. Constructive and consistent feedback allows employees to continue to grow. Routine conversations about performance keep employees engaged with the company.
  • Establish a clear set of values. Educating employees on values helps them connect better with the company and understand their role in the organization.

Alana Elston, chief people officer at the architecture firm McKissack & McKissack in Washington, D.C., said inspirational leadership is an important aspect of creating a diverse company and enhancing its culture. She said an organization comprising mostly employees from similar backgrounds does not foster a thriving, engaging environment.

"Employees must feel inspired to do their best work, and that comes from management, mentorship and leadership," Elston said. "People must be in an environment where they feel inspired. They must come to the table feeling inspired."

Elston noted, "That makes an inspirational culture huge in terms of importance."


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