More and more brands are prioritizing DEIA in the workplace. For some, focusing on DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility) is a natural extension of corporate culture and values. But for others, DEIA has become a buzzphrase with little action to back up the sentiment.
Find out how you can prioritize DEIA in your company to provide a safe and welcoming environment for your employees and customers.
What is DEIA?
DEIA has roots in the civil rights movement, where workforce diversity training and equal employment laws emerged in the 1960s, which prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
In 2021, the DEI movement took a huge leap forward by adding Accessibility to the acronym. On June 25, 2021, President Joe Biden signed an Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce, setting Federal government standards for becoming fully accessible and a model employer of people with disabilities.
With the addition of Accessibility, DEIA now means:
- Diversity: The practice of including many communities, identities, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, cultures, and beliefs.
- Equity: The consistent and systematic, fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals.
- Inclusion: The recognition, appreciation, and use of the talents and skills of employees of all backgrounds.
- Accessibility: the design, construction, development, and maintenance of facilities, information and communication technology, programs, and services so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them.
The Importance of DEIA in the Workplace
In addition to providing employees of different backgrounds and identities a safe communal workplace they feel content in, DEIA can go on to help your business too. A diverse workplace that encourages all employees to share their opinions and ideas can lead to creative new ideas that reach a broader audience. Moreover, this inclusion of people is more likely to influence them to be more engaged in their work leading to a more productive and happy workforce.
Prospective employees are more likely to seek employment at your company when you have a DEIA-focused culture in place. Employees are also more likely to stay at your company if DEIA practices are already in place. A study by Deloitte of more than 1,300 full-time employees found that inclusive company culture is a deciding factor for more than 80% of respondents. They also reported that more than ¼ of all respondents left their previous workplace due to a lack of diversity and inclusion.
Today’s consumers are more likely to support brands that align with their personal values and beliefs. Research shows that 82% of shoppers want a company’s brand values to match their own. When your company culture prioritizes DEIA practices and policies, you will attract the loyalty of customers who also value diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
What Are DEIA Requirements?
DEIA is more than a company value. DEIA practices and policies are required by law.
Federal DEIA Laws
Under the laws of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), it is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment against applicants or employees based on their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. These laws are amongst the many DEIA requirements that companies are required to comply with.
Some of the federal laws enforced by the EEOC include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amends Title VII to make it illegal to discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.
- The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace.
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) protects people who are 40 or older from discrimination because of age.
- Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments.
- The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information.
In addition, there are multiple laws regarding accessibility and practices when operating. In regards to physical ability requirements specifically, most are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires housing, public, and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, or altered in accordance with ADA standards for accessible design. However, there are many online and other ITC accessibility requirements that businesses should also be aware of.
The majority of businesses operating in 2023 have some sort of online presence, most in the form of a website.
Web accessibility is one place where you can demonstrate your company’s pro-accessibility commitment.
Web accessibility works to inclusively enable access to a website by all users, regardless of the user’s level of ability, condition, or circumstances. It focuses on eliminating barriers that can block a user’s access to a website and taking an active approach to creating a fully inclusive website for everyone, including people with visual, cognitive, physical, and auditory disabilities.
In Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, agencies are required to ensure that the ICT they develop, purchase, maintain, or use is accessible to people with disabilities.
Web accessibility ensures equal access to everyone, including employees or customers with disabilities. In addition to being the right thing to do, focusing on web accessibility is also the law.
The federal government and other surrounding agencies created a Government-wide IT Accessibility Program containing numerous guidelines and other best practices concerning creating accessible and inclusive website design. Topics covered include management, training, tools for creating accessible software, how to buy and sell accessible products, development and deployment stage, content creation/creator, and meeting host and presenter IT practices.
The Risks of DEIA-Washing
Yes, you should celebrate and announce your company’s focus on DEIA practices and policies, especially when DEIA is tightly ingrained in your company culture and values.
However, beware of the risk of “DEIA-washing.”
You may have heard of “green-washing” or “rainbow-washing” before. These terms are used when a company’s products, activities, or policies are portrayed as being more committed to a cause (environmentalism, corporate diversity, or LGBTQ+ rights) than the company’s culture actually is.
These terms are often used when a company’s performative advertisements and other marketing-based initiatives focus on social justice, but the company’s actions do not reflect the same values. Nike premiered Serena Williams as the face of their campaign promoting women in sports. However, the company refused to provide runner Alysia Montaño with paid maternity leave causing an uproar from those paying attention to the mismatch between marketing and action.
At one time, when raising awareness and promoting acceptance in workplaces was the gold standard, these advertisements were acceptable and even encouraged. However, society has started looking further than just promotion and is now seeking actual policy change and compensation to ensure an equitable workplace behind closed doors. Advertisements around DEIA tend only to raise the glass ceiling rather than provide the stones to overcome it.
The Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study found that 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, so it’s critical that you approach DEIA ethically.
Honoring and celebrating the difference among your employees is at the core of DEIA. It is a crucial factor determining a company’s success and should be a primary focus in running any business. However, many ways exist to fall short and provide inadequate support.
In the ever-evolving digital world, support is going to look a lot different and take a lot of different shapes and forms. It’s important for companies to stay up to date with DEIA laws and best practices and make sure they prioritize digital accessibility. Forming a diverse DEIA committee to assess any issues is excellent, but not every company can afford to, so it’s vital to readdress policies and culture, ensuring that your company is evolving rather than staying complicit. Overall, balancing all DEIA values and focusing equal effort on each pillar results in robust company practices and a diverse workplace where all employees — and customers — feel safe and appreciated.