There's no question on the importance—and upside—of taking diversity and inclusion efforts seriously. Here are a few recommendations on ways to be proactive. Together, they can make a huge difference in any organization's efforts to truly live by these values.

Don’t let exceptions undermine your values

Here’s an uncomfortable scenario: A key engineer at your organization clearly violates your company's values or expectations. Do you keep the employee in order to ship the product they’re working on without delay? Or do you instead adhere to company values and part ways with the employee?

Companies that keep that employee typically grow to regret it. If they’re allowed to stay until the product is shipped, it’s a clear message that shipping is more important than company values and coworkers. This normalizes and encourages the bad behavior, which can lead to more of it.

Optimizing for short-term needs creates a long-term problem. Diversity, equity, and inclusion issues can't be swept under a rug.

Get ahead of issues before they explode

While CEOs and founders may think diversity and inclusion efforts can be delegated, it’s important that leaders set the standard because their behavior—and prioritization of DEI initiatives—sets the tone for the rest of the company.

In addition, when there are issues, having swiftly and decisive reactions is important. Addressing problems as soon as possible is important: the longer you wait, the more likely the behavior or issue is to proliferate. Employees should have many comfortable ways of reporting violations through various pathways: their manager, other managers, HR, executives, even directly to the CEO. 

Invest in diversity 

There are a few common practices that can be initiated to promote a culture of inclusivity and bring diversity to the core of your team so it can grow from there:

1. Have a diversity vision.

Set targets for the long term, and build a timeline to reach them. For example, commit to matching projected US demographics by a certain date, or to certain percentages of women, non-binary, and people of color.  

All founders should value this guiding principle: Get all the qualified and capable candidates that reflect the workforce and your customer base, and recognize that it requires a diverse and inclusive team today. Then figure out a plan to get there.

2. Invest in diversity as early as possible.

Early diversity at a company is building the muscle for recruiting outside of your immediate network. These muscles will come in handy because companies that don’t learn to look beyond their immediate friend group are setting themselves up for failure.

When you develop this early on, it becomes a flywheel that propels itself over time as employees from diverse backgrounds attract and recruit new hires from diverse backgrounds more readily—and recruiting becomes easier, not harder, over time.

When it comes to creating diverse teams, the sooner the better. As a team keeps growing, it becomes more difficult for people who are not part of the homogeneous group to join, because they’re likely to look at the team and feel like the odd one out.

3. Measure diversity across the entire process

Companies often have biases during hiring processes, accepting this and addressing it actively is critical to improving. It can come down to one or two people that undermine the whole process by blocking hires.

How can you find these biased processes and stop them?

  • Step back and look at how you’re hiring, and where candidates come from.
  • Make the process fairer across every stage of hiring, and set shared standards for how feedback is given.
  • Track diversity levels at all stages of the process (initial pool, interviewees, callbacks, final candidates, offer recipients, new employees) and in attrition.
  • Counter biases with technology tools, training, and reminders.

If your pipeline is not representative, it can be helpful to see where things are getting stuck by tracking the demographics of every stage and seeing where the numbers stagnate. Is there a specific hiring manager or group that’s a consistent obstacle? If so, is that person just a bad interviewer, or are they problematically unfair? Are they unfair in other ways, too?

Analyzing the hiring process often uncovers hidden problems in a company, and companies are better off finding and solving these sooner than later.

Think inclusively at every turn

From defining norms on speaking in meetings to team activities, being inclusive is a mindset. This comes to light even in the most innocuous activities such as team bonding. Even little things like the time of day or type of activity can impact who feels able to participate. If your main source of connection is a post-work happy hour, then employees with commitments at home or who abstain from drinking may not feel able to join. Executives need to actively ensure inclusive thinking is integrated into everyday activities.

Hold everyone accountable—including yourself

Educate employees on expectations and then hold people accountable to them. Start by having candid discussions about culture, diversity, inclusion, bias, and micro-aggressions. This can also be a forum for employees to discuss their prior experiences, feelings, and to learn from each other. It also ensures that there is level-setting on expectations and familiarity with these topics.

Obviously, some types of behavior shouldn’t get a second chance, but setting clear boundaries and making sure people know what they are can lead to a massive improvement. Executives have to take the lead on setting standards for behavior and establish conduits for accountability.