Skip to navigation
employees standing with arms around each other
7 Min Read

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: Strategies from the HR Superstars Summit

Nicole Klemp

At our 2nd annual HR Superstars Summit, 15Five’s growing community of strategic HR leaders came together to share and learn about winning strategies and best practices in 2022. 

The event concluded on a high note, with a panel of experts on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). The panel shared their insights on what it takes to build diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces, and how HR leaders can work to advance their organizations’ DEIB initiatives. 

Led by Polly Stocks, HR Business Partner at 15Five, the panel also included Dion Bullock, DEI programs at Broadridge Financial; Cara Pelletier, Sr. Director of DEI at 15Five, and Sienna Brown, Global Director of DEI at Power to Fly.

Read on to learn what DEIB means to the panelists, why it must be seen as more than merely metrics, and their tips for driving real change throughout your entire organization.

What is DEIB and what does it mean for HR leaders?

Polly kicked off the discussion by asking the panel to share what DEIB means to them. Dion broke it down with a simple but powerful definition for each piece of the acronym:

  • Diversity: Diversity means representation. Are there people who like me in the organization? (And on the flipside, are there people who don’t look like me?)
  • Equity: Do people like me have access to opportunities?
  • Inclusion: Do I have an opportunity to impact decisions that influence my workplace experience?
  • Belonging: If I show up as my true authentic self at work, will I be judged or need to assimilate? Or will I be accepted just as I am?

To further define belonging, Cara shared a great quote from author Brené Brown: “Fitting in is the opposite of belonging.” She added that compared to diversity metrics, it’s harder to measure inclusivity and belonging. HR practitioners and DEIB champions must take the time to consider the entire experience that people have at work. 

Cara also shared that as an adult she was diagnosed with autism and ADHD, and that the ability to work from home allows her to be her most productive self. At home, she can limit distractions and create an environment that helps her focus. This is just one example of how considering the needs of people with disabilities or those that thrive in different environments should be considered.

Compassion, empathy, and allyship

The panel also dug into the differences between compassion and empathy, and what it means to be an ally. 

Sienna discussed how empathy means understanding how someone else feels, actively listening to what they’re saying, and asking how you can help. “I hear you; thank you for sharing. What can I do to support you?”

Cara added how empathy is important and powerful — but not sufficient. “How can you take that empathy and then take action as an ally?” The panel agreed that compassion can have a connotation of pity, and what people really need is someone to understand them and use their own privilege to take meaningful action on issues of DEIB.

Taking a holistic approach to DEIB (not checking boxes)

The panel all agreed that the wrong approach to DEIB is to treat it as a siloed initiative or a list of boxes that can be checked off. As Sienna put it, “When you see me, you might just see a Black woman. But there are so many other parts of my identity and intersectionality that you will not be able to see in a box or on paper.” 

HR leaders must think about DEIB more holistically. It should be integrated into every company process, procedure, and action, and be embedded into the very DNA of the organizational culture.

Dion also emphasized the importance of not operating out of fear. He advises HR leaders not to let company executives off the hook for avoiding DEIB work because they’re scared of making a mistake or saying the wrong thing. Champions should hold their leaders accountable for putting in the effort, even when it’s not always easy or straightforward.

Dion also reminded HR practitioners to recognize your transferable skills. “Recruitment is still recruitment; talent management is still talent management,” he said. You can still do your job but put a DEIB lens on those functions, to ensure you’re making an impact in the areas you can affect change. It’s all those small changes that add up to real progress.

Tying DEIB to company performance and building a coalition

A common roadblock for HR leaders trying to make an impact on DEIB is a leadership team that isn’t fully bought in. “DEIB practitioners are pretty exhausted at this point, explaining to people that DEIB isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business,” Cara said. “But there are still leaders who haven’t made that connection.” 

Cara referenced Google’s Project Aristotle, in which they researched what makes an effective team. They found that the most important driver of an effective team is psychological safety. 

Psychological safety in the workplace refers to being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career. Creating a work environment that is more inclusive where people feel they can belong is an inherently safer environment for all employees, and thus, more productive.

As Sienna adds, sometimes people at the top of the organization may need more motivation in order to understand the experiences of others, especially if they themselves are not part of a marginalized group. “People who are right-handed probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the experiences of people who are left-handed. Unless maybe you know someone close to you who is left-handed.” 

To get more people involved in DEIB efforts at your organization, Cara suggests focusing on “the persuadable” population. She said there are essentially three categories of people: 

  • The true believers: People who can easily be made into DEIB champions. 
  • The anti-DEIB: People who would actively work against efforts (There’s no use wasting time on these folks).
  • The persuadable: Everyone else who isn’t actively championing DEIB but could be persuaded to take an interest. (Cara says this is who HR leaders should focus their efforts on.)

DEIB strategies in practice: Examples from the panel

The HR Superstars Community is all about sharing real tips and ideas with one another, so Polly asked the panelists to share some examples of things they’re working on in their own companies as DEIB champions.

Dion: One of the things I’ve been working on with our HR team is outlining our employee lifecycle and the processes in place. How do we attract talent, how does that work, and where are there gaps? Then creating a strategy from there and making it more integrated into the existing processes, rather than implementing DEIB as something separate. We cannot do this alone and we have to work in lockstep to affect change. 

Cara: I’ve been spending my time on comparing 15Five’s current policies and practices against a few of the major benchmarks. I’m looking at our benefits plan against the Corporate Equality Index which is a measure for LGBTQ+ equality. I’m also evaluating all our policies and practices against the Disability Equality Index and the Gender Equality Index. This helps me get a sense of what we’re doing well, where we can get some easy wins, and where we have more work to do for sustainable change. 

Sienna: We all may be fighting for different things, so something that’s so important to think about is what is our focus and not trying to do it all. Before we invite folks over for dinner, how does it look inside the house? Have we cleaned up? So that when we’re inviting people over, they actually want to stay.

Join our community

As a member of 15Five’s HR Superstars community, you’ll connect with peers and experts, get access to valuable resources, and continue growing to make an impact in your organization. By joining the community, you can also watch the entire HR Superstars Summit — including the DEIB panel — on demand.

Join now >