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Diversity Management in the Workplace (D&I)

Diversity Management in the Workplace (D&I)

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Date created
August 24, 2023
Last updated:
April 7, 2024
5 min read
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Key takeaways

• Diversity, equity, and inclusion are crucial topics in today's society, driven by social, political, and economic developments.

• Diversity refers to the range of differences among individuals, equity ensures fair treatment, and inclusion focuses on creating a welcoming and accepting environment.

• Companies with diverse and inclusive workplaces experience higher productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

• Diversity training is essential for promoting a diverse and inclusive company culture and should be part of a holistic approach.

• In addition to training, activities like team building, workshops, and voluntary work can help foster inclusivity and understanding among colleagues.

There’s no doubt that diversity is a topic of conversation in our society. Driven by numerous social, political, and economic developments, the demand for equity, inclusion, and diversity at work has even exploded recently. This poses a number of challenges to organizations, but luckily at the same time, it also creates a lot of opportunities. But what exactly is the difference between diversity and inclusion? Why is it so important? And how can you encourage your teams and leaders to start having diversity-related conversations and challenge unconscious thought processes? It’s time to take action!

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

The world we live in is becoming increasingly diverse. When we take a look at the Netherlands, 25.9% of the Dutch population has a migration background (CBS, August 2022), one in ten people has a moderate or severe disability, and although atheists and agnostics now form a majority among the Dutch, there are still large numbers of people who identify with some form of religion. In the past decades, our society has become an interesting blend of people with different cultural backgrounds, beliefs, gender identities, sexual orientations, and more. It only makes sense that the diversity of a population is reflected in the workplace and that every single individual is offered equal chances and opportunities –  regardless of their race, color, nationality, religion, disability, age, sex, or the way they identify as a person.

The truth is, although diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been high on the agenda of many companies and organizations for years now, there is still a lot to win. Various studies show that despite the numerous initiatives to improve workplace diversity, an inclusive culture in which everyone truly feels at home is not so obvious yet. Why? DEI is quite a complex concept: it’s not only about business strategy and corporate communication, but it also involves shared beliefs and values, transparency, and company-wide accountability. In many cases, a profound shift in mindset and behavior is required at all levels: from the CEO to the HR department and the office canteen staff. Besides, many organizations still struggle to measure the impact of their diversity management strategy and are often unsure about which qualitative and quantitative data to use when analyzing how they perform.

Roughly 80% of companies pay lip service to the importance of diversity and inclusion, but do little to hold themselves accountable for measurable DEI results

Global research report conducted by The Josh Bersin Company in 2021

However, the added value of a diverse workforce is undeniable. Companies that are actively engaged in workforce diversity management show  higher levels of productivity, innovation, creativity, and customer satisfaction. In fact, McKinsey, who has studied the topic for more than a decade, found that diverse companies, teams, and boards directly drive up to 25% greater financial performance and do much better than their non-inclusive counterparts.

What are DEI and D&I?

To truly understand the subject of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, we first need to take a closer look at the DEI definition (also referred to as D&I). The terms are often used together but the exact meaning is not always clear. In fact, while being used interchangeably, they are actually quite different and one does not always represent the other. So what is the exact meaning of DEI?

What is diversity?

Broadly speaking, diversity is about the ways in which we vary from each other.  Some of these differences we were born with or are clearly visible: think for example of the color of someone’s skin. Others are less explicit and can also arise later in life: beliefs, interests, politics, religion, sexual orientation, educational level, socioeconomic status. In short, diversity covers the full range of differences between people, but more importantly, it should be about appreciating and respecting those differences. For a workplace to be diverse, it will typically include a mix of individuals who vary in age, gender, and cultural background, and who have various levels of skills, talents, and work experience.

What is equity?

In effect, equity means that everyone in the workplace is treated impartial and just, regardless of their cultural, sexual, and educational background or disabilities. Ideally, a company or organization that promotes equity protects its people from being discriminated against. It means that all employees are assessed fairly and get equally paid when they perform the same type of work. This also applies to job candidates: they should be hired based on their capabilities and talents, using a recruitment process that is free from biases. Asking questions about someone’s race, sexual orientation, or religion during the interviews can actually be against the law.

It’s important here to note the difference between equality and equity. They may sound similar, but where equality means everybody is given exactly the same opportunities and resources, equity goes a step further and recognizes that every person has different circumstances, and therefore employees should be offered varying levels of support to achieve an equal outcome.

difference between equality and equity

What is inclusion?

If diversity is about the ‘mix of differences’, then inclusion is about the way how we deal with that mix. It means embracing and celebrating all types of people, approaching every single person with an open mind, without any barriers and unconscious biases. It also means creating a company culture where people can be their authentic selves, where they have a sense of belonging and are valued and appreciated. In an inclusive workplace:

  • Everyone feels safe, welcome, and accepted
  • Everyone can participate and has a say  
  • People dare to speak their mind without being judged for it
  • People interact, connect and collaborate with each other in a constructive and positive way

The difference between diversity and inclusion

Although the difference is subtle, diversity is not quite the same as inclusion. If you only pay attention to increasing diversity in a team or organization and do nothing about improving inclusion, chances are that people will not feel valued and quit their jobs in the blink of an eye. Where diversity is more about numbers and percentages, inclusion is about behavior, values, and beliefs.

For example, a company can be very diverse in terms of employees with various backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, etc., but if there’s limited inclusion these employees may feel as if they don’t belong and can’t be their true selves. On the other hand,  a company with a fairly homogenous workforce can still foster high inclusion.

Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance

Diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers

Diversity management

As a result of globalization, the impact of Covid-19, and a number of social, political, and economic issues the world is facing today, the demand for diversity, equality, and inclusion has exploded in recent years. In the Netherlands, the ‘Participation Act’, effective since 2015, aims to ensure that everyone can find work, including people who are more vulnerable or who have disabilities. More recently, a new law was introduced in the Netherlands, aiming to improve gender diversity on corporate boards by better balancing the ratio of men and women at top levels of large private companies. This too has driven the need for inclusive work environments.

According to various studies, companies that employ a diverse workforce — and empower it with an inclusive culture — often perform better on many levels:

  • They are more innovative, creative, and able to solve problems better. That’s because diversified teams have different points of view, are open to fresh ideas, and have fewer blind spots
  • They make better use of the job market because they recruit all types of talent
  • They enjoy a happier and loyal workforce, higher productivity, and higher retention rates
  • They see higher levels of customer satisfaction and increased customer loyalty because they understand what is going on among various target groups and appeal to a broad audience
  • They report higher turnover and profitability rates
  • They experience that demonstrating corporate social responsibility has positive effects on their brand reputation

52% of all adult online consumers consider a company’s values when making a purchase. That rate is even higher among the Millennial and Gen-Z generations, who are incredibly socially conscious in their purchasing habits

Forbes Research, 2018

As more and more organizations – big and small – recognize these benefits, many have put Diversity Management on the agenda. However, it’s not enough to just talk about it. It’s also vital to manage the challenges that come with a diverse workplace appropriately. These include, for example:

  • Intercultural communication problems
  • Cultural misunderstandings
  • Increased conflict because of different values and beliefs
  • Slower decision-making processes
  • Unequal opportunities
  • Discrimination and exclusion
  • Misrepresentation of social groups

Practicing the right diversity management strategies requires effective communication, a growth mindset, and a deep understanding of the way different types of people and teams can empower each other. It also involves perseverance, because D&I goals cannot be achieved overnight, and a strong set of leadership skills, as managers (from first-time leaders to senior management) play a vital role in demonstrating an inclusive mindset. They can be the change agents that help companies shift the gear towards a happier, welcoming workplace.

Check our D&ITraining

Why is diversity training important?

Diversity and inclusion training is a key component in supporting diverse and inclusive company culture. Many companies still have a narrow view of diversity, often focusing only on gender diversity or diversity of ethnical origin. Other companies do have good intentions but simply lack the tools and knowledge. Too often, their efforts get lost in all the focus on hiring metrics, promotion metrics, and equal pay. Then there are organizations that see DEI as a business strategy to boost a positive image to the outside world. The question is: are they just going through the motions, or do they truly embrace the idea of inclusive company culture? After all, DEI is not a project that you can tick off when certain percentages and numbers are hit, it’s an ongoing process.

According to Gartner research, the number of HR leaders identifying DEI efforts as a top priority was 1.8 times higher in 2020 than in 2019. Gartner analysis reveals an almost 800% increase in job postings for dedicated diversity recruiters.

Harvard Business Review, 2021

It all boils down to this: companies who fail to take steps to improve matters of diversity and inclusion not only miss out on a talented workforce but also hurt their reputation and economic prosperity. Simply throwing a mix of people together and just waiting and seeing how they get by doesn’t guarantee high performance and mutual understanding. On the contrary: it will do the opposite.

That’s why creating an inclusive work environment requires a tailored roadmap that is well thought through, one that balances the interests of both employee and employer. Inclusive communication, an open-minded approach to recruitment processes, and investing in diversity and inclusion training in the workplace can help to achieve this.

D&I training courses should touch all levels within the company to be truly effective:

  • The training of managers and leaders will help them to recognize the qualities of a diverse staff and to use them effectively. This so-called inclusive leadership will help their team members to feel respected, confident, and inspired
  • The training of employees will help them to get better insights into the qualities of colleagues with a different background from themselves, resulting in a better understanding, mutual respect, and a positive work environment

diverse and inclusive team

Is diversity training effective?

HR leaders and D&I managers who want to get started with diversity will find that corporate diversity training can be an effective and valuable tool to create a future-proof organization where every individual feels at home. When it comes to D&I training, it helps to realize that it’s not a matter of simply pushing facts and figures in a classroom and you’re done, but it requires a whole set of diversity training activities that include peer-to-peer discussions, giving people the right tools to change negative behavior and beliefs, and creating awareness around workplace diversity issues, like micro-aggression, bullying, gender gaps, age gaps and more. It’s also important to be aware that in order to be truly effective, workplace diversity training should be part of a holistic approach. This approach also includes the way a business communicates internally and externally, how they view well-being and deal with burnout and stress at work, and on what level business leaders truly understand and represent a diverse and inclusive environment. It must become a permanent part of the business strategy and form one of the pillars of good governance.

Measuring the impact of diversity management and inclusivity at work can be challenging. Sure, you can analyze demographic data to get an idea of how your company is doing in terms of diversity, but what does that say about inclusion? How do you measure sentiment?

A recent publication in Harvard Business Review describes that Gartner set out to address this challenge by building a model of inclusion, based on interviews with DEI executives and an extensive review of the academic literature and existing indices. This research identified seven key dimensions of inclusion: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. With this knowledge, Gartner states, leaders, can tailor the organization’s approach to ensure they are developing and implementing the strategies that will have the most impact.

Employees who perceive their organization is committed to, and supportive of, diversity and who feel included, are 80% more likely to believe they work in a high performing organization, in comparison to a workplace perceived as having low commitment and support for diversity and employees not feeling included

Deloitte Research Report, 2013

Diversity training program

At Lepaya, we believe in D&I as part of a corporate-wide culture that can be created through dialogue, knowledge sharing, and challenging beliefs around unconscious bias. We advocate the fact that in inclusive organizations, all people are welcome – but not every behavior is accepted. It’s quite healthy to confront colleagues when they are being discriminatory, misogynistic, or offensive to others. So is accepting to disagree with each other and challenging your own truths and beliefs.

In our diversity and inclusion training courses, we cover topics like:

  • Demystifying Diversity & Inclusion: dive into what D&I means for organizational culture and how it helps your teams flourish
  • Unconscious Bias: improve inclusiveness in the workplace by becoming more aware of your unconscious biases and learning how you can recognize and mitigate them
  • Sincere conversations: help employees develop communication skills that will encourage inclusion at work for everyone

Learn more about ourD&ITraining

Diversity and inclusion workshop ideas

Next to D&I training courses, there are additional ways to drive inclusive company culture. Team building activities, company outings, and workshops can be a great way to get to know and understand each other better, and can even lead to surprising insights. It’s a creative and fun way to discover shared interests and celebrate differences.

  • Celebrating different holidays

In organizations with a large diversity of cultures, it’s likely there’s a whole pallet of different holidays that colleagues celebrate. To acknowledge that fact, find out which holidays people would like to see recognized in the office, and celebrate together. How fun it would be to find out more about the ‘lucky red envelope ritual’ that comes with Chinese New Year, or taste the sweets that are traditionally shared during Eid al Fitr, the religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan? Make sure that if you decide to throw a party, you also serve non-alcoholic drinks!

  • Cooking workshops

There’s no better way to feel connected with other people than by cooking and eating together. Nowadays, there are numerous types of cooking workshops you can attend with the whole team – from Moroccan to Vietnamese, from typical Dutch to Caribbean cuisine.

  • Voluntary work

Use all those different talents and strengths in the company to participate in community service projects, do voluntary work together, or host a charity event. It’s a great way to learn how to appreciate each other.

  • Playing games together

From 30 seconds to Hints, from escape rooms to communication exercises, playing games is a great way to intensify bonds between colleagues or introduce new members to the team.

  • Open dialogue meetups

At Lepaya, our teams get together every month during an Open Dialogue meetup. The concept is that employees are offered a safe space to have an open conversation on topics that aren’t talked about often but may weigh heavily on their shoulders. Some topics that were covered recently: invisible disabilities, mental well-being in the workplace, and families with trans children.

You might also like: 7 Best Ideas for Virtual Team Building Activities

Just make sure that before choosing an activity, it helps to take stock of everyone’s abilities. Teammates with speech, vision, or hearing impairments may feel excluded in a game where players are blindfolded and communicate without looking at each other. Physically active games may exclude physically disabled teammates. This way, everyone on the team can participate.


The question of how we deal with all our differences is exciting. It can also be difficult and challenging, but if managed well it holds the promise of better understanding different backgrounds and lifestyles, it creates mutual respect and builds stronger relationships. Employees that experience a sense of belonging and can be their authentic selves at work, are likely to develop their talents and maximize their potential – resulting in an engaged, loyal and productive workforce.

In many organizations, HR policy and organizational culture are not optimally geared to a diverse workforce yet. There is still a lot to gain there, as it is clear that the success of a company for a large part depends on its ability to embrace cultural diversity and advocate for an inclusive workplace. Of course, the ‘perfect’ inclusion plan does not exist, it’s an ongoing process that requires effort and genuine interest in others.

Yet, with the right tools and mindset, companies that invest in diversity training programs as part of a holistic approach, increase their chances of success.

Encourage your employees and leaders to start having diversity-related conversations and challenge their unconscious thought processes. Learn more about Lepaya and our Power Skills training, and be sure to get in touch!

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About Lepaya

Lepaya is a provider of Power Skills training that combines online and offline learning. Founded by René Janssen and Peter Kuperus in 2018 with the perspective that the right training, at the right time, focused on the right skill, makes organizations more productive. Lepaya has trained thousands of employees.

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