• Published September 1, 2022
  • 15 Minute Read

5 Powerful Ways to Take REAL Action on DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion)

Considering DEI training? Learn how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace — and why we actually recommend EDI over DEI, with a focus on equity first, before diversity & inclusion.
Published September 1, 2022
5 Powerful Ways to Take REAL Action on DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) and How to Focus on DEI at Your Organization

People need new ways to think about and talk about diversity. Leaders need new skills to enable equity and inclusion in the workplace. And organizations need scalable ways to ensure that their diversity and inclusion initiatives avoid common mistakes and are solid and sustainable.

At CCL, we use our proprietary REAL framework to help companies, communities, and schools understand the dynamics and definition of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the workplace, in their particular organization and context — and to identify specific actions they can take to help them drive desired progress around their DEI initiatives.

Steps to Take Toward Meaningful Action on DEI

Introducing Our REAL™ Framework

At CCL, we create leadership solutions using our REAL framework to help shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices toward more equitable and inclusive leadership for individuals, teams, and organizations. Specifically, the REAL framework is a 4-step process:

Infographic: 5 Powerful Ways to Take REAL Action on DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) - REAL Framework

  1. Reveal relevant opportunities.
  2. Elevate equity.
  3. Activate diversity.
  4. Lead inclusively.

1. Reveal relevant opportunities.

The first step is about discovery — not setting an agenda or duplicating diversity initiatives that seemed effective in other organizations. It involves gaining awareness of the types of diversity within and across groups, and the context in which diversity, equity, and inclusion play out for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.

In order to set a direction, create alignment, and generate commitment to DEI initiatives in the workplace or in other types of organizations, top leaders should take the first steps: articulate their individual and collective perspective, identity, values, and culture; consider how experiences of power and privilege may affect their approach and effectiveness — and that of others; and evaluate how dynamics of DEI may affect their marketplace and their business strategy.

By exploring their specific context, senior leaders can engage others in the organization to identify the most relevant opportunities for change, and then select 2-3 strategic actions that will drive the desired results.

2. Elevate equity.

When discussing diversity initiatives in the workplace or in other organizations, many professionals reference the term DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. At CCL, we recognize this terminology, but we prefer to shift the order to EDI, placing equity before diversity and inclusion — for a reason.

You may see us use the terms interchangeably; however, our belief is that without equity, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are laudable, but not sustainable. So, what is equity? Equity is providing all people with fair and contextually appropriate opportunities and resources that are required to attain their full potential.

To make progress on DEI, senior leaders first need to acknowledge societal inequities and recognize that their organization isn’t a level playing field.

People enter the world of work and advance through their careers with unevenness of advantage, opportunity, privilege, and power — so what is “fair opportunity” is not the same for everyone. When organizational leaders express their motivation, as well as acknowledge any barriers, for countering inequity; set clear goals toward greater equity; and then take action, they signal a commitment that becomes the foundation of the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

3. Activate diversity.

Diversity is the collective of differences and similarities that includes individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, and behaviors.

Activating that diversity is a process that involves recognizing and engaging differences within the employee and customer base. It equips managers and teams to explore the impact of diversity on perspectives, assumptions, and approaches, and identify ways to enhance the contribution of all.

And, it includes defining expectations or metrics and setting clear goals.

4. Lead inclusively.

Inclusion requires active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to promote the full participation and sense of belonging of every employee, customer, and strategic partner. It involves policies and practices, but also the ability to envision and enact new ways of leading.

Across levels and functions, leaders need to learn what is now required, interpreting inclusive leadership for their various groups or for different roles. They also need tools, resources, and support as they improve their ability to identify and mitigate bias, respect differences, build empathetic relationships, foster allyship, manage conflict, and bring out the best in others.

Access Our Webinar!

Learn how organizations focused on DEI can move beyond cosmetic promises to making meaningful progress towards lasting, systemic change. Watch our experts and client voices as they discuss the critical need for organizational accountability when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Considering DEI Training for Your Organization?

5 Powerful Ways to Take REAL Action on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

Creating sustainable workplace culture change requires an intentional approach and a shift in focus, from DEI to EDI.

Infographic: 5 Ways to Take Action on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) and DEI

Here are 5 powerful ways some of our clients are taking action to infuse their leadership and culture with the mindset, skillset, and tools needed to build greater equity, and then diversity and inclusion:

1. Change the conversation.

The inability to have meaningful conversations contributes significantly to the unproductive relationships that can sometimes develop across diversity divides. To work with those whose background and perspective is vastly different, or whose role or leadership style is at odds, people at every organizational level need to be able to have effective conversations.

Foster direct conversations about EDI to break down silos and communication barriers. Our Better Conversations Every Day™ program, for example, teaches leaders of all levels and roles in the organization how to listen for understanding and hold coaching conversations.

After all, better culture starts with better conversations, so by improving the quality of your organization’s everyday conversations, you’ll develop a culture of increased openness, respect for differences, and understanding — which will fuel better collaboration, more innovation, and greater effectiveness.

2. Map network connections across boundaries.

Make sure your team understands why they should collaborate across boundaries, and explore how you might span them more effectively.

Network analysis is one powerful tool to help people understand how they are inadvertently creating inequity or preventing the inclusion of diverse people and perspectives. Consider conducting a network analysis, beginning with data collection through a customized survey or other mechanisms such as email traffic, and then use those inputs to map patterns of relationship and interactions that are often hidden.

The results typically reveal over-reliance on a few people or groups, as well as those who are isolated or who have valuable or relevant expertise, perspective, or connections that are being underutilized.

Through an EDI / DEI perspective, leaders can see how unintentional bias is built into their networks and the way that creates limitations for themselves and their teams. Using this information, they can identify additional people or groups they are not accessing, set goals to diversify their network, and take steps to engage others and build connections across organizational silos.

Take Action: Go Beyond DEI Training at Your Organization

Move beyond raising awareness to take meaningful action on DEI and EDI at your organization. Address conscious and unconscious bias, build empathy, create a psychologically safe culture, and leverage the full potential of all your talent by partnering with us to craft a customized learning journey for your organization using our research-based topic modules.

Available leadership topics include Beyond Bias™, Communication Skills, Conflict Management, Emotional Intelligence & Empathy, Influencing Skills, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety & Trust, and more.

3. Boost coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring.

Often due to unconscious bias or systems of power in organizations, people who are not “like” their manager or the organization’s dominant leader type don’t have equitable access to the leaders who can steer them toward valuable experiences and support them through the inevitable challenges. As a result, they see their career progress stall.

Organizations can counter this subtle bias by implementing a coaching culture and developing the coaching skills of their employees, and by creating a network of champions to enable the development, contributions, and career growth of all employees:

  • Managers can ensure all their direct reports are heard, given feedback, provided support, and offered opportunities.
  • Mentors can provide guidance, feedback, and support, whether around a specific need or for ongoing development.
  • Sponsors, typically senior leaders, can be effective advocates who actively work to advance the careers of their “sponsorees.”
  • Talent Management & HR can communicate expectations around the above to help managers, mentors, and sponsors understand the important role they play in making organizational DEI initiatives successful, and provide access to DEI training, resources, and tools.

4. Analyze talent practices.

Talent processes reflect and create norms and can be levers for system-wide change. Review systems and practices related to recruiting, hiring, and promoting talent. Audit compensation data. Examine employee development practices, asking tough questions about access to needed assessment, challenge, and support:

  • Who has access to on-the-job learning and key assignments?
  • Who is tapped for training or leadership experiences?
  • Who is receiving coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship?
  • What assumptions are being made about individuals’ current capability and future potential?
  • Are different standards applied to some people or groups?

Organizations should also help managers and teams evaluate the practices and policies that create the structures for how work gets done and shape the employee experience — and look for ways that bias creeps in. Are there ways to move beyond bias at your organization? Consider unspoken norms, scheduling, networking opportunities, and work arrangements — all potential areas for rethinking and improvement.

We can partner with you to shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices toward more equitable, diverse, and inclusive teams and organizations. Learn more about our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practice and solutions.

5. Go deeper on identity.

The concept of social identity can help people understand similarities and differences and their impact on the workplace. Social identity comprises the parts of a person’s identity that come from belonging to groups, including (but not limited to) age, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, education, physical ability, and socioeconomic status. It fuels our distinct perspective and unique value, and often defines sources of power and privilege.

Much of inequity is driven by long-established structures, unconscious assumptions, and experiences tied to social identity.

Through communication, EDI / DEI training, and conversation, people can learn to recognize how their own social identity subtly influences the way they interact with others or the biases they unconsciously hold. They can also learn and consider how the dynamics of social identity may be shaping others’ experiences.

By defining diversity through a lens of social identity, all employees have a way to put themselves into a discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In closing, most organizations are looking for new, more effective ways to attract, retain, engage, and enable a diverse workforce. By identifying a few key actions in their DEI initiatives based on the unique context and needs of their organization, leaders can fast-forward positive, more equitable outcomes and begin to fully see, appreciate, and engage all their talent.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with you to shift your organization’s focus on DEI and move your DEI training initiatives forward so mindsets, behaviors, and practices are more equitable, diverse, and inclusive. Learn more about our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practice and solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions About Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) in the Workplace

Through our programs, research, and decades of experience developing leaders around the world, we hear common questions relating to the definition of DEI, as well as the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. Below are several frequently asked questions, and our answers.

  • What does DEI mean in the workplace?
    In a workplace setting, DEI relates to actions taken in order to shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices toward equitable and inclusive leadership for individuals, teams, and organizations. At CCL, we prefer the term EDI rather than DEI, to emphasize the importance of starting with equity to promote diversity and inclusion, and we use our evidence-based REAL™ framework to help companies, communities, and schools understand the dynamics and interplay of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, and in their particular context. People need new ways to think about and talk about these topics, and leaders need new skills to enable them — which is why we identify specific actions they can take to help drive sustainable change.
  • What are ways to take action on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace?
    Infusing your organization’s leadership culture with the awareness, mindset, skillset, and tools needed to enhance DEI is vital, and creating systemic workplace culture change requires a systemic approach. To successfully tackle systemic equity, diversity, and inclusion challenges and achieve meaningful progress, organizations must be willing to assess and approach their DEI efforts in multiple phases and at multiple levels. You can learn more about ways to take action to create REAL workplace culture change with a systemic approach to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Are equity and equality the same thing?
    While the terms “equity” and “equality” are often used interchangeably, their meanings are quite different. Equity is defined as fair and contextually appropriate access to the resources and opportunities required for every individual, group, organization, and community to attain their full potential. Equality, on the other hand, involves giving everyone access to the exact same resources or opportunities, regardless of their unique circumstances. To accelerate change and positive impact, organizations must give equity top priority. Without a focus on equity, efforts to promote diversity & inclusion are laudable, but not sustainable.
  • What is the difference in definition between DEI and EDI?
    When discussing diversity initiatives, you may hear professionals reference both the terms DEI and EDI. While both of these terms are acronyms to describe the concepts of  diversity, equity, and inclusion, we prefer the term EDI, as it places equity before diversity and inclusion — for a reason. At CCL, our belief is that without equity, efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are not sustainable. To enact equity is to provide all people with fair opportunities to attain their full potential.
  • CCL uses the “REAL” framework, what is the R about?
    Revealing Relevant Opportunities is perhaps the most important, yet underutilized, strategy when approaching DEI initiatives. This is the ability to slow down, take a step back, and examine what there is to be curious about. It takes on a process of discovery to better understand what is needed as it relates to DEI work. DEI is not one-size-fits-all. Every organization has unique sets of challenges based on their context and history. Slowing down to discover what the needs are can help avoid backlash or backfiring of DEI training initiatives. Most organizations do not take the time to do that important step.

More questions? Our experts are here to help. Let’s have a conversation!

  • Published September 1, 2022
  • 15 Minute Read
  • Download as PDF

Written by

Leading Effectively Staff
Leading Effectively Staff

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

What to Explore Next

Leading Effectively Article
Does Your Organization’s Diversity & Inclusion Statement Match Its Commitment?

Are the pledges and promises made by your organization cosmetic platitudes, or authentic commitments to sustainable action? Learn best practices for an EDI statement and approach based on our research findings.

Leading Effectively Article
Kick-Start Your Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives With a Focus on Equity

Learn strategies to tackle diversity and inclusion challenges and avoid the most common mistakes in your organization’s DEI efforts.

Leading Effectively Article
Supporting Transgender Employees: Advice to Recruit and Retain Talent

To benefit from diverse perspectives in your workforce, your organization needs to create an affirming and inclusive culture. Here are tips for HR leaders to recruit, retain, and support transgender employees.

Leading Effectively Article
Supporting Working Parents: 5 Ways Organizations Can Support Parenting & Leadership

For many working parents and other caregiving employees, achieving work-life balance feels nearly impossible. Learn how organizations can foster employee wellbeing by supporting both caregiving and work responsibilities.

Leading Effectively Article
What Is Allyship? Your Questions Answered

In order to become better allies, we must focus on behaviors that help create more inclusive environments. Discover answers to commonly questions about allyship, and the role leaders can play.

Related Solutions

About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world — including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.