Diversity & Inclusion

How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion Using Employee Connections and Mentorship

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Ten Thousand Coffees
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How well do you think you're fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in your organization?

If you're struggling, you're not alone — measuring the success of DE&I initiatives can be challenging.

There's often a disconnect between the progress managers and higher-ups feel they're making, and employee’s thoughts on that progress. In fact, only 40% of employees feel their managers do a good job of fostering inclusivity at work. 

Nearly 60% of employees think their companies could do better when it comes to diversity in their organizations. No matter how far your organization has come, the research shows there's always room for improvement.

It's not enough to just implement new policies into the employee handbook and bring them up at the next all hands. What really matters are the actions organizations take to prove they're serious about their diversity and inclusion efforts, and those actions often require getting everyone involved.

Research from Professor Stephanie J. Creary, an identity and diversity scholar currently at the Wharton School, suggests that it's especially important to spread the responsibility of DEI work across the organization. 

So what are some steps you can take to tangibly improve diversity and inclusion in your organization, and get everyone involved in making your business a better place to work for all? Read on to find out.

Diversity and inclusion in action: get employees involved

What's the best way to show that your company is serious about diversity and inclusion? Put it into action. But there's a catch — by definition, D&I only works well when everyone feels included and involved. 

Here's a few suggestions for pulling all your employees into your organization's diversity and inclusion efforts.

Make the most of employee resource groups

One way to spark company-wide involvement with DE&I efforts is to create employee resource groups (ERG).

While 90% of the Fortune 500 have ERGs, far fewer make the most of them, and many smaller organizations don’t even have them in place.

These groups give employees space to discuss aspects of their identity and culture, and how it relates to their experiences in the workplace. They also help employees who identify with a specific affinity group to create a space where they feel seen, heard, and included within the workplace.

Best practices for employee resource groups

  • Executive support is the #1 piece of the puzzle needed to drive adoption and success in the company. If you don’t have top-down support, the ERG is unlikely to be effective.
  • A close second is setting SMART goals internally. Without goals, you won’t be able to define success.
  • Select ERG sponsors who are personally committed to diversity and inclusion, and hold them accountable. If nobody is accountable, goals are unlikely to be achieved.
  • Make sure the ERG is sufficiently resourced to achieve the company’s goals. Underfunded ERGs are being set-up for failure.

These points make a great start, but are really only the tip of the iceberg. To really dig deep, check out this curated research report for other resources to help your ERG efforts.

Successful employee resource groups can also serve as a platform of education and action for your whole company. For example, a women's ERG can:

  • Discuss issues that specifically impact women in the workplace, both generally and within your company.
  • Create networking and professional development opportunities for women to grow in their careers.
  • Give allies an identifiable space where they can learn about issues impacting women and show their support by getting involved with the group's initiatives.

Supporting ERGs creates a safe space for employees to discuss the actions they want to see from your organization and ideas of policies to implement that reflect their needs.

Implement a diversity task force

Beyond ERGs, implementing a diversity task force is one of the most effective ways to meet goals like increasing representation in management. They don’t just create social accountability, but they get the right people looking into potential bottlenecks in your DE&I efforts.

Task force members can look into hiring methods and initiatives, guidelines for promotions, volunteering and mentoring efforts, and more to identify potential areas for improvement.

Studies have found that companies who implement a diversity task force see a 9-30% increase in female and minority group management over the next 5 years. Moving in the right direction!

Belonging in the workplace

Deloitte's Human Capital Trends outlines three key factors in creating a sense of belonging at work: Comfort, Connection and Contribution. They should feel comfortable at work. They should feel connected to their coworkers and teams. And they should have a sense of contribution to their business outcomes.

31% of people identified connection as the biggest driver of belonging in the workplace, but how do you create connection when everyone is working remotely?

Create opportunities for mentorship, sponsorship, and networking

Mentorship programs allow employees to create connections specifically focused on career advancement and drive greater feelings of inclusion.

Mentoring also has a direct impact on diversity in management. Even if you don't implement a mentorship program with an eye for diversity, starting it as a career development initiative can increase representation of "Black, Hispanic, and Asian American women, and Hispanic and Asian-American men at manager levels by 9–24%."

Connecting employees with mentors who can help them build valuable skills is a win-win for mentees and your business. When employees feel their company offers them opportunities to grow in their careers, they're less likely to consider jobs at other organizations. 

So, not only does helping employees increase feelings of belonging and grow increase the diversity of your leadership, it also helps you retain the employees you've already hired. Win-win-win!

When colleagues go out of their way to support one another, especially if multiple colleagues or sponsors are involved, the numbers are truly impressive:

"Respondents with at least one such sponsor were 1.6 times more likely than others to feel very included... half of respondents with one or two sponsors feel very included, 72 percent of those with three to five sponsors feel very included."

This points to the need to create a multitude of career connections — mentors, sponsors and peers. When employees have a higher number of career connections, they feel more included.


Create employee connections across silos

Increasing feelings of inclusion means diversifying the types of connections employees can make. That means opening up lines of communication between departments, roles, and teams. No more silos!

But reaching out to colleagues unprompted is daunting for any employee, and it’s even more daunting for underrepresented talent. According to research, professionals of color reach out to colleagues less and are less comfortable relationship building. 

Not having these high quality, frequent connections can negatively impact wellbeing and career advancement. However, if the connections are established, these professionals will be top of mind the next time a new opportunity becomes available.

Increasing contact between different groups of employees helps break down stereotypes and activates employee engagement in the diversity and inclusion mission.

In order to break down silos, organizations have to create formal systems that make it easy for employees to overcome barriers to connecting.

Create a system for employees to build connections across silos. With Ten Thousand Coffees, employees connect based on their career development goals.

Give leadership the tools to connect with employees more informally

Another critical move to improve diversity and inclusion is to get leadership engaged and involved, especially when it comes to interacting with other employees. Leaders are one of the 4 key players you need to fulfill your diversity, equity and inclusion goals.

But many early and mid-career level folks often have few chances to connect directly with leadership, especially in larger companies.

When a semi-regular all-staff meeting is the only opportunity to even hear from someone in the C-suite, it should be no surprise when your people don't feel connected to leadership. It also causes employees to question whether there’s genuine leadership commitment to change.

Without an opportunity to speak more closely with company leaders, your employees miss out on valuable networking opportunities. They also have fewer chances to learn from people who have been successfully promoted to leadership positions.

If you want to increase employees' feelings of inclusion, you have to enable them to have meaningful interactions with leaders. Employees who say interactions with leaders aided their advancement are 1.2 times more likely than others to feel very included.

In addition, providing access to leaders helps create space for difficult conversations at all levels of your organization. When your team members know management and the C-suite take DE&I issues seriously — and address them regularly — they can better understand how your business is working to improve DE&I overall.

To help connect company leaders with folks at all levels of your company, you have to create opportunities for them to share their knowledge — and for your employees to have meaningful dialogue. 

Encouraging small but semi-regular interactions with company leaders can help team members in and out of the C-suite connect with and learn from each other.

Use Ten Thousand Coffees to schedule and hold Office Hours to interested employees.

You can create a quarterly workshop or chat expectation for managers and executives, hold a regular company conference, or use a tool that allows leaders to easily schedule and hold Office Hours for all employees.

Rely on metrics to hold you accountable

If you actually want to make sure your DE&I efforts are creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for everyone, you have to track them. To do that, you should use a platform that helps you track engagement and mentorship efforts connected to your diversity and inclusion initiatives.

A system like Ten Thousand Coffees will help you connect employees based on skills, run a mentorship and networking program that connects employees across departments, and help leaders offer learning opportunities to interested employees. 

With access to those engagement metrics, you can be transparent with employees and stakeholders about the measures you're taking to improve D&I — and whether or not they're working.

Request a demo to learn more about how Ten Thousand Coffees can help you improve your organization's diversity and inclusion. 


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About Ten Thousand Coffees
Ten Thousand Coffees smart matches colleagues together to develop through informal, virtual coffee chats. We’ve built award winning partnerships to build connectivity and talent development in enterprise, academic and industry organizations.
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