DEI for the Workplace:
A Complete Guide

DEI—a term that’s frequently tossed around, yet often misunderstood.

Over the last decade, diversity, equity, and inclusion has quickly become a trending topic in the workplace (and beyond). But DEI goes beyond trends. It’s a critical piece of driving employee and business success.

In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, so you can walk away with tangible insights that’ll help you elevate your organization’s DEI efforts.

What is diversity, equity and inclusion?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion—or DEI—is a framework used by organizations to build a welcoming and supportive workplace for all employees. As the name suggests, DEI is an umbrella term including three core values that we’ll continue to dig into below.

As you navigate the world of DEI, you’ll often find a few different acronyms and variations of the term. Some common ones you might come across include:

  • D&I: Diversity and inclusion
  • DE&I: Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • DEIB: Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

Each of these terms encompasses a different set of values and concepts. While the variations might seem confusing, there’s actually no right or wrong one to use for your organization.

That being said, they all overlap closely, making it important to understand the meaning of all these terms. They work together to foster a workplace that is positive for everyone—regardless of identity or background.

Diversity: definition

Diversity is the practice of including and supporting people of all different backgrounds in the workplace.

We often think of diversity in terms of race. However, there are many groups and identities that make up a diverse workforce.

For example, diversity can include:

  • Gender and sexual diversity: Creating a welcoming space for individuals of all gender identities and sexual orientations. This is often referred to as LGBTQIA+ diversity.
  • Ethnic and racial diversity: Acknowledging and celebrating the differences in cultural or racial backgrounds, often reflected in characteristics such as language, religion, or skin color.
  • Age diversity: Embracing and including employees of various ages and providing equal opportunities to all age groups.
  • Socio-economic diversity: Welcoming and providing equitable access to individuals regardless of their social status, wealth and income, or educational background.
  • Physical and neurodiversity: Acknowledging and supporting the needs of individuals with diverse physical and mental abilities.

Diversity in the workplace means a company welcomes and is represented by individuals from all different groups and identities—not just within the organization but across different departments and levels of leadership.

Equity: definition

Equity is the process of providing the same access to opportunities and resources to individuals of different backgrounds. The goal is to help every employee thrive in the workplace—regardless of their background and experiences.

It’s important that equity isn’t confused with equality. Equality means that everyone is treated exactly the same. This often sounds ideal, but it fails to recognize that everyone faces unique barriers and experiences. With equality, everyone starts from a different place, which can create imbalanced outcomes.

Equity, on the other hand, factors in those differences in order to level the playing field.

Inclusion: definition

Inclusion is the practice of fostering a sense of belonging amongst a group of people. When a workplace is inclusive, no one is left out or feels like they’re being left behind.

But according to an EY report, 75% of respondents have felt excluded at work. And over half (56%) feel that they can’t share parts of their identity in the workplace, fearing it will hold them back.

Other related terms

  • Accessibility: Accessibility is the practice of making everything easy to use for as many people as possible. For example, being able to use information, take part in experiences, or access services. This often includes reducing barriers—both physical and cognitive—that prevent individuals from accessing something, so everyone is able to enjoy the same experience. Accessibility in the workplace is key to creating an inclusive environment for diverse employees.
  • Allyship: Allyship is the process of building a supportive relationship and advocating on behalf of underrepresented groups to help boost inclusion—even if you yourself don’t belong to that group yourself. Similar to something like sponsorship, allies often have some sort of status or influence that can further DEI impact. Allyship is critical in the workplace as it fosters belonging and ensures that underrepresented groups feel supported by their peers.
  • Belonging: Belonging is the feeling of fitting in and having an affinity for the people that you work with. When an organization is diverse, equitable and inclusive, employees are more likely to feel like they belong. Belonging is closely tied to employee engagement and performance.
  • Intersectionality: Intersectionality is a framework that acknowledges that inequities don’t exist in silos. People can have multiple identities that impact the way they experience the world, often causing barriers and inequities to overlap. For example, a Black woman can experience discrimination both on the basis of gender and race. Intersectionality is an important concept in the workplace as it highlights that DEI isn’t always straightforward  and should be looked at from multiple lenses.
  • Justice: Justice is the belief that everyone can—and should—have access to the same opportunities and resources if they so desire them. Organizational justice is achieved when employees feel that everyone is treated equitably and fairly.

Why is DEI important in the workplace?

We know that DEI as a whole provides value to organizations—it’s why it’s become such a hot topic.

To understand why diversity, equity, and inclusion have become the all-important trio, we need to understand how they each contribute to the DEI conversation. While they’re closely related, they each encompass a different set of values that make up a positive workplace.

➔  Why diversity matters at work

When a company has a diverse set of employees in the workplace, it:

  • Promotes creativity and innovation.
  • Improves decision-making.
  • Fosters future diversity in the organization.

➔  Why equity matters at work

When employees are treated equitably in the workplace, it:

  • Shows respect for employees.
  • Promotes transparency and trust between employees and the organization
  • Elevates diverse and underrepresented talent.

➔  Why inclusion matters at work

When employees feel included, it:

  • Drives employees engagement and satisfaction.
  • Increases employee productivity and performance.
  • Fosters a sense of belonging.

“For many orgs, they obsess this idea of diversity recruitment upfront [...] However, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 2 years in, you start to see this vicious cycle of a rotating door because not only does the talent not feel invested in from a career management standpoint, the organization also tends to not be set up culturally to be able to support and sustain the cultural identities of these communities.”

Jarvis Sam

Former Chief DEI Officer at Nike

What are the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Diversity, equity and inclusion are often lumped together. And for good reason.

Ultimately, diversity, equity, and inclusion come together to foster belonging within a company—which contributes to a significant number of benefits to any organization.

However, to see how they diverge, it’s important to understand the relationship between the three values.

3 benefits of DEI for organizations: the business case

One quick Google search will tell you that prioritizing DEI offers benefits to not only your employees but your company as a whole.

But what those searches often fail to mention is that to maximize those benefits, you need to commit to investing in DEI. And just like any other investment, before diving in head first, there should be proof of ROI.

Fortunately, with DEI the case is pretty clear. And we’ve got the stats to prove it.

1. DEI is key to attracting and retaining top talent

Business success often comes down to one thing: your people. Which means you need to fill your organization with top talent and actually keep them around. A diverse and inclusive work environment can help do that.

More than 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees (76%) say that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. This is particularly true among younger and early talent.

On the other hand, about a third wouldn’t even consider a job at a company where there’s a lack of diversity among its workforce. And when it’s diverse and underrepresented groups that are more susceptible to feeling this way—for good reason—it can further deteriorate diversity within your organization.

2. DEI drives revenue and business performance

Turns out, championing DEI isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also just good business.

A McKinsey study found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to financially outperform their competitors. They also found that companies with ethnic and cultural diversity in the top quartile are 36% more profitable than those in the fourth quartile.

The same goes for diverse leadership. Another survey from the Boston Consulting Group found that diverse management teams lead to 19% higher revenue.

3. DEI drives agility and innovation

More than ever, companies find themselves needing to innovate and adapt to the ever-changing business landscape. Organizations that put diversity, equity, and inclusion first are often better equipped to do so than their peers.

Diverse and inclusive companies are 1.8x more likely to be change-ready and 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. According to Harvard Business Review, they’re also 70% more likely to capture new markets.

So it’s not entirely surprising that corporations identified as more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.

“This is not the same age old business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is a business case for retention and promotability within your organization.”

Jarvis Sam,

Former Chief DEI Officer at Nike

About 1 in 3 employees and job seekers (32%) would not apply to a job at a company where there is a lack of diversity among its workforce. (Glassdoor)


Diverse management teams lead to 19% higher revenue. (BCG)


Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets. (HBR)

DEI challenges to overcome

A large portion of DEI efforts fail to deliver meaningful results.

It’s not that DEI isn’t effective, it’s that there are many systemic barriers and challenges that can be very tricky to navigate. These challenges can be mitigated, but in order to do so, organizations must understand how they hinder progress.

Common challenges that organizations face with DEI include:

  • Limited resources and funding: An effective DEI strategy can’t just be thrown together. It takes time and resources. Unfortunately, many DEI leaders and HR teams struggle to get the resources and budget needed to make an impact.
  • Lack of urgency: DEI is often treated like a nice-to-have or something that can be tackled down the line. But DEI isn’t just a one-off project. It’s something that needs to be continuously improved. And if you never start, you’ll always be one step behind.
  • Gaps in commitment at the leadership and executive level: A diverse and inclusive organization starts at the top. Leaders are the ones who model inclusive behavior and determine whether or not DEI is a strategic organizational goal. When senior leadership doesn’t fully buy into the value of DEI, it’s difficult to prioritize it and get the rest of the company on board.
  • Lack of education around DEI: There are many deep-seated biases and barriers that we often don’t recognize in ourselves, leading to poor recognition of existing issues—both as individuals and as an organization. This can impact the adoption of DEI initiatives and prevent organizations from creating truly inclusive environments.

“Optics-centered diversity, equity and inclusion strategies will not move the needle on your DEI metrics or ESG obligations. Diverse talent need opportunities to advance in their careers - mentoring and networking is one of the most effective ways to get there.”

Dave Wilkin


Understanding the DEI maturity model

The DEI maturity model is a framework that helps organizations measure and understand how far along they are in their DEI efforts. It answers the question: “Where are we now? And what can we do better?”

Generally, the model is broken down into five stages:

  • Awareness: Organizations in the awareness stage are starting to understand the impact and benefits of DEI in the workplace.
  • Compliance: Organizations in the compliance stage are doing what they need to meet any legal requirements. This is often considered the bare minimum. For example, an organization in this stage might have processes in place to prevent discrimination in the hiring process. 
  • Tactical: Organizations in the tactical stage have taken steps toward actioning DEI-driving tactics. However, they are often missing a strategic lens from their efforts.
  • Integration: Organizations in the integration stage have started to weave DEI into workplace culture and overall company decision-making. 
  • Sustainability: Organizations that have reached DEI sustainability have embedded it into their entire business. It’s no longer a project, but rather a part of the overall business strategy which makes DEI success much easier to maintain and improve.

Before launching DEI efforts, you should always understand where your organization currently sits on the DEI maturity model. This helps you focus on activities and DEI initiatives that can move you to the next stage—which will pay off in the long run and ultimately help you reach DEI sustainability.

Engage every employee with a DEI experience that drives engagement, promotion, and retention with 10KC’s DEI Solution

Examples of DEI in the workplace

One of the most impactful ways organizations are bringing DEI values to life is through mentorship programs. Below, we explore examples that highlight the transformative power of DEI-focused mentorship programs in enriching the workplace.

How Spring Health used mentorship as a DEI springboard

When Michelle Rojas, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Spring Health, found that attrition rates for Black, Hispanic, and Latino employees were about 3x the rate of the rest of the company, mentorship quickly became top of mind for their team.

They launched the “Sprout with Spring” mentorship pilot program in 2022. Using micro-learning opportunities in Office Hour sessions along with their mentorship program curriculum focused on the needs of their employees, Spring Health grew participation from 42 team members to over 600.

With the program, Spring Health found that employees had access to more learning opportunities, better networks, and most importantly—they felt heard.

The final outcome? Spring Health doubled the retention of priority talent through mentorship in a year.

“Our attrition for underrepresented talent was hovering around 32%, which was a big red flag for me. Rather than come to that problem with preconceived notions or assumptions, I partnered with one of our employee resource groups called the Black Employee Coalition to host listening sessions. [...] It became very apparent that mentorship was missing.”

Michelle Rojas

Associate Director, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Spring Health

The impact of mentorship on DEI at Nike

Global sports retailer, Nike, set ambitious goals to help build a more inclusive workplace. By 2025, Nike wanted to:

  • Increase representation of women at the VP level and above to 45% of its workforce.
  • Increase racial and ethnic minorities at the Director level and above to 30% in the US.

While mentorship had existed previously at Nike in an informal and decentralized capacity, Nike needed a formal program in place to reach their goals.

In partnership with 10KC’s mentoring platform, Nike was able to scale their mentorship program and create meaningful interactions across the nine-month program.

Not only has Nike made meaningful progress toward reaching its DEI goals, the program received top reviews from participants. Employees were excited to connect with their colleagues and enjoyed the opportunity to share experiences with their peers.

“The various modules that are built into the [10KC] platform are super helpful. We can't just think of this program as separate and distinct from all of the other equity work that we do. In fact, it has to be directly integrated.”

Jarvis Sam,

Former Chief DEI Officer at Nike

Creating inclusive workplaces for women and minority groups with GE

After an audit of a culture survey, focus groups, and exit interviews, the team at GE came to a hypothesis: people needed to feel more connected to the organization. GE also knew they wanted to address their DEI priorities. So, they built a mentorship program and offered the opportunity to underrepresented and diverse employee groups first.

The program saw an incredible 80% adoption rate among eligible participants and a 79% engagement rate. It also fostered a sense of belonging among all employees within remote, hybrid and in-person settings.

The GE annual culture survey found that the mentoring program boosted inclusion, employee connection and supported career growth and development—not just for equity-seeking groups, but for all employees.

How to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace

Despite what many companies tend to pass off as DEI, fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t just hiring diverse talent or simply claiming an inclusive workplace.

True equity and inclusion need to go beyond superficial tactics. It takes commitment and carefully factors in the complexities that impact diverse and underrepresented talent.

Here are some best practices to help foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.

1. Get buy-in across the organization

For DEI efforts to pay off, you need everyone—from leaders down to your front-line workers—on board.

Your leadership and executive team need to be committed to visibly endorsing DEI in the organization. They also need to be willing to provide the resources needed to effectively implement programs and initiatives. Individual contributors need to be open to learning and addressing their own biases. And of course, underrepresented groups need to trust that these activities aren’t just for show.

Without everyone working together, it’s difficult to make meaningful DEI progress.

2. Take a community-driven approach

DEI and community go hand in hand. Inclusion can’t happen with one person alone.

A community-driven approach turns DEI into a shared responsibility across the organization. It empowers everyone to engage in DEI efforts.

Examples of community-driven DEI?

  • Mentorship: Whether it’s pairing employees with senior leaders or their peers, DEI mentorship programs help boost visibility and build networks for diverse talent.
  • Sponsorship: By pairing underrepresented talent with influential leaders within your organization, you can create opportunities to elevate diverse talent and help them get ahead in their careers.
  • Employee-resource groups (ERGs): Employee resource groups foster connection, give underrepresented employees a collective voice, and help broaden their professional networks.

“Many ERGs or BRGS are cross business unit or cross line of business. So it's an opportunity – just being part of an ERG or BRG – to connect with people across your organization.”

Denise Pereira,

Director of Customer Success, 10KC

3. Make DEI a part of your workplace culture

DEI is often treated as a separate entity or a side project.

When diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives happen in a silo, it’s difficult to reach the next stage of DEI maturity. It prevents your efforts from being sticky and frankly, makes it harder than it needs to be.

A few ways to ingrain DEI into your workplace culture include:

  • Tying it into company policies: Create policies that are inclusive. For example, you should provide health and wellness benefits that are equitable for all groups. Decisions such as remote working and return to office (RTO) should consider the impact on diverse talent.
  • Making it a part of your day-to-day: DEI efforts should happen throughout the work day. For example, consider how you structure meetings to give everyone a chance to participate. Or consider automatically including pronouns as part of your team communication channels.
  • Integrate it with overall organizational goals: Your diversity, equity, and inclusion goals should be a priority. Unfortunately, it’s often treated as a secondary objective rather than equal to your company’s performance and revenue goals.

4. Go beyond training and education

There’s no denying that education and training are a huge part of tackling biases and building understanding. However, DEI training programs often leave employees without any actionable insights.

In fact, 3 in 4 of diversity training programs use negative messages focused on legal implications and financial threats. It can be intimidating and less than helpful for fostering meaningful conversations around DEI.

For the most part, no one wants to be discriminatory or exclusive. The reality is that most employees don’t perceive themselves as a part of the problem. DEI strategies need to include resources and toolkits to help employees identify any unconscious bias and learn how to address it.

5. Put your people first

As a reminder, your employees should be at the center of every DEI strategy.

Take the time to listen to them. Gather feedback from underrepresented groups. See what they say is missing and what they need to succeed. Those employee insights are invaluable when it comes to building a strategy that actually makes an impact.

“Start with listening to your team members, build solutions, pilot it, and then look for some of the best in class vendors out there, like 10KC, to help you scale it and sustain it. I think there's power in listening and power in taking action based upon what you've learned.”

Michelle Rojas

Associate Director of DEI, Spring Health

6. Implement a formal DEI program

There are many paths to improving DEI in your organization. However, sometimes simply making an effort isn’t enough. McKinsey projects that companies around the world will spend over $15.4 billion on DEI efforts by 2026. Yet, DEI in the workplace often still tends to fall short.

DEI is rooted in systemic barriers and decades of inequity that aren’t easy to address.

So while most organizational DEI strategies have the best intentions, they lack the substance and foundations needed to make an impact. Intentional and structured DEI programs surface the challenges and gaps in your organization—and put a formal plan in place to address them.

Expert advice: 8 key considerations when building successful DEI programs
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How to structure and scale a DEI program

If your company is investing in DEI, we’ve put together a few steps to help you make the most of your program.

1. Conduct a DEI audit

Before you can make progress toward your DEI goals, you need to know where you stand today.

A comprehensive DEI audit identifies the areas where your organization might be doing well, as well as opportunities for improvement.

Your audit should cover several facets of DEI, such as:

  • Employee diversity and representation
  • Company policies
  • Employee support and resources
  • Employee compensation and benefits

Even with the best of intentions, things often fall through the cracks. Not all biases and discrimination are obvious. Performing a DEI audit helps make sure that you’re capturing everything. This way, you can build a DEI strategy that truly puts your employees first.

2. Write your DEI statement

Now that you know what you need to do better, it’s time to commit to actually doing better.

Your organization’s DEI statement is an overview of your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workplace. You might see some companies call it a statement of commitment to diversity, a DEI mandate, or something similar, but the gist is the same.

A strong DEI statement doesn’t just state your commitment, it should highlight the values and the actions that your organization will take in order to fulfill that commitment.

Need some inspiration?

Here are a few DEI statements from major organizations that we love:

  • Spotify: At Spotify, we welcome you with an inclusion mindset, one that prioritizes growth through listening and learning. No matter where you come from, or what’s playing in your headphones, we want to create a place where you belong.
  • Nike: We strive to ensure each person, now and in the future, is included and celebrated for who they are. We are creating the pathways, culture, and practices that build a Nike team representative of the people we serve. From our partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to product lines co-created with diverse athletes to industry-leading programs accelerating the careers of women from all walks of life, we’ll continue to push forward.
  • The Walt Disney Company: The Walt Disney Company is committed to developing and retaining a diverse workforce, fostering a company culture that is welcoming and respectful, creating content and experiences that resonate with our global audiences, and collaborating with community organizations to make our industries more accessible to all.

Of course, these are just snippets of these DEI statements. Many organizations choose to take it a step further by publicly sharing their goals, their shortcomings, and progress in detail—which is a great way to promote transparency in the DEI process for both employees and external audiences alike.

3. Set your DEI objectives

We’ve said it a few times now: DEI isn’t a project. It should be an ever-evolving part of how you do business.

And like your business objectives, you should set tangible targets that can show your progress.

One thing to remember about DEI is that progress won’t happen overnight. It can take years to see the fruits of your DEI efforts—and that’s okay. But by setting larger long-term objectives, you have a north star to keep your efforts focused.

Remember: Set those big DEI goals, but don’t forget to set smaller goals that serve as a roadmap to benchmark your progress along the way.

4. Include key DEI stakeholders across the organization

We know that a DEI only works if everyone is committed. But that also means looping in the right folks at the right time.

Your list of key DEI stakeholders should include leaders within your organization as well as those who belong to equity-seeking groups. By including them in your goal-setting, planning, and execution you can create a sense of transparency and make sure that everyone is on the same page.

While a successful DEI program starts with key stakeholders, it ultimately requires the understanding and contribution of everyone within the organization.

5. Leverage the right tools and technology

Making progress toward your DEI goals can feel like a Herculean effort. And we won’t sugar coat it, it’s hard work.

Effective DEI strategies require a large time commitment and resources. It’s when organizations aren’t willing or ready to put in the effort that we see these programs fail.

But we also have some good news. There are ways to lessen the load and still make an impact. Technology and tools are great ways to elevate and streamline your DEI initiatives.

“DEI or talent teams are constantly having to trade off time. There's a never ending backlog. Leverage technology to help you scale so that you can focus on more of the measurement, analytics, and innovation.”

Dave Wilkin


Consider 10KC for example. We know that specialized mentorship and sponsorship programs can elevate diverse employee groups. But manually matching employees, developing curriculums, scaling initiatives, and measuring outcomes with manual effort is incredibly tedious. Instead, 10KC’s inclusive mentorship and networking software enables efficiency and impact with features like:

  • Automated matching for scalability: Ditch the tedious spreadsheets. Opt for a system that effortlessly pairs participants based on your criteria, ensuring meaningful, bias-free connections without the hassle.
  • Off-the-shelf DEI program: Get an off-the-shelf DEI solution or tailor curriculums to your organization, designing a unique program that keeps everyone engaged and aligned with their development goals.
  • Easy integrations: Adopting new apps can be a barrier for leaders who already have a ton going on. Choose tools that blend seamlessly with what they’re already using.
  • Effortless tracking: Know your impact. Pick a solution that offers clear insights, reports, and ROI measurement.

6. Launch your DEI program

Finally, you can put your program into action.

One DEI mistake we often see organizations make is skipping right to this step. It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game and launch initiatives just to check off the box.

But without taking the time to understand the needs of your organization and the tools needed to address those needs, it’s a recipe for DEI disaster. Or at the very least a lack of meaningful progress and a poor use of resources.

7. Track and improve DEI initiatives over time

What gets measured gets done. The same applies to DEI. It can take time to reach your DEI goals, so tracking your progress is key to communicating the value of your efforts to your stakeholders.

It also holds program managers and leadership accountable for DEI progress. In fact, companies that measure DEI accountability see an increase of 9 to 30% in representation of equity-seeking groups among management.

DEI shouldn’t be a competition, but measuring DEI metrics also doubles as a benchmark against similar organizations so you can feel confident that you’re not falling behind.

It’s worth noting that just because you’re doing ‘better’ than the competition or seeing progress, doesn’t mean DEI should be any less of a priority. It’s an ongoing process and you should always strive to build a better workplace for your employees.

The role of DEI mentoring at an organization

Mentorship is widely recognized as a contributing factor to DEI success. But for many organizations, mentoring is often a missing piece to the DEI puzzle.

Mentoring pairs employees—particularly those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds—with more experienced, senior colleagues. The goal? To build the connections and career support they need to grow and thrive in the workplace.

When organizations use mentoring as part of their DEI solution, they can get one step closer to reaching their DEI goals.

  • Mentoring drives diversity: When diverse employees are provided with mentorship opportunities, they’re more likely to advance in their careers. Studies have found that representation of equity-seeking groups at a management level increases by up to 24% with a mentoring program.
  • Mentoring increases equity: Diversity mentorship programs provide underrepresented employee groups with the networks and skills they need so they have access to the same opportunities as their peers.
  • Mentoring promotes inclusion: Mentorship programs, both traditional and other peer-to-peer mentoring, create opportunities for meaningful connections that help employees feel like they belong.
200+ organizations use 10KC to drive their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Ready to see how mentorship fits into your DEI strategy?
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