Did you know that the US tech industry loses $16 billion a year because of employee turnover? One of the top reasons why workers choose to leave is because of workplace discrimintation. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.

When you create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable (DEI) work environment, it not only facilitates employee retention and helps attract new talent, but it also boosts employee confidence and engagement. And taking steps to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace can lead to innovation and higher productivity as well, by creating an environment where everyone feels safe, welcome, and valued. 

I recently participated in a workshop here at Espresso that was led by the team at Feminuity, a Toronto-based DEI consulting firm. While everyone learned a lot, below are six lessons that I walked away with that every business can start applying to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace.

1. Be aware of bias and how it can impact decision-making

Our brains take in 11 million pieces of information per second, but are only able to process about 40 pieces of it. That means that we have to rely on our unconscious minds to filter through the majority of information we take in. Our brains do this by taking mental shortcuts, which can be both good and bad. We may associate the word doctor with a hospital, for example, which is beneficial. But we may also associate it with men, which simply isn’t fair or accurate.

It’s important to recognize that mental shortcuts like these are often guided by bias and stereotypes and can negatively influence our thinking and decision making. By recognizing these biases and stereotypes, we can begin to break them down and reject them.

2. Understand the value of names and pronouns

Our names are closely tied to our identities. Learning the correct pronunciation and spelling of your co-workers’ names is a sign of respect and acknowledges others’ backgrounds and cultures.

Pronouns by which gender is expressed and perceived are also tied to our identities. Common gender pronouns like her or him don’t fit everyone’s gender identity. Incorporating preferred pronouns when introducing yourself or in your email signature, and encouraging others to do the same if they are comfortable doing so, are steps we can take to create an environment where everyone feels valued and accepted. 

3. Be intentional about inclusive language 

The language we use to communicate can have a profound impact on our co-workers. It’s important to recognize that certain words or phrases have negative connotations and can be hurtful to others. 

That’s why using inclusive language is important when communicating within your team. Sometimes this isn’t obvious. We may use the word “crazy” to describe a busy day without realizing that this word is associated with stigmas around mental health. Or we may use the phrase “confined to a wheelchair” to describe someone who uses a wheelchair without thinking about the fact that “confined” has a negative connotation. Being mindful of the way we speak and making an effort to use more inclusive phrases can go a long way to build a positive workplace culture.  

4. Understand intersectionality

Intersectionality is a framework to examine complex systems of oppression, power, and privilege. An intersectional approach recognizes that people have overlapping identities and complex experiences of prejudice and oppression. Understanding our own privilege and power is vital for us being able to to listen to and support others sharing their experiences. This is one of the most important steps to help create sustainable, equitable, and inclusive change within our workplace and society as a whole. 

For more on understanding intersectionality and allyship, check out this video:

5. Learn the difference between equity vs. equality

Equity and equality mean two different things. Treating others equally means treating everyone the same. But when you treat others with equity, you are providing support in different ways based on people’s unique needs.

When ordering company apparel, not everyone will fit into standard sizes like small, medium, or lage. Meanwhile others may have a disability that makes it hard for them to even put a t-shirt on. Providing other options like pins or hats is an equity-based approach. Building equity-inspired design in diversity and inclusion efforts throughout your organization means acknowledging people’s unique characteristics.

6. Apologize when you mess up

We’re all learning and we’re going to mess up. When called out, or when you realize that you’ve hurt someone else, sincerely apologize, acknowledge the harm you’ve caused, and commit to do better. Educating yourself about diversity, equity, and inclusion is an ongoing journey. Applying the things you’ve learned and adjusting your behavior takes effort. But if you put in the time and work you can do better and continue to move forward.

Final thoughts

At Espresso, we see the potential for widespread change: across industries, companies, teams, and workplace cultures. For us, diversity isn’t a numbers game, it’s a core value. Equity isn’t a one-off initiative, it’s an intentional design choice. And inclusion isn’t a fleeting emotion, it’s a culture. 

Not only is creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment the right thing to do, but it can lead to measurable benefits for your business. For more information, check out Feminuity