insight magazine

Ethics Engaged | Fall 2023

The Ethics of DEI: Cultivating a Positive Workplace

Committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is more than an ethical consideration—it leads to stronger organizations and workplace cultures.
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner VP of Finance, GigaOm


While there continues to be significant ethical considerations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, and in society as a whole, the benefits of these initiatives are clear. When organizations spend time focusing on DEI, they create more positive and collaborative environments for themselves and others. The merits of effective DEI initiatives will lead to better decision-making, more innovation, improved employee satisfaction, enhanced brand reputation, and positive social and community impact.

The foundation of DEI relates to the ethical principle of upholding the equity of every individual’s contributions and their right to equal respect. The intent is to preserve the value of each individual and identify the right opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Let’s examine the three components of DEI (i.e., diversity, equity, and inclusion).

  • When organizations value diversity, they acknowledge the dignity and unique contributions each person brings based on their experience, background, race, gender, and other characteristics. It is important for your organization to assess and determine if it has the diversity needed to make it stronger in decision-making and more representative of the markets it serves. Your organization should also examine whether it is effectively contributing to DEI in its interactions with others.
  • Regarding equity, your organization should ensure its people have equal access to professional development, leadership experiences, and career advancement opportunities. Each person in your organization will likely take a different journey to learning, development, and promotion. Therefore, your organization should consciously engage in individual discussions to outline what each person’s journey looks like.
  • Inclusion is the element of DEI that creates an environment for both diversity and equity to succeed. Your organization should ensure your people feel valued, heard, and respected. Your people should be able to contribute their perspectives, experiences, and talents openly and with encouragement—after all, inclusion aligns with values of dignity, autonomy, and equality.

To champion a successful DEI environment, your organization should consider these ethical guidelines:

  • Engage the leadership team. Ethical leadership teams are accountable for talking about DEI efforts, working toward a welcoming and productive culture, and ensuring policies and behaviors align with corporate values. Your leadership team should be open and clear about its DEI goals and consistently report on the progress toward those goals to help support action throughout the organization.
  • Offer continuous education. Keeping a persistent focus on DEI includes ongoing education and providing opportunities to ask questions. An all-hands meeting or a diversity panel dedicated to this topic can be helpful in creating this type of environment. Consider asking your own people to lead these sessions to bring personal storytelling to the education or ask external speakers to help facilitate discussions.
  • Build cultural competence. Cultural competence exists when individuals can effectively collaborate with people from different backgrounds; it promotes the idea of seeking to understand others and respecting their views, even if you may not agree with them. Employee resource groups (ERGs) may be helpful in achieving this goal since they can provide chances for people to share their perspectives and offer awareness regarding cultural representations.
  • Promote positivity and well-being. Organizations that care about their people look out for their overall physical and mental well-being. Initiatives regarding mental health (like employee assistance programs), professional development, and charitable work show an ethical commitment to the people working for you and the communities you serve. A healthy organization starts with healthy people.
  • Survey your people. Organizations that care about providing an ethical and positive environment that prioritizes DEI also provide ways for people to give feedback, including anonymous feedback. Feedback may present your organization with key insights into what it is doing well and what it can be doing differently to promote the culture it wants. You may also consider facilitating a “crazy ideas board,” where people can submit ideas to your leadership team for consideration regarding product offerings, culture events, charitable work, and more.

Individual employees play an instrumental role in promoting DEI throughout an organization. As an employee, consider these ethical guidelines:

  • Develop self-awareness. Identify what biases you may have in your own beliefs and assumptions—knowing biases is the first step to addressing them. Consider how you can show up in interactions to increase your open-mindedness.
  • Learn about others. Be brave and respectful in asking people about their backgrounds and experiences. Research different groups and learn about them, including their histories and customs, and offer to teach and talk about your own culture.
  • Practice generous assumptions. When someone’s behavior does not make sense, give them the benefit of the doubt, and ask them directly about it. It is fair for you to tell them how their behavior makes you feel and the impact it has on the team. Remember, someone’s behavior may be due to their background (e.g., someone who is neurodiverse may approach a situation differently than someone who is neurotypical) or social preference (e.g., extroversion or introversion).
  • Participate in DEI initiatives. The more people engage in an organization’s DEI initiatives, the more DEI will become ingrained in the culture. Encourage your organization to keep focusing on DEI and working to make the culture better.
  • Serve as a mentor. Find someone in your organization to mentor. You can advocate for their professional development and advancement by getting to know them and understanding their unique skills and aspirations. You can also empower them to have a voice in their career.

Ethical leadership and an evaluative mindset by individuals and organizations significantly contribute to the success of DEI initiatives. To cultivate a positive and inclusive culture, leaders should commit to self-awareness, learning, and action through discussion and teaching. For yourself, think about what you can do personally and organizationally to take the next steps. Remember, an ongoing and deliberate commitment to DEI creates and sustains an inclusive and equitable workplace that seeks, welcomes, and celebrates diversity.

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