One would think that in the largest democracy in the world — and in 2018 — the concept of equal opportunity would be a universally institutionalized concept. While that is not the case, I live in a state in which the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was finally passed in May 2018. This came as great news; I remember debating the value of the amendment in 1978!

Illinois’ ERA specifically prohibits discrimination based on sex and gender, but ensuring appropriate corporate values and ethics for all is critical for equal employment opportunity (EEO) firms, such as Hillard Heintze. Recently, we committed our longstanding practice of equal opportunity employment to written policy, thereby documenting its goals and beliefs as an equal opportunity employer. Specifically, we identified that:

It is the policy of Hillard Heintze, LLC to provide equal employment opportunity to all individuals regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, veteran status or any other characteristic protected by state or federal law. We are strongly committed to this policy and believe in the concept and spirit of the law.

But as I’ll discuss here, being an EEO firm means more than putting words to a page. It’s about actively committing to and promoting diversity, and creating tangible goals for achieving an increasingly fair and robust workforce.

Developing diversity through measurable goals — not merely words

Like our corporate values, our policy is more than just words – it represents how we value employees and how we do business. While some companies may believe these types of policies exist to implement diversity on the most basic level, we believe equal opportunity is about developing a diverse workforce and ensuring that the value of diversity is cultivated throughout all levels of the organization. As we have identified in assessment activities for our clients, diversity is enhanced where parties are committed and held to account to advance employment for all.

As with any other core measurement, the commitment to diversity must become a measurable outcome that has affixed responsibility. Further, ensuring managers are trained and capable of addressing and promoting diversity is critical to developing a diverse workplace. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers should look at facts, not faces. Hiring employees with varying perspectives, experiences and backgrounds is the first step toward developing an equal opportunity workplace. Most employers recognize this important first step; however, the next step of retaining diverse talent is even more critical.

Retaining a diverse workforce once it is in place

The EEOC provides additional tips for promoting and maintaining diversity in its Top Ten Tips toolkit for small businesses. One such tip is creating an anti-discrimination policy – one that is legally compliant and in place before any problems arise. I suggest that it directly reflect your corporate values and that managers incorporate it into their Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Establishing goals pertaining to creating and maintaining a diverse workforce, and measuring them consistently for improvement over time, ensures the concept of equal opportunity is appropriately integrated into corporate policy.

Mentoring is another way to develop employees and to help advance and maintain diversity. Employees are more likely to stay at a company and to advance within its ranks if they are supported along the way and feel encouraged to do so. While the first step may be attracting diversity, maintaining that varied workforce requires a commitment by an organization’s senior leadership and mid-level management. Mentorship programs are one way to help your employees develop professional skills that are mutually beneficial for their growth and the company’s success, while actively encouraging employees to share their wide-ranging perspectives and experiences to drive innovation. Successful companies often rely on mentoring programs as a way to maintain and celebrate their diverse talent.

Ensuring a diverse workplace also requires a commitment to maintaining standards and practices that promote diversity. Training, support, redirection and discipline can be effective tools to address inappropriate behaviors. Companies do not condone violence in the workplace, but they should also discourage and actively combat ongoing biases, be they intentional or not. Addressing inappropriate actions and beliefs is one way to foster diversity. Another is to look at roles and tasks within the organization, and whether or not they are shared equally regardless of gender, race, religion or ethnicity. It is critical for modern workplaces to shake up the distribution of tasks and resist following traditional gender or racial breakdowns.

Effective policy sets the stage for success in achieving and maintaining a diverse workplace. Organizational leadership drives the integration of key policy goals into the organizational ethos and ensures the policy is not just words, but incorporated into actions. In the end, we all succeed, as diversity in the workplace contributes to a broader range of ideas, perspectives and corporate progress.