The HR Guide to DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging)

One of the most important goals for HR today is improving diversity in the workplace. But diversity is just one metric in creating a fair and healthy work environment. There are several more steps that companies and HR leaders need to take to improve organizational health. Thought leaders have created the acronym DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) as a framework for building a more fair and inclusive environment.

Yet even in the age of information, with the world being more educated than ever before, organizations struggle to achieve DEIB. What’s more, the barriers to improving diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are not always matters of apathy or evil. Instead, there are often more complex, systemic issues that prevent people from succeeding and working together effectively.

Yet for every organization, DEIB is a crucial area of growth. Failing in this area puts more than your company’s reputation at risk. Even beyond the moral implications of a homogenous (or worse, discriminatory) environment, a poor approach to DEIB could prevent your teams from operating effectively at all.

If you value creativity and problem-solving, DEIB is an essential framework for your organization. But understanding what these words mean (let alone implementing them as practical strategies) can be difficult — especially if you aren’t familiar with the concept. Let’s take a closer look at what DEIB means and how you can improve your organization in this area as an HR leader.

What Is DEIB?

DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging) is a framework for addressing issues of systematic discrimination and inequality in organizations, with four key areas of focus to promote a healthy team dynamic. Here’s what each word in the acronym means:

  • Diversity - Hiring and promoting people in your organization from a wide range of backgrounds and representing several demographics (genders, races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, etc.).
  • Equity - Setting up fair and just systems within your organization and providing equal opportunities and resources for all employees to succeed.
  • Inclusion - Creating a welcoming environment which allows everyone to fully participate in the job responsibilities and company culture.
  • Belonging - Taking the above ideas a step further by fostering a sense of connectedness in the community or culture where all people can feel valued as part of the organization.

Why DEIB Matters for HR

As an executive or HR leader, DEIB is essential increating a healthy work environment.

Moral and Ethical Considerations

As an organization that impacts society, your operations do not exist in a vacuum. Your company culture will affect other aspects of society, either directly through the work you produce or indirectly through the people you influence for forty hours every week. DEIB is one of the most powerful weapons HR leaders have against discrimination, racism, sexism, and other oppressive systemic issues.

Team Building and Problem-Solving

When teams are composed of people from various demographic groups, they bring a wider range of ideas and approaches to the table. This leads to more comprehensive problem analyses and innovative solutions.

What’s more, equitable and inclusive environments foster psychological safety, so that every team member feels comfortable sharing insights and taking calculated risks. This enables a richer exchange of ideas, reduces groupthink, promotes critical thinking, and boosts engagement. All of these are essential for organizations to remain competitive in an ever-evolving global landscape.

Legal Implications

Benefits aside, organizations are legally compelled to prioritize DEIB due to the abundance of anti-discrimination laws (in the United States and beyond). Discrimination based on factors like race, gender, age, religion, etc. is illegal. Companies failing to comply with these laws can face costly legal actions and penalties.

In addition, many employers are required to report workforce demographics to demonstrate equal employment opportunity. Failure to maintain an inclusive workplace can lead to expensive discrimination lawsuits and fines — both of which will undoubtedly impact your brand reputation and team morale.

Now that we have established why DEIB matters, let’s look at each concept individually to determine how HR teams can overcome challenges and implement strategies for lasting change.


Diversity is the most commonly discussed aspect of DEIB, and for good reason. Without diversity, inclusion and belonging don’t have the same effect. A well-connected group doesn’t mean as much when all the members look, think, and act the same.

Diversity means having a representation of people from all kinds of different demographics, such as sex, gender, age, race, ethnicity, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, disability status, neurodiversity, marital status, parental status, veteran status, geographic location, and cultural background.

A diverse organization strives for an equal representation in every department, paying attention to specific sections of the organization as well. You may have a good mix of people across the organization, but it doesn’t matter if your entire sales team is composed of only white men.

Challenges to Diversity

Some of the most important challenges to diversity are unconscious bias and small recruiting pools.

  • Unconscious Bias - Many times, someone of a different race, ethnicity, age, sex, or other identifying factor may be denied a job simply because they are different from the hiring manager or interviewer. Many leaders may not even realize they are making a judgment or discriminating against the person. While this does not excuse the behavior, it makes it more difficult to confront and change.
  • Small Recruiting Pools - Diversity is often impeded when an organization hires primarily from an area that has low diversity to begin with. For instance, hiring from only the small town where your company operates may yield very little diversity in applicants. Some industries or locations are more prone to this than others. What’s more, there are several systemic barriers (education access, financial barriers, etc.) that limit the number of qualified candidates, no matter where you look.

Strategies to Improve Diversity

While improving diversity can be challenging, there are several ways you can improve your approach to this key area of organizational health:

  • Setting Goals for Diverse Hiring - It’s tough to strive for diversity when you don’t have a clear idea of the end result. By setting clear and measurable goals for hiring underrepresented demographics (e.g. women, people of color, individuals with disabilities, etc.) companies can create a sense of urgency and demonstrate their commitment to fostering diversity. These goals can be integrated into performance metrics on a macro level to gauge success.
  • Blind Screening/Hiring Processes - Blind screening and hiring can be an effective strategy for mitigating bias. Start by removing personally identifiable information from applications and resumes during the initial stages of evaluation. For the interview phase, you might have a candidate connect with the hiring manager virtually, with their camera turned off. This practice ensures that candidates are assessed solely on their skills, experience, and potential contributions, regardless of their appearance or other demographics.
  • Expanding Hiring Pools - Actively seeking candidates from a wide range of sources can increase your chances of finding diverse talent. This might involve collaborating with new educational institutions, professional networks, or attending industry events. Offering remote and hybrid work positions can also broaden the reach to those outside your geographical location.
  • Clear Discrimination Policies - Implementing explicit policies against discrimination is essential to creating a fair and inclusive work environment. These policies should outline the consequences of discriminatory behavior, making it clear that such actions will not be tolerated from anyone in the organization. Transparent policies like this are crucial for employees to understand their rights as well as the organization's commitment to DEIB. It is also likely essential for legal reasons.


While diversity is certainly important, it only covers the hiring process. There is real work to be done after you’ve hired diverse candidates to ensure they are operating effectively within the community.

Equity ensures that everyone at your organization has an equal opportunity to succeed in their role. Often, it focuses on dismantling systemic barriers to opportunities. For instance, certain departments or positions may not allow for much internal mobility. Otherwise, you may not be providing the right resources for everyone in your company to succeed.

Equality vs. Equity

Equality and equity, while related, are not the same thing. Equality is treating everyone the same. That means providing the same resources and parameters for success regardless of someone’s circumstances or background. While equality is a noble goal, it doesn't always provide the kind of fairness needed for a healthy organization.

For example, imagine if you set up a game where team members had to get to the second floor of a building to claim a prize. Everyone is required to use the same staircase and they all start at the same starting point. This is equal for everyone — except Jeff from accounting who happens to be in a wheelchair. Suddenly this doesn’t seem so fair.

Equity means everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. That means providing reasonable accommodations for people who can’t participate in the same activities (or at least not in the same way) that everyone else can. In the game example above, the equitable solution would be to make accommodations specifically for Jeff, so that he can also participate in the game. You can either put the prize on a floor Jeff can access with his wheelchair. Or you can offer Jeff the use of the elevator to reach the second floor. This way, the opportunity is equal among all team members — in proportion to their unique circumstances.

Challenges to Creating Equity

Creating equity within an organization often involves addressing systemic issues that may not be intentionally malicious. However, these obstacles can still hinder the success and growth of certain individuals or groups. Here are some examples:

  • Limited Resources - Resource allocation is one of the most common equity problems. Inequity can arise when some employees lack access to certain tools, support, or opportunities required for success. For example, you may have limited training programs, poor access to mentors, or outdated technology. All of these can hinder career development, creating pay discrepancies and unnecessary friction between departments and employees. For example, you might find that some departments or roles in your organization have more access to mentorships or relationships with key decision-makers and therefore greater opportunities for promotion.
  • Outdated Systems of Operation - Inequity can surface in any number of areas — pay structure, benefits, working hours, training, and even leadership. For example, a lack of flexible working hours may seem like nothing more than a tough reality, but consider how this might create inequity for working parents. Also, traditional systems that favor tenure or specific pathways for career advancement may overlook the unique talents and potential of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Otherwise, a systemic pay gap where men make more than women may allow men better access to education. This can then allow them to improve their skills and advance more easily than women simply because they can afford more resources.

Strategies To Improve Equity

Improving equity within an organization is an ongoing process that requires a proactive and strategic approach. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Creating Special Opportunities for Marginalized Groups - It’s important to recognize that marginalized or historically unrecognized groups may have fewer opportunities. Organizations can respond by creating targeted programs and initiatives to address these disparities. Mentorship programs, scholarships, or leadership development initiatives specifically designed to uplift these individuals can all be effective methods of improving equity.
  • Investing in Better Resources and Training - When employees have equal access to resources and opportunities (and equal ability to use them), it levels the playing field for all people to advance and contribute to the organization. Certain types of training (like sexual harassment or DEIB training) can also prevent behaviors that hinder inclusion and the success of every employee.
  • Promoting Diversity in Leadership - Unconscious bias can impede internal mobility, and a homogenous group of decision-makers ensures some systemic issues never change. Increasing diversity in leadership positions is a powerful solution to reduce bias and create better opportunities for minority groups. These leaders can bring varied perspectives and experiences that influence the decision-making processes. They can also serve as visible examples of what's possible for employees from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Audit Your Systems and Conduct Employee Surveys - Sometimes, systemic issues are difficult to identify and understand. Often, the best way to discover them is to look closely at how your operations may be hindering your DEIB objectives. Make it a point to regularly audit your organizational systems and conduct surveys to gain insights into potential barriers. These survey responses can help identify patterns and correlations between factors such as gender, race, or tenure and any disparities in advancement or satisfaction. If some employees are succeeding in one area where others are not, pay close attention to the systems and resources they engage with.


Inclusion focuses on participation, encouraging all employees to be fully involved. Inclusion means welcoming diverse candidates and helping them to contribute to the company culture.

Imagine a team that scores high for diversity and has equitable systems which allow everyone to succeed on a practical level — but the company culture doesn’t demonstrate respect for women. Even though this organization has several pathways for advancement, it’s still unlikely a woman will advance into a position of leadership, simply because the culture (the way people act, behave, and feel) doesn’t support or include them. This can be a form of oppression and indicates the organization’s decision-making process is seriously lacking in a female perspective.

Inclusion ensures your other efforts for diversity and equity aren’t extinguished by an unsupportive culture. By making sure that diverse voices are heard, respected, and celebrated, you allow everyone to fully use their skills and contribute to the organization.

Challenges to Inclusion

Since inclusion is often deeply embedded within an organization's culture, it can be particularly challenging to identify and address. It isn’t as easy as updating a system or offering better pay to a certain people group. Issues with inclusion often involve several factors perpetuated by multiple individuals within an organization:

  • Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions - Unconscious bias refers to the subtle, automatic judgments individuals make based on stereotypes and prejudices, affecting how they perceive and interact with others. Microaggressions are subtle (often unintentional) actions or comments that marginalize or demean individuals based on their race, gender, or other characteristics. These can cause minorities and team members from underrepresented backgrounds to feel uncomfortable expressing themselves. They may feel ashamed or even unsafe in an organization that constantly criticizes, belittles, or misinterprets them. While it may seem subtle to people who aren’t victimized by it, this behavior can actually prevent people from using their skills or succeeding at all.
  • Disparity in Opportunities - Unequal access to opportunities can significantly hinder inclusion. For example, poor technology can significantly hinder a remote employee’s ability to be included in a key decision or team-focused event. Otherwise a lack of social time/speaking time to clearly present their ideas and perspectives can prevent people from fully assimilating into your culture.

Strategies To Improve Inclusion

Inclusion strategies can nurture a strong sense of community, foster effective team-building, and shape a positive company culture. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Additional DEIB Training for All Employees - Comprehensive DEIB training should be made available to all employees, regardless of their role or background. Such training can help raise awareness about unconscious biases and microaggressions and help prevent discrimination. It also fosters empathy and encourages individuals to actively contribute to a more inclusive workplace. This is one of the most effective strategies, as it actively involves the participation of team members to reflect on their own role in DEIB and its obstacles.
  • Give Minorities a Platform to Share Experiences - Helping minority employees  share their experiences can foster empathy among other team members and illuminate some issues that need addressing. But you’ll need to do more than simply encourage them to share their thoughts. Provide them with a platform to speak. Try hosting forums, panels, or affinity groups where individuals from underrepresented backgrounds can openly discuss their experiences, challenges, and ideas at work and beyond. Encouraging these conversations validates their experiences and helps the organization gain insight into key improvement areas.
  • Ensure Equal Participation in Key Discussions - Ensure employees from all backgrounds have opportunities to contribute to critical discussions, especially with executives and decision-makers. Encourage diverse voices at meetings and brainstorming sessions, and actively seek input from individuals who may be typically underrepresented.


While belonging has not always been included in diversity initiatives, it is a key element to creating a healthy organization. Belonging takes all of the initiatives described above and makes them personal. It aims to create a sense of community for individual team members on a psychological level by making sure everyone feels like they have value within the organization.

Belonging means helping employees experience DEIB efforts within your company in practical and tangible ways.

Challenges to Belonging

Belonging is a deeply interpersonal aspect of DEIB. Because of this, the challenges that hinder a sense of belonging are highly individualized.

  • Bias and Judgment - Unconscious bias may lead to misinterpretations, miscommunications, or judgments based on a person's cultural background. All of these can create discomfort and exclusion — even for those who aren’t minorities or from underrepresented groups. Any group that suffers from judgment and exclusion will affect the greater sense of belonging for all employees.
  • Not Enough Social Time - Time is a valuable resource. For companies struggling to be more efficient, it’s difficult to allow employees time to bond outside of work-related activities. However, it’s necessary to build an engaging environment that fosters a sense of belonging. When employees have limited opportunities for social interaction and bonding, it can result in poor communication and difficulty in understanding one another. This only creates more opportunities for judgment, miscommunication, and exclusion.

Strategies To Foster a Sense of Belonging

Fostering a genuine sense of belonging within an organization requires an organization to invest in both company culture and individual employees. Here are some strategies:

  • Rewards and Recognition - Rewarding and recognizing employees can demonstrate how much the organization values them individually. But this goes beyond recognizing good performance. Try rewarding and celebrating personal traits, qualities, or skills that people admire about their colleagues. This can boost morale, validate individuality, and encourage people to use their strengths more often.
  • Create Inclusive Team-Building and Leisure Activities - Relationship and team-building exercises are excellent opportunities to strengthen bonds among employees. Create an environment where employees have time for informal socialization. These interactions allow individuals to connect on a personal level, learn about each other's backgrounds, and ultimately build stronger, more supportive relationships. When planning such activities, consider the diverse needs and preferences of your workforce to ensure that everyone can participate comfortably.
  • Improve Communication - You’ll also want to provide tools and channels for employees to express themselves and share their thoughts or experiences. If your internal communication platforms don’t allow everyone to easily connect, that sense of belonging will suffer. Especially in a hybrid or remote work environment, it’s important that everyone has a fast and steady internet connection, access to video conferencing software, and a platform for creating customized messages. You may also consider creating company-wide communication guidelines that promote inclusivity and respect in all interactions.
  • Improved Onboarding - Invest in improved onboarding programs to help new employees integrate more smoothly into the company culture. Dedicate time at the start of each employee's tenure to help them build relationships, access key communication tools, and engage with the culture of your organization. By prioritizing these community-building efforts early on, it fosters a sense of belonging and connection, ultimately making employees feel valued as part of the organization.

How Criterion HCM Helps Implement DEIB Strategies at Scale

At Criterion, we are committed to providing technology that makes DEIB strategies more effective for everyone in your organization. Our platform helps HR leaders with several features designed specifically to aid in communication, efficiency, and human capital management.

Create Workforce Reports

One of the most important methods for gauging success with DEIB is reporting. With Criterion, you can easily generate reports based on any field in the system. You can then gain insight into the diversity in your hiring practices to help you see which groups or demographics are underrepresented. You can then associate these demographics to specific roles, positions, or departments to find correlations and improve diversity in every area.

Reporting can also allow you to find correlations with performance and the resources available to each employee. What resources do people in one department use most often? How is this department performing? Do they have adequate resources to help them succeed or can you identify a pattern of issues?

Employee engagement and other culture-related metrics can also help you gauge how your DEIB efforts are impacting your organizational health. This can be a valuable tool for presenting results to the financial department, executives, or other stakeholders.

Make Employee-Relevant Data and Documents Accessible

Every organization has information that needs to be organized and accessed — but not by everyone. Too often HR teams are put in charge of all documents simply because a company’s system might not allow for the right permission control. Criterion provides ultimate granular control for how documents flow through your organization.

You can make classified documents accessible to specific stakeholders or make pay stubs and W-2s accessible to each relevant individual employee. This saves time for HR since they no longer need to handle every information request. It also gives employees full access to the resources they need — without asking a manager first. You can also use Criterion to build and manage custom training materials and other resources which employees can use right in the Criterion system.

Streamline Hiring and Documentation

Recruiting with Criterion is both more efficient and compliant than any other traditional system. Our HCM provides an easy-to-use interface for reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and documenting all notes for hiring decisions. Each new candidate has a unique interface with two separate message threads:

  • One for speaking to candidates directly
  • Another for speaking internally with hiring managers and stakeholders

This setup is ideal for preventing discrimination lawsuits. It ensures that all discussion and documentation related to each hiring decision is logged in your system. If someone questions why a certain candidate wasn’t hired or someone suspects discrimination in your hiring practices, you have a complete record of the interaction. You can then analyze these threads and determine if there is an issue.

Implement Fair Position Management

Sometimes, discrimination can cause people to be overworked. For instance, an organization might put reasonable expectations on a white person, but when a person of color enters the same role, they are judged by harsher metrics or expectations. By creating a position management structure in Criterion, you can clearly understand the work that needs to be done, regardless of who fills the role. When a new person enters the position, you can be sure they are doing the same responsibilities as the previous person (regardless of their demographic).

This also relates to pay and benefits. Since each position has a preset pay and benefits package, you ensure that anyone who is qualified for the role makes the same wages as anyone else. It’s a perfect step toward eliminating wage gaps and other systemic issues.

It also makes career frameworks possible, which give employees a clear vision of how they might advance within your company. An employee can look at a map of your company and clearly see the training requirements and experience needed to advance to another role of their choosing. This transparency is great for building morale and is the perfect resource to encourage a more equitable system of advancement and promotion.

Final Thoughts

DEIB is more than a set of strategies. Improving in this area isn’t the same as getting a new payroll system, redesigning your informational architecture, or adjusting your budget. It’s an aspect of your organization that’s much harder to measure and control because it involves some complicated, unpredictable elements: people.

To succeed, you need great leadership committed to making DEIB a reality in your organization. Only dedicated, inspired people can make lasting improvements to your culture.

But working from a place of intuition and good will simply isn’t enough — especially at scale. It's impossible for any one leader (or group of leaders) to pay attention to everyone in a growing organization. You can’t keep track of every microaggression or every instance where someone feels left out. You can’t understand every team dynamic to determine if it’s healthy. Even when working as a team, we simply don’t have the capacity to improve DEIB by human effort alone.

With the right technology, your team can gain a holistic view of your organizational health. Improved custom reports and data from multiple systems can help you visualize how your DEIB initiatives are enhancing your organization. What’s more, HCM technology can help you implement your initiatives and strategies at scale, deploying resources and key information to all employees, and allowing more people to be connected in more ways than ever before.

Criterion HCM is designed specifically to help HR professionals do their jobs more effectively, including understanding and implementing policies related to DEIB. We’ve combined enterprise functionality with complete configurability and a user-friendly design to bring you the ultimate tool for visualizing and managing your organization’s most important resource — people.

Book a demo today to learn how Criterion can improve DEIB in your organization at every point.

Gary Anderson
Gary has been a driving force at Criterion since 2016, bringing over twenty years of experience in HCM, HR & Payroll solutions to our executive team. His team continuously works to anticipate & understand the HCM needs of SMBs, helping us to produce solutions to solve key business issues our customers face.
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