To be leaders in their industry, modern organizations recognize the need for a workforce representing today's society and its clientele. This is more than just about creating a feel-good story — it's a fundamental prerequisite for businesses to succeed.

As highlighted by Forbes, 80% of workers expect DEIB initiatives (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) from their employers. The payoff moves beyond meeting moral standards, demonstrating that those who do are 35% more likely to see their teams outperform.

But creating a sense of inclusion and unity can be tricky, as there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building diverse teams. Even the most progressive companies are constantly improving their systems and processes.

In this article, we'll explore what DEIB means today, why it matters, how managers and leaders can create a culture of belonging and inclusion, as well as practical strategies to build stronger, more connected teams.

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The new meaning of DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging)

DEIB is the acronym for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The concept was previously referred to as "diversity and inclusion" but expanded to better reflect a more comprehensive understanding of modern, inclusive workplaces. The addition of equity and belonging acknowledges that representation alone isn't necessarily enough to address systemic inequalities and create true unity within a diverse workplace.

DEIB strategies — and their diversity and inclusion activities — all work together to ensure every team member feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute in their own unique ways.

Diversity, inside and out

A team's diversity is more than just what's visible — like race, ethnicity, gender identity, and age. It's also about diversity of thought, personal background, and experience. Employers tap into the infinite ideas and perspectives unique individuals can bring by fostering diversity.

A single parent, for example, might have a creative solution to a problem at work thanks to how they've surmounted past challenges. There is so much value in pooling from different cultures and backgrounds.

Equity: Is it the same thing as equality?

Equity is often used interchangeably with equality, but it's not quite the same thing. Equality provides everyone the same support, while equity recognizes that diverse employees might require different levels of support or resources to have the possibility of achieving the same outcomes.

An access ramp would help an employee using a wheelchair get to the same floor level as stairs might for differently-abled team members. Of course, equity isn't just about physical support. This is why disability awareness training is beneficial for everyone.

Inclusion: Beyond representation

Today's understanding of inclusion is more than just passive representation. Inclusion activities proactively ensure every team member is heard, valued, and respected to feel supported in bringing their authentic selves to work.

Inclusion activities and efforts are more than just giving a seat at the leadership table to women of color, for example. It's about ensuring they get as much time to speak and share as anyone else, and their opinions are given the same weight within decision-making processes.

Belonging: More than just about inclusion

At the core, belonging is more than just about being included. Belonging is when employees feel a deeper sense of connection, acceptance, and camaraderie with their peers — fueling pride, engagement, and collaboration.

Celebrating diverse holidays and observances like LGBTQ+ Pride Month, or creating spaces for prayer, show intentional efforts to ensure all team members feel welcomed and increase cultural knowledge.

Meeting today's DEIB standards begins with the company culture. While many companies put their best efforts into recruiting a more diverse workforce, it’s the experiences created for employees that will ultimately drive their success. Workplace inclusion and diversity activities are essential to a company's continuous learning and improvement commitments.

There is no endpoint to improving DEIB — there is always more to learn and more to do.

Why are DEIB activities important for teams?

DEIB strategies are essential to keep employee engagement levels high. By creating an inclusive and respectful team culture, team members experience more fruitful collaboration, share their ideas more confidently, and benefit from stronger team bonding.

Taking a look at some insights from Workleap Officevibe's Pulse Surveys, we can observe a strong positive correlation between a company culture with strong DEIB values and:

  • Honest and transparent communication between peers
  • Involvement and collaboration opportunities
  • Teamwork and manager support
  • Responsibility and autonomy
  • Work satisfaction

Clearly, diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked to employee engagement, which directly impacts team performance. And to keep employees from diverse personal and cultural backgrounds engaged, there must be a sense of belonging for all.

That's why it’s so essential for organizations to be intentional in developing company cultures that not only value but actively embrace diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches.

Keep reading for strategies and activities that help make that happen!

Who's responsible for promoting DEIB at work?

Ultimately, every individual in the workforce is responsible for making the people around them feel safe, included, and valued. This includes managers, team members, colleagues from other departments, upper leadership — everyone.

That said, values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging need to be firmly established and ingrained within the work culture so that each employee feels compelled and responsible for upholding them.

The question is then: Who sets the standards on DEIB at work?

Setting a culture of DEIB from the top-down

A mistake that’s commonly made across all industries is that organizations leave it up to HR to foster an inclusive work environment. While that's partially true, it is up to all members in leadership roles to support DEIB strategies and be the gatekeepers of their application.

Business leaders need to play an active role in diverse team-building activities and strategies and not just delegate them, as this can inadvertently send the message that it isn’t a personal priority for them. HR members, managers, department leads, and executives should all actively be a part of and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Managers, in particular, play a critical role in fostering inclusion within their teams. By leading by example, actively listening to employee concerns, and addressing bias and discrimination, managers can create a culture of trust, respect, and psychological safety where all employees feel valued and empowered to succeed. Managers directly impact the employee experience, so they must prioritize inclusion and demonstrate fairness in their management style.

A culture of DEIB starts top-down. Employees look up to leadership, not just for guidance on meeting organizational goals but also on values and ethics. It's up to the leaders to make diversity and inclusion activities central to both the operations and direction of their business and embody these values themselves.

Improving DEIB strategies from the bottom-up

While a company's DEIB values, policies, and structures are set by leadership members, culture comes alive through its employees. It takes effort from both the organizational and the team levels.

By fostering collaborative team dynamics, managers can enlist the ideas and support of their teams to ensure the success of DEIB strategies.

There exist incredible co-creation opportunities to improve DEIB strategies that leverage the perspectives of everyone. Collecting and listening to feedback, hosting diversity and inclusion workshops, creating open discussion forums, and having an internal DEIB committee are some of the ways leaders can leverage bottom-up planning.

Plus, including employees in culture-building efforts makes individuals feel even more respected and valued at work.

Fostering an inclusive environment for remote teams

As most organizations apply some form of remote work structure, be it having virtual teams across timezones or a hybrid work scheme, it's important not to take for granted the impact that DEIB still has on employees who aren't in a physical environment. Virtual diversity and inclusion are crucial for positive employee experiences all around.

While working remotely provides new opportunities to create work-life balance and well-being, it can also reinforce barriers to collaboration and connection if we’re not mindful. Managers must be proactive in addressing these challenges and creating a supportive atmosphere virtually where all team members feel included and engaged.

For example, employees who live alone might benefit from their ability to focus and be productive — but those who are less tech-savvy can end up spending more time navigating new tools, affecting their productivity. Equity in technology access can look different for everyone.

Tips for promoting inclusion and employee engagement across remote team members:

  • Remember that even if employees work from home, it's still important to make space to speak out about how they’re feeling and thinking.
  • Be mindful that remote team settings impact everyone differently. Offer support, mental health resources, and flexibility with schedules and workloads.
  • Keep check-ins regular, even if virtual. Treat these as you would in-person meetings, setting enough time aside and keeping these meeting commitments.
  • Encourage team members to check in with each other. Introduce employees to newcomers, and facilitate virtual inclusion team-building activities like social hours so everyone stays connected on a human level.
  • Use technology to your advantage! Video conferencing platform features like shared whiteboards and quizzes are ways to amp up virtual diversity and inclusion activities and make screen-to-screen interactions more interesting.

7 DEIB activities to promote diversity and inclusion across teams

Inclusion must exist from beginning to end in an employee lifecycle — from when someone sees your recruiter brand to when they leave your company. After all, DEIB strategies are only as good as their real-life application.

Indeed, it takes proactive efforts to create better understanding, empathy, and appreciation between members of the entire team. Here are diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging activities specially designed to build stronger, more inclusive teams where conversation is at the core:

1. Learn about what's shaped each member of your team

When a safe space to learn about each other is created, managers and peers get a chance to learn more about each other, build trust, and, ultimately, foster deeper collaboration.

Making the time to know more about what's been vital in shaping who they are — be it their backgrounds, defining moments, or other unique experiences — gives an opportunity for employees to share who they are. The act of being open, honest, and vulnerable is a great way to create meaningful connections, increase empathy, and improve professional relationships.

How managers can run a team building activity centered on learning about each other:

  • Ask everyone to think about the three defining personal or professional moments in their lives in separate post-its (remote teams can try a virtual whiteboard like Miro).
  • Go around the "table" and have each employee present these moments to the rest of the team, sharing their story to the degree to which they feel comfortable.
  • Create engagement by encouraging questions, and asking the team to share what their takeaways are from the exercise at the end of the activity.

Every day is an opportunity to learn more about our colleagues — and managers don't have to wait for diversity team-building activities to promote this. For example, taking five minutes before a weekly status to ask team members to share anything special they did could have a similar impact.

2. Foster understanding through perspective-taking

A team's collective differences are often what makes its strength. Recognizing that every employee's life experiences inform how they show up to work, and acknowledging the beauty in this, lets diverse team members know they can feel comfortable being themselves.

By incorporating diversity team-building activities built around sharing and receiving a variety of perspectives, team members are exposed to different ways to look at a situation. Perspective-taking exercises breed understanding, allowing colleagues to learn how to work better with each other and learn from one another.

Here's how managers can prompt perspective sharing:

  • Pair team members from different backgrounds and ask them to write about the challenges they believe the other person might face and why. This could also work in small groups.
  • Have members share these assumptions, and allow time for everyone to respond by sharing their perspectives.
  • Discussing these insights and how different they might be. As a team, encourage everyone to express what they learned that was surprising or eye-opening and how that may help the way they work together in the future.

It's easy to forget to take a beat and take perspective in the shuffle of the day-to-day hustle. When managers plan for moments that encourage everyone to consider other people's truths, they help unlock more knowledge than meets the eye.

Workleap Officevibe's one-on-one meeting templates contain great conversation prompts around challenges, diverse talents, and personal motivations.

3. Confront stereotypes head-on

Sometimes, the best approach is a straightforward one. The "I Am, But I Am Not" is an activity suggested by MIT and a great way to break down misconceptions by giving people a chance to self-identify while also addressing the stereotypes that can accompany these identifying factors.

Here's how to structure an “I Am, But I am Not” activity:

  • Have each employee fold a piece of paper in half to create two separate columns. This can be done on a virtual notepad.
  • In the first column, they write “I Am,” and in the second column, they write “I Am Not.” In between these two columns, write the word “But.”
  • Have the participants write common identifiers, such as gender, race, religion, or age, in the first column. Next to each statement and in the second column, have them write a false stereotype about each identifier (whether the stereotype is positive or negative). The final statement will read, “I am _____, but I am not _____.” which challenges common stereotypes associated with their identities.
  • Have every employee take turns sharing their statements with the rest of the team and have open and respectful discussions around stereotypes.

By sharing and discussing how everyone lives with labels, good or bad, teams confront unconscious biases together, challenge stereotypes, and promote a deeper understanding of each other's experiences.

4. Walk in someone else’s shoes

There is no better way to create empathy and understanding than to mentally walk in someone else’s shoes. Diversity team building activities that have employees role play with one another help consider different challenges others face and unlock deeper appreciation.

How managers can lead a team building activity where team members walk in each others' shoes:

  • Have team members share the different ways their personal identifiers or diverse backgrounds differentiate them.
  • Pair up team members who have contrasting profiles. For example, an employee who is native to the country could be paired with an employee who has immigrated.
  • Have everyone write a few lines on the distinct obstacles they believe the person they've been paired with could face. Then, have the pairs discuss these assumptions.
  • One by one, invite employees to share and discuss what they learned about the colleague they were paired with. Invite others to ask questions and engage to build on the conversation.

By promoting active reflection in group discussions, managers can guide their teams towards a more empathic mindset, foster positive behaviors between peers, and create a healthier, more inclusive environment for all.

5. Bring bias to the forefront

Hosting unconscious bias training should be made a standard as, whether we like it or not, we all have biases — positive or negative. This is normal and should be framed as an opportunity to learn about each other rather than as a divide.

One way to confront bias and reduce the use of non-inclusive language or behavior is to call it out and encourage others to do the same. And there are ways to frame this positively, without blame.

Managers can create a bias jar for team members:

  • Whenever bias is identified, have the individual who noticed it call it openly, either in person or on a team chat. For example, someone used gendered language when discussing a profession.
  • The company adds a dollar to the bias jar in the name of the employee who made the call out. The jar can be a virtual one.
  • At the end of the month, share the total submissions to the jar with the team. Make it an opportunity for a retrospective discussion on the learnings of the past month.
  • Use the funds collected to organize either a fun diversity team-building activity or donate to a diversity-focused organization.

Activities around biases encourage self-awareness, accountability, and ongoing conversations about bias in the workplace. Making these activities feel like a game with a reward also incentivizes participation.

Different employees have different needs. Distributing resources and support among team members in a way that provides fair opportunities for everyone helps employees feel they belong, regardless of their differences.

Here's how managers can promote equity within their teams:

  • Initiating discussions about workload distribution, access to development opportunities, and recognition for contributions is a must. This is essential to create a feedback loop of what works and doesn't work for some.
  • Encourage open dialogue about resource allocation during team meetings or one-on-one sessions to address concerns. Leverage anonymous surveys for unfiltered suggestions or valuable insights.
  • Based on feedback, adjust! This helps formulate the right strategies, as even the best managers may have unconscious biases influencing resource allocation decisions.

When managers adapt to their team's needs, it creates an environment where all employees are empowered to succeed.

Of course, transparency and fairness in resource allocation processes are key to promoting inclusivity. It's important to keep the conversation going and it shows employees' perspectives weigh in the decision-making process.

7. Cultivate a sense of belonging through team-building activities

Building a strong sense of belonging is the glue for teams. When employees feel strongly connected to their peers, it generates camaraderie and better collaboration.

Diversity team-building activities focused on community are a great way to enhance team bonding and remind everyone why working at their company is so much more than just "a job."

Here are ideas to cultivate belonging between team members:

  • Virtual social events, team days offsite, or casual gatherings after work encourage diverse team members to build relationships and share moments outside of work tasks.
  • Encourage team members who share similar backgrounds or interests to meet up and chat. This could be structured as formal internal groups or committees and gives colleagues a chance to help each other out.
  • Get everyone involved in working together on projects or ideas. This builds teamwork and reminds everyone that their contributions matter.
  • Give team members a chance to talk about their own experiences, stories, and cultural traditions. This helps us all learn from each other, celebrate diversity, and participate in team bonding moments. For example, employees can take turns each month the organize a special themed day.

By making team bonding activities as much of a priority as work-related activities, managers promote mutual appreciation and respect. The stronger team members feel about each other, the stronger teamwork and results become.

Expert tips for leaders to build an inclusive workplace

Leaders play a pivotal role in keeping everyone connected and giving everyone an equal say. Inclusive managers listen empathetically to their employees, advocate for them, and break down barriers when needed.

Michelle Kim, CEO of Awaken, a professional coaching and training service, is passionate about changing the face of diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations. Here are her three tips for leaders to build inclusivity and promote diversity in the workplace:

1. See employees as people, not just workers

There’s a tendency to think that an employee's identity in and out of the workplace are separate, but they’re not. Leaders need to demonstrate through words and actions that they acknowledge their employees as people, not just workers, to signal true appreciation for everyone's unique value.

By asking questions, showing keen interest, and providing support for employees' personal needs show that their happiness and safety at work are important to the company.

Tip: Use a survey to find out what religious and cultural days or holidays are significant to your employees from different backgrounds and offer them the time off! Make this a part of company policy.

2. Lead through tension

Remember that a workplace does not exist separately from the world, and world events affect your employees. Whether it touches on race, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or other identity-based issues, it’s key for managers to check in with their teams, for leadership members to make formal company statements, and for HR members to create a safe space to hold discussions or offer support.

Tip: Keep your pulse on local and global news. When major events targeting specific communities occur, gather your team and let them know that you recognize the impact. Ask if anyone needs some time off, and remind them you have an open-door policy should they need to talk.

3. Use your power to level the playing field

People look to their leaders to set the norm, demonstrated through decision-making processes, policies, and practices. Managers can model inclusive behavior by addressing non-inclusive language, enlisting in unconscious bias training, listening to and amplifying underrepresented voices, giving credit where credit is due, and delegating work equitably to give everyone the chance to shine.

Tip: There's always room to learn, so annual diversity or disability awareness training sessions are great ways to show that leadership is equally invested in growing with their teams and the world.

Meeting today's DEIB standards: Assessing where your strategies stand with Pulse Surveys

Inclusive and diverse teams are more innovative and adaptable and more engaged, committed, and productive. Investing in DEIB initiatives is a no-brainer. So, how can managers assess their strategies to know whether or not there is room to improve?

Feedback tools like safe, anonymous Pulse Surveys gather insights from employees to help inform action plans. Workleap Officevibe's DEIB Survey & Report is specially designed to help calibrate how your team members feel about representation and inclusivity at work.

It's a comprehensive questionnaire with questions like:

  • Do you think everyone gets fair treatment within our organization?
  • How would you rate our company's inclusive culture on a scale from 1 to 10?
  • Do managers offer equal opportunities to people of all different backgrounds?

That said, you can build your own DEIB survey. The secret is to make it a group effort and part of ongoing improvement. When leaders, managers, and employees are all on the same page about prioritizing DEIB, individuals and organizations thrive.

Equip HR and managers with tools to engage, recognize, and drive performance.