With current disruption and instability, there’s a lot on business leaders’ plates: keeping the lights on, supply chain strains, political tensions, and societal and stakeholder pressures. These competing priorities have left many workers wondering where they fit in—and, in many cases, feeling anxious, ignored and taken for granted.

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A February 2023 Workhuman report found that nearly 30% of U.S. workers have felt invisible at work and 27% have felt flat-out ignored. This feeling may be even more pervasive, as terms like “quiet quitting,” “quiet firing,” “quiet thriving” and “loud layoffs” enter our employment vocabulary globally. The EY Culture Fitness Diagnostic found that 65% of 5,000 global workers selected “undervalue people” as the highest-ranking trait most often exhibited by companies with perceived lower integrity.

Those of us who have been in business for some years have seen a version of this cycle before. At times, talent is seen as a rare gem, other times a commodity. But it’s critical that business leaders, especially in turbulent times, are proactive and think long-term about their existing employee base.

Showing top talent that they’re valued outside of “good” times can mean all the difference—even yield a competitive edge once a recession lifts or a transformation completes. When 375,000-plus EY professionals are asked confidentially how they feel three times a year, their top favorable comments are frequently inclusiveness-related, including that they feel free to be themselves, belong and are included. This link between belonging and making employees at all levels and from all backgrounds feel valued is an important one to recognize.

There’s real opportunity in 2023 for organizations to better support and engage employees, and they could start with the “E” in their diversity, equity and inclusiveness agenda, recognizing social equity as a critical business imperative.

What does “social equity” really mean, and what should it look, or feel, like in practice? Fundamentally, it means ensuring that each employee has access to opportunities and resources that they uniquely need to thrive, considering their different starting points. It also means removing barriers to opportunities that can lead to unequal outcomes, across different backgrounds and identities. Importantly for organizations, it means recognizing deeply rooted advantages and disadvantages that get attached to different groups across every society and ensuring these aren’t reinforced or replicated in our workplaces.

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Organizations can directly influence more equitable outcomes by:

  • Building equity guardrails into key processes to disrupt the points at which inequities are likely to occur. For example, requiring that key decision-making groups include a diverse range of perspectives for processes, like promotions, hiring and performance management. Another guardrail could be pausing to ask, “Is this a preference, tradition or requirement (PTR)?” When we challenge the influence of personal likes and tendencies, and the way we’ve always done things, we can focus on the essential criteria, removing barriers and improving decision quality.
  • Setting critical foundations through learning. To support all EY people to team and lead inclusively, we developed an e-learning program, “Inclusive Leadership for All.” It equips EY people to recognize and understand insider/outsider dynamics at work, with a shared common language and leading practices for creating a sense of belonging for everyone.
  • Driving success by sponsoring individuals equitably across differences. “Likeness” bias can pull us toward those who are similar to us—impacting who gets access to relationships that can help to accelerate career progression, and those who don’t. As part of developing careers at EY, the emphasis is on the importance of building sponsor relationships equitably across different backgrounds and experiences. This helps unlock access and advancement for everyone, not just those who are similar to us.

This guidance is underpinned by the need to create experiences at work where employees feel fully valued, understood and seen for what they bring to the table—their background, experiences and skills.

Learn how organizations are using benefits programs to advance their social equity strategies during the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference, May 3-5 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

EY people and teams don’t have all the answers but looking closely at the organization’s DE&I roadmap, it was clear there was an opportunity to build greater awareness of different lived experiences to bridge better understanding and connections. Research shows that storytelling is an effective way to challenge existing views, gain new perspectives and engender a better understanding of the world around us. In fact, stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.

So, EY teams developed the Uplift Social Equity campaign, a series of short films featuring EY colleagues from around the world, sharing their stories in their own words. Today, Uplift is helping the EY organization to shape better connections and mutual understanding, and inspire learning and individual action. The hope is that these stories will support more authentic conversations from all levels of the organization, helping drive collaboration, address the problem and ultimately cultivate a feeling of belonging with true staying power.

If workplaces can create a collaborative experience where employees have autonomy but also community, they can actively elect to participate in an inclusive and equitable culture where everyone sees their place and purpose, bucking the talent trends and staying the course for a bright future career.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

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