DEI Practices That Have an Impact

As many organizations strengthen their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, leaders need clarity on specific positive actions they can take.

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At Work/22, MIT Sloan Management Review’s recent two-day virtual symposium, a range of guests shared their insights into the challenges leaders will face in the year ahead. Among the participants was Stephanie Creary, an assistant professor of management at the Wharton School, who coauthored a large-scale research study that shows what practices really underlie positive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) outcomes.

Creary’s research is driven by an attempt to understand efforts around DEI through their potential for good. Positive outcomes from DEI, she says, include employees feeling that they are known and understood for who they are, and that they’re developing allied relationships in the workplace. “We have decades of research saying how fraught diversity, equity, and inclusion can be,” she noted. “How do we change that?”

A May 2021 research report she coauthored at Wharton, “Improving Workplace Culture Through Evidence-Based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices,” describes evidence-based insights that identify which specific actions lead to which kinds of changes.

“When we talk about evidence-based diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, we’re using similar language that they use in the field of medicine,” Creary said. “If you have medicine sitting in a medicine cabinet, you don’t just take it randomly for any problem that you have. You pick medicine that’s designed to address the specific needs that you have.” In the same way, she set out to map DEI practices onto outcomes.

Creary said that she has heard “so many dehumanizing things” about middle management and DEI — specifically, that managers present roadblocks and obstacles to DEI efforts. Instead, she said, think of middle managers as people who have a lot of work to do, and consider that the company might have to do a better job of meeting them where they are. “How do we begin to translate all of the opportunities into middle manager language?” she asked. “What are specific tactics that they need to become familiar with?”

Part of her work has been to identify seven practices that lead to DEI outcomes — diversity recruiting initiatives, education and training, internal diversity partners, managerial involvement, mentoring and sponsorship, physical visibility, and workplace policies — and then map them onto 12 different outcomes.

She found that certain bundles of practices are more influential in driving certain outcomes. For instance, if the goal is to create a stronger sense of belonging, bundling three practices (managerial involvement, mentoring and sponsorship, and workplace policies) is most effective. On the other hand, if the goal is to get more people to speak out against bias, the practice of education and training is critical.

The point, she reiterated, is to see DEI strategy as a variety of medicines in the medicine cabinet that can best be used in certain combinations, depending on the outcomes you are most focused on.

Watch Creary’s Work/22 presentation below:


  • Tools to build DEI are like medicines: They can be used in different ways to different effect.
  • Seven workplace practices can be mixed and matched to reach 12 DEI outcomes.
  • Specific bundles of practices have proved to be effective at driving each of the 12 outcomes.



Lessons from management experts on navigating the workplace revolution.
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