The Ultimate Guide to DEI

Investing in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Organization


Our communities, organizations, and lives get bogged down by old paradigms of self-interest, exclusion, hierarchy, and privilege. But we believe that can change. And we can make it happen by working together at every level: personal, organizational, and societal.

One of the outdated paradigms we think it’s past time to take on is exclusionary, homogenous workplaces. The overwhelming body of research concludes that a diverse workforce is stronger than a homogenous one. But many diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives fail to take off because of lack of funding, hostile leadership, or blatant misconceptions, or perhaps they amount to little more than lip service or woke-washing.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ve compiled actionable and accessible resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from the top leaders who have been doing the work to shape the future of a more inclusive economy. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practitioners, coaches, consultants, and leaders have been working tirelessly for nearly forty years to push the boundaries and compel organizations to embrace the power of diversity.

We challenge conventional thinking, introduce new ideas, and foster positive change by offering viable alternatives to underlying beliefs, institutions, mindsets, and structures that continuously re-generate the same cycles of problems again and again.

Read on for the most important trends and research-backed tools on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Interested in learning about our books and products?

Get in touch with our sales team for discounts, customization options, and more


Chapter 1

Going Remote: DEI in the age of COVID-19

Remote work is the new normal–with the aid of telecommunication and virtual meetings, more teams and workplaces are moving online. What does this mean for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs?  

Humans have biases, and when these biases go unchecked, they are coded into our digital operating systems. Take a look at the tech industry and their own struggle with DEI -  mega-companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter face the same issues, even though the tech industry has been called "The Great Equalizer." While there is still potential in honing technology for greater access, collaboration, and transparency, we still need to examine human biases and intervene before they run amok. When microaggressions happen in Slack channels instead of in the office, it can become even more difficult to call them out. Though it might be counterintuitive, digital operating systems are not exempt from human biases. In fact, they often inherit them, which means that diversity, equity, and inclusion programming become all the more important, especially in virtual spaces. Communication, honest conversations, recognizing the influence of personal and structural biases, remote leadership, and looking at the hard data of diversity are critical to understand in an evolving age of virtual work and convening.

Chapter 2

Making the Case for Diversity and Inclusion

Making the business case for DEI initiatives often starts with the numbers. Diversity data refers to the breakdown of different identities within any organization. When we have that data, this is a great starting point to lead to other research questions, such as whether a DEI initiative actually contributes to driving innovation and raising the triple bottom line. Or if you work in the non-profit or public sector, whether there is adequate representation of people within the organization that can speak to the needs of the people and communities that you are serving. The research-driven conclusions are overwhelming: diverse workplaces outperform homogenous ones.

Having a diversity of perspectives and people in your organization creates the conditions for multiple viewpoints and increased innovation and efficacy, giving you a competitive advantage over nearsighted, homogenous organizations. If you find yourself struggling to make the case that is grounded in numbers, here are five non-bleeding heart reasons to promote diversity in your organization.

Not only must DEI be central to organizational development now, but it’s also going to be critical for organizations in the future. Millennials comprise the majority of the workforce, and Gen Z is hot on their heels. Both generations value workplace diversity as a high priority that informs which organizations they want to work for. Organizations that integrate DEI into their overall organizational strategy stay on the cutting-edge, attract top talent, and ultimately contribute to a more inclusive economy.

Chapter 3

Back to Basics: The Difference between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity. Diversity and inclusion. Diversity, equity, and inclusion. When did we add the equity? There are key distinctions between the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion, and knowing the differences can make or break your initiative. Let’s start with the fundamentals:

  • Diversity = a variety of people, experiences, and perspectives. Often nestled under the umbrellas of identity, including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, dis/ability (differently-abled), socio-economics, political affiliation, and more.
  • Equity = the process of just and fair consideration because of someone’s experience or social position.
  • Inclusion = the sense of belonging that people feel in an organization or community.

Sometimes people conflate diversity with inclusion and forget entirely about the importance of equity. Think of it like this: When you have a diverse workplace with many different kinds of people, there will inevitably be conflict. Conflict and challenge can be good and lead to increased innovation and a greater agility to problem-solve. But unmanaged conflict can also lead to exclusion, silencing, and other negative outcomes. Treating people equitably considers the history, context, and experiences people bring into the workplace. Ensuring that everyone feels included in a workplace with people different from themselves means that people feel safe enough to contribute their best ideas.

As we noted, making these distinctions is mandatory to creating the foundations of your DEI work. Starting with the basics will mean that your DEI program will go beyond stroking an empty corporate ego or, in the worst-case scenario, not result in a colossal #DiversityFail.

Chapter 4

DEI Work Starts with You

So, you’re feeling proud because you’ve made the case to start the DEI initiative, received the green light from management, and you’ve done the research to get down the lingo. Congratulations! These are huge feats, but your work is only beginning.

Perhaps the most important element of running a diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative or program is the continuous commitment to checking and managing your own biases. This should be deeply uncomfortable but it is entirely necessary work. DEI work is less about calling out other people’s mistakes and more about examining our own intersections of privilege and oppression, because as DEI expert Jennifer Brown says, “Everyone has a diversity story.”

The good news is that you won’t be alone! Looking at our biases is a matter of understanding our personal stories and how we came to learn the things we know. Once we realize how we learned our biases, we can begin to unlearn or challenge them if they get in the way of fostering relationships with people different from ourselves. Here are some of the top experts and resources to guide you on this lifelong journey.

Top Experts

Chapter 5

Create Inclusive Organizations or Bust

Earlier, we covered the importance of understanding the differences between diversity, equity, and inclusion. This section offers guidance on how to move to the second level of change: creating inclusive organizations.

You’ve invested in hiring a diverse array of talented people, but are struggling to build trust among teams. Those who come from historically underrepresented backgrounds continue to report feeling excluded and treated unfairly at work. Wasn’t hiring people enough?

Not even close. Without a dedicated focus on inclusion and creating a workplace culture of belonging, all diversity efforts will fail.

The key ingredient to creating an inclusive workplace culture is psychological safety. Psychological safety refers to the experience that every employee feels in your workplace–can they share honestly about their experience? Do they feel micromanaged or watched? Do they feel the support of their colleagues or boss? Can they share risky ideas without retribution? Can they call out microaggressions acted upon themselves or others?

 The employee experience is hugely influential for retention, and can ultimately impact your bottom line and overall efficacy of your organization's work. The personal biases we hold can inflate to structural bias, which translates to wrongful discrimination that gets in the way of our best intentions of inclusion. Once you’ve started to see how your own biases are reflected in the workplace, you can create spaces for listening to the honest employee experience and have inclusive conversations.

Top Experts

Chapter 6

DEI at Scale: Changing Systems and Structures

When we commit to checking our personal biases and building inclusive organizations and communities, the potential to change underlying systems, mindsets, and beliefs toward equity and inclusion blossoms.  

Systems, in this sense, refers to the continued inequality that still burdens our society. Social issues like the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, harassment in the workplace, racial discrimination, the racial wealth gap (and the wider wealth gap due to corporate greed), the lack of accessibility for differently-abled people — and the list goes on and on — are upheld or challenged by our everyday interactions and decisions. 

Although it might seem idealistic, DEI work within yourself and in your organizations and communities is the first step to changing systems. “But how does one scale this work to change the world?” We're glad you asked!

It is a daunting challenge, but one that we believe is possible to overcome with the right tools, vocabulary, frameworks, and guidance. Fortunately, there are leaders and activists across sectors who have offered their wealth of knowledge to help us dismantle specific, though pervasive, social problems. Edgar Villanueva, for example, is an expert philanthropist and a Native American who leads the charge with decolonizing our sense of money and racial wealth distribution. Sarah Beaulieu works in mitigating sexual harassment in the workplace by giving people the framework and courage to have productive conversations about combatting harassment in the workplace.  

For those of us who have been working in social change for decades or are just getting started, this arsenal of DEI frameworks on the personal and organizational levels are useful to consider in the world of social change in the long run. 

Chapter 7

Making Leadership Inclusive

For more than 25 years, Berrett-Koehler has made it our mission to push for leaders, organizations, and individuals to do better for themselves and for the world by equipping leaders with the new leadership paradigm. We believe that a new paradigm of leadership is going to take us into a more inclusive, equitable, and regenerative future, and that leaders set the tone and vision—whether they run a small business, non-profit, or a country.

It’s time to move past the old, command-and-control style of leadership that fails or refuses to consider the value with which each and every one of us is born. The spirit of diversity, equity, and inclusion holds this as central: beyond the bottom line, DEI programs should always center the value and humanity of people. And the most transformative leaders put people first, which can influence workplace cultures.

Below are some leadership styles that not only put people first but also transform organizations for the better.

Top Experts

Chapter 8

How DEI Is about Empowering Employees

Employee activism is an incredibly effective tool in moving the needle toward a more equitable and inclusive economy. Rather than viewing employee activism as backlash to unjust, discriminatory company policies, what if we were to empower employees to be their best, safest, and most supported selves from the beginning? 

There is a growing global movement, led by organizations like B Lab,  the B Corp Movement, and Social Venture Circle, that is not only imagining but implementing a people-first mentality into everything they do. What does it mean to put people first in a DEI context?

Stewardship in leadership advocates for partnership over parenting and eschews command-and-control leadership models that keep people from realizing their purpose and potential. Contrary to the naysayers who believe that leaders are more capable than followers, stewardship is a set of principles that encourages collaboration, ownership, interdependence, and self-reliance. Stewardship is at the core of the New Leadership Paradigm — each employee and team member, and every person within a community, is empowered to play their part to serve the whole. Empowerment comes from validating people’s diverse experiences, addressing the different social positions we come from and purposes we’re committed to, and nurturing cultures of inclusion.

We recognize the humanity of each individual, empower employees and team members, and recognize that, in doing this, we build stronger, more compassionate relationships across differences. And this increased empathy can result in a more sustainable and regenerative relationship with the planet.

Chapter 9

Committing to DEI for the Long Haul

If this sounds like a lot of effort, that’s because it is. Burnout is a massively prevalent and urgent issue among DEI changemakers, but there are things we can all do to manage it. Our journey to an inclusive economy will be a labor of love, one with the potential to shape a future in which we respect the dignity of all people and restore our relationship with a generative, healthy planet. What does this organization of the future actually look like? What do we have to look forward to?

Here are the key operating principles to give shape and vision to this future that is possible.

13 Key Operating Principles of the Organization of the Future

Together, we can make this a reality. But we have to take care of ourselves and each other along the way.

Chapter 10

Our Services

Since 1992, Berrett-Koehler Publishers has published hundreds of books on individual, organizational, and societal change.

Providing access to books is one of the simplest ways to support change and development. Whether for training initiatives, events, book clubs and ERGs, gifts, or simply for encouraging the pleasure of learning—books bring ideas to life.

We offer

  • BULK DISCOUNTS on books, eBooks, and audiobooks
  • FREE SHIPPING & DELIVERY LOGISTICS on any quantity in the US
  • CUSTOM EDITIONS for gifts and events

About Berrett-Koehler

Berrett-Koehler Publishers creates books and training materials to bring people together around one central idea: change.

For organizations that are pursuing broad change initiatives or investing in DEI strategy or leadership development programs, we provide tailored content packages from some of the world’s leading experts.

Our communities, organizations, and lives become bogged down by old paradigms of self-interest, exclusion, hierarchy, and privilege. But we believe that can change. That’s why we partner with authors, coaches, and speakers on addressing these challenges, sharing their actionable ideas with you.

Interested in learning about our books and products?

Get in touch with our sales team for discounts, customization options, and more