Diversity Laws & Workplace Inclusivity

America: Diversity & Inclusion Ideas, Practices & Laws

What is DEI? DEI, or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is a three-part concept that discusses the need for fair treatment and opportunities for everyone in multiple settings.


DEI as a set of principles emphasizes a core belief in impartial equality, respect, and equal opportunity for everyone. It provides a framework for building a more just and inclusive society. As a movement, DEI involves ongoing efforts to identify and dismantle barriers that prevent equal participation and success for all groups. Activists, organizations, and institutions work to implement DEI principles in various aspects of society, like workplaces, schools, and communities. DEI focuses on:


Making space for people with a variety of backgrounds, abilities, characteristics and experiences.

In theory, DEI protects all groups facing potential discrimination, including those based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and religion.

Not everyone agrees that DEI practice is the right approach to bring about the fair treatment and just society that DEI philosophy espouses; it can be a polarizing issue, often along political lines.

While there are no defined DEI laws that regulate inclusion behaviors in the United States in specific accordance with DEI philosophy, several US anti-discrimination laws do exist, and they include laws or regulations about diversity in the workplace. Diversity And Inclusion, often abbreviated as D&I, is the strong recommendation of the United States government as a way to comply with more specific U.S. laws, especially regarding employment. Certainly within the U.S. government and its agencies, D&I is required, and diversity hiring is encoded within multiple employment laws.

Upholding the underlying ideals of justice and equality that so many Americans believe in, regardless of their stance on DEI laws or principles specifically, there is also a core set of United States laws prohibiting discrimination in settings such as the workplace, for example, requiring equal opportunities for all employees.

The Civil Rights Act: Equal Opportunities For Minority Groups

The Civil Rights Act is a cornerstone of the equality and inclusion infrastructure, protecting individuals from discrimination based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability. This means employers cannot make hiring or firing decisions, or create a hostile work environment, on the basis of someone belonging to a historically disadvantaged group, or having any of these kinds of protected characteristics. The Civil Rights Act offers significant protection for people belonging to minority ethnic and religious groups, as well as women. This act establishes a legal framework to challenge discriminatory practices and support fairness in hiring, promotions, and employment conditions, building a requirement for inclusive policies and behaviors into American law.

Other key legislation around anti-discrimination, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), join forces with the Civil Rights Act to support inclusivity in the workplace.

ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act, Protecting Accessibility

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates reasonable accommodations in the workplace and other public areas for people with disabilities, and prevents disability-related discrimination in employment decisions. This legislation safeguards the rights of people with impairments to equal opportunities to contribute and advance in their careers without facing barriers due to a physical or cognitive condition. The ADA was originally created with architectural or material obstacles in the built environment, that is, barriers to accessibility in the human-made structures and spaces that surround us: for example, an entryway to a building that has only stairs and no wheelchair ramp constitutes a barrier to accessibility.

Web Accessibility Under The ADA: How Does The WCAG Fit In?

With the emergence and growth of the internet and all its attendant interconnected technologies, standards were created to direct people on the most effective and useful ways to build upon and interact with the world wide web and related coding, technologies and devices. Chief among these standards in relation to web accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG (pronounced wuh-kag) were established by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) independent standards body to instruct developers, designers and administrators in how to make websites and digital content maximally accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. While the WCAG is not a law in the U.S. or anywhere else, it is a benchmark set of rules and principles used to define laws on web accessibility in the United States and around the world. Under the ADA, legal precedent has been set in the judicial system, referring to the WCAG as a reliable source of information on what web accessibility is, and how it should be implemented.

ADEA: Aging & Employee Rights In The Workplace

For older adults, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) specifically targets age-related discrimination, protecting individuals who are 40 years of age and older from disadvantageous decisions made in hiring, promotions, and layoffs, when those decisions are shown to be caused or affected by prejudicial attitudes in the place of employment around age. This act is vital in helping older adults maintain their dignity and financial security as they continue to contribute their skills and talents to the workforce.

U.S. Laws About Diversity In The Workplace: Overall Impact 

Diversity and non-discrimination laws are transformative components of creating a more inclusive society by protecting and encouraging diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across hiring, career advancement, and internal workplace policies at all levels of employment. They reflect a commitment to justice and equal opportunity that is fundamental to the American value system.

Collectively, these major laws and other subsidiary and supplementary laws and regulations safeguard the rights of individuals across various demographics, working to protect civil liberties for all Americans, so that workplaces become and remain accessible and equitable environments for all.

Diversity And Inclusion Laws In The Workplace: Can They Be Enforced?

An enforcement officer checking inclusion laws are being upheld with icons of accessibility elements clearly visible on the image.

EEOC: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces certain federal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. The EEOC protects job seekers and employees at companies with 15 or more workers (20 or more for age cases).

The EEOC’s Scope Of Enforcement

The EEOC operates on the federal level. This means that they enforce relevant laws around equal rights in the workforce in any jurisdiction within the U.S., regardless of state. Federal laws on non-discrimination in the workplace come into effect when they are signed by the President after being passed by the U.S. Congress. Regulations in this context are policies that bring federal laws into effect. Not all U.S. laws around non-discrimination or workplace regulations fall under EEOC jurisdiction. These laws still require compliance, but the EEOC is not the enforcing body.

How The EEOC Resolves Workplace Discrimination Cases

The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination and takes action against employers who violate the law. This includes resolving claims through settlements or lawsuits in severe cases. The EEOC prioritizes cases with strong evidence, broad legal implications, and potential impact on preventing future discrimination.

The EEOC also works to prevent discrimination through education and outreach programs. They also guide federal agencies on complying with equal opportunity laws. 

Diversity Legislation Around The World

Diversity and inclusion efforts are not unique to the United States. Many countries have established similar legal frameworks. Within these laws and groups of laws, there is also a clear focus on protecting the rights of diverse groups of people in the workplace.

For example, Canada's Employment Equity Act requires employers to engage in proactive employment practices to increase the representation of four designated groups: women, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and visible minorities. Within Canada, multiple similar and related laws on the federal and provincial level also apply.

The European Union enforces directives against discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, disability, age, and sexual orientation, which member states must incorporate into their national legislation. Within the EU, each country may have its own legislation that works with or adds to EU law.

In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act consolidates and strengthens various prior acts and regulations, amalgamating previous anti-discrimination laws into one statute. It prohibits discrimination based on nine protected characteristics, including age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Australia's Fair Work Act outlaws discrimination on various grounds, including age, disability, race, sex, and sexual orientation, and its Racial Discrimination Act, Disability Discrimination Act, and Age Discrimination Act offer protections similar to those in the U.S., securing equal rights and opportunities across various demographics.

Despite their variations, a common thread runs through all of these laws: reducing discrimination everywhere, and prioritizing equality in the workplace. By prohibiting decisions based on factors irrelevant to job performance, these laws create a fairer hiring landscape and promote a more inclusive work environment for a wider range of candidates. They are part of a global commitment to creating inclusive workplaces that are free from discrimination. Each country's approach to legislating diversity and inclusion highlights unique cultural perspectives, but their aims converge into the common objective of advocating for and facilitating rules and guidelines that help build a fair, respectful, and inclusive workplace.

The Impact Of Diversity Laws On Hiring Practices

Illustration of a diverse workforce within an office. One person using a wheelchair, another, a hearing aid, and another person using a screen reader. 

Diversity laws can appreciably influence hiring practices by requiring less discrimination and fairer access to work and career opportunities, particularly for people in minority groups. Laws in this category support the creation of unbiased hiring procedures that aim to eliminate unfair disadvantages for all job applicants, regardless of their background. By prohibiting discrimination based on protected characteristics, these legal codes and statutes often help significantly reduce discrimination in work and career opportunities for people in minority groups.

To comply with these laws, employers should develop and implement clear anti-discrimination policies and provide training in compliance with local legislation. Regular audits of hiring practices and the implementation of standardized evaluation criteria, coupled with frequent training in recognizing unconscious bias in hiring managers, is also essential. In addition, employers can utilize standardized interview questions and scoring rubrics to minimize personal bias in the selection process. Finally, by actively seeking out candidates from diverse talent pools through the use of targeted outreach and recruitment programs, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to building a truly inclusive workforce.

Website Accessibility: A Necessity For Unbiased Recruitment

Website accessibility refers to creating digital content that is usable by everyone, regardless of ability. This is a critical threshold condition for job postings and career websites to comply with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), because accessible websites and digital content offer individuals with disabilities options to equitably access application materials and participate in the recruitment process. Following accessibility guidelines integrates inclusivity from the start, allowing all potential employees to learn about opportunities and apply for jobs.

Human resources departments must ascertain whether their online communications, human interactions, and application processes are fully accessible; if they are not, adjustments should be made. In the broader context of HR, accessible online communication should include features like text transcripts for audio recordings and closed captions for videos, clearly and meaningful text alternatives for all non-text content, and verifying that all functionalities are accessible via keyboard for people who cannot use a mouse, and that all digital content, including job requirements and applications, can be correctly interpreted and announced by screen readers.

Inclusive Workplace Policies

In addition to their compliance with legal standards and regulations, strong internal policies are an essential part of building an inclusive and collaborative workplace ecosystem. While the appropriate application of such strategies can vary with the type of organization and the teams or individuals involved, it is important to:

  1. First, consider the principles of inclusion at a high level.
  2. Then, take into account all employees and their needs.
  3. Then, decide how and where to integrate various protocols.

Remember, take the time to build up and build in, thinking carefully about who is impacted, how best to include diverse voices, and how positive changes can be made in a real way. In a 2020 McKinsey report, employees revealed that they did not feel their workplaces were truly welcoming of their differences, even among companies with clearly delineated diversity and inclusion policies in place. DEI initiatives aren’t always successful; this can sometimes be a result of surface-level inclusive “polishes” rather than substantive, sustainable changes and realistic integrated policies. DEI policies can become an inherent part of the laws of engagement within the workplace, creating real improvement and effective change when they are well thought out, widely implemented and consistently applied.

Business owners and organizational management should consider implementing:

  • Flexible Work Arrangements
    Offer options like remote work schedules or compressed workweeks to accommodate the different needs of employees, including working parents and caregivers, as well as employees with a disability. Flexible hours and part-time schedules help accommodate a wider range of life circumstances.
  • Neutral Language
    Maintain neutral language in all internal and customer-facing communications, and a professional but inclusive tone in policies and office norms. This demonstrates respect for everyone, including those from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
    Support the formation of ERGs led by employees from different backgrounds. This can be an important part of building a sense of community and belonging for all team members.
  • Clear Reporting Procedures
    Establish straightforward and accessible procedures for reporting discrimination or harassment. In this way, employees are able to address issues and feel that they are in a safe work environment.
  • Regular Policy Review
    Regularly review and update policies to reflect best practices and address any emerging concerns. This shows a commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Transparent Career Advancement Policies
    Clearly communicate the various criteria and processes for promotions. All employees should understand how they can progress and achieve their career goals in the organization.
  • Accessibility Improvements
    Continuously update the physical and digital workplace and all workplace content and interfaces to be accessible to all employees, regardless of disability.
  • Feedback Mechanisms
    Develop clear channels for employees to provide feedback on inclusivity, as a way to have their voices heard and acted upon.
  • Anti-Discrimination Policies
    To maintain a respectful environment, explicitly outline all behaviors that constitute discrimination, and list the consequences of such actions.
  • Sensitivity Training
    Schedule ongoing organization-wide training to educate employees on diversity issues and the importance of an inclusive workplace. Diversity and sensitivity training can reinforce team understanding. Training helps employees recognize unconscious bias and develop strategies for working effectively with colleagues from varied backgrounds and those with different abilities.

While integrating a comprehensive set of inclusion-oriented policies requires dedication and an investment of time and resources, it is well worth the effort. Among other advantages of a fully developed approach to inclusion and diversity, creating a shared understanding of respectful workplace behavior through clear policies and procedures strengthens team dynamics, supporting a more inclusive work environment where all team members feel valued.

Integrating Accessible Web & Digital Technologies In The Workplace

Website accessibility tools can help corporate websites and job portals meet accessibility standards. These tools can identify and address issues such as missing alternative text descriptions for images, non-keyboard navigation options, and unclear color contrasts. Many free and paid online tools can assist with website accessibility audits.

Organizations should implement a range of assistive technologies to support all employees in the digital workplace, including text-to-speech software, screen readers, and customizable interfaces that can adjust to various user needs. Integrating these technologies into their digital platforms welcomes all employees, regardless of their physical abilities, to access information and participate fully in workplace activities.

Organizations can also extend the availability of assistive technologies to facilitate the inclusion of employees with diverse abilities in the digital workplace. Examples include providing screen reader devices and applications for employees with visual impairments, or closed captioning software for video conferencing platforms. Many operating systems also offer built-in accessibility features like text magnification or speech recognition software. Encouraging employees to explore these tools equips them to complete tasks productively in the ways that work best for them.

Using these technologies and offering them to employees is often, but not always, required by accessibility law. It also demonstrates a commitment to a truly inclusive work environment.

Diversity Law Compliance: Monitoring & Reporting On Initiatives

Image of accessibility compliance being monitored

Organizations should develop internal procedures for ongoing monitoring of compliance with diversity laws. This means regular audits of levels of compliance with diversity and inclusion hiring laws, inclusivity practices and policies, documented workplace interactions, and promotion patterns to detect any biases or discriminatory practices. One such policy could require regular reviews of hiring data to identify any potential disparities in candidate selection. Another approach involves employee surveys to gauge perceptions of fairness and inclusion within the workplace. Employee complaints and feedback can be a valuable source of actionable information on underlying issues that have not yet grown into an obvious problem. Some organizations prefer to offer anonymous feedback options, while others value the interaction that can only be possible with a direct and personalized response to the grievance.

There is no standardized list of diversity law policies and procedures that is universally used; these may vary depending on industry and company size. However, businesses and other types of organizations can develop their own comprehensive checklists based on relevant legislation, such as the ADA, the Civil Rights Act, and other local laws, which serve as a framework for inclusion initiatives and on monitoring processes.

Benchmarking DEI Innovation

As a starting point for organizations or departments launching or fine-tuning diversity law compliance procedures and policies, it may be helpful for stakeholders to review the publicly available information that some large corporations publish about their diversity and inclusion efforts: IBM and Microsoft are good examples of easily available inspiration. For a more in-depth view into these measures, look for published interviews with leaders in your industry, or ask to connect with a peer in a parallel position: LinkedIn can be one place to find appropriate references and resources. It’s not only okay to request suggestions or even a one-on-one discussion, it may be encouraged by their organization. After all, while these initiatives certainly can be a business advantage, their intended goal is creating better work environments for everyone. With that in mind, exchanging ideas on how to strengthen inclusion is not an infringement on a proprietary concept: cross-industry learning can only advance the shared aims of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Documenting Diversity Initiatives

Effective documentation and reporting are essential for measuring the success of diversity initiatives. Here are some best practices:

  1. Establish Clear Metrics
    Define specific, measurable objectives for diversity initiatives to track progress and outcomes effectively.
  2. Collect Data
    Gather data on workforce demographics, hiring practices, and employee engagement from a variety of sources. This provides a more comprehensive picture of your diversity efforts.
  3. Report Regularly
    Develop a regular reporting schedule to analyze and communicate your diversity data, including recruitment numbers, promotion rates for minority groups, and feedback on workplace inclusivity. This type of reporting helps maintain accountability.
  4. Communicate Clearly & Accessibly
    Share both initiatives and the results of diversity efforts internally with all employees, and externally, where appropriate. Notify all team members that this information is available, and where they can find it. Present your diversity data and program outcomes in a clear and easy-to-understand format for all audiences. When using visuals, like charts and graphs, be sure to include accessibility options, such as text descriptions.
  5. Leverage Technology
    HR software and other technological tools can be used to gather data, monitor progress, and analyze trends over time, offering objectivity and consistency in reporting.
  6. Third-Party Audits
    Consider engaging external expertise to review and validate the company’s diversity practices and compliance with relevant laws. 
  7. Tie In For Buy In
    Connect diversity efforts to business goals in ways that leadership and team members can easily appreciate. Demonstrate how diversity and inclusion initiatives contribute to the organization's overall business objectives. This strengthens the case for continued investment in these programs.

For examples of compliance monitoring in action, large multinational corporations typically share reports and updates on their diversity and inclusion efforts on their websites. Companies like Google publish detailed annual diversity reports with data on their initiatives and outcomes, serving as useful references for other organizations.

Website Accessibility: Supporting Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

Website accessibility is essential for creating an inclusive digital environment in recruitment. Worldwide, more than a billion people have some form of disability: that’s nearly one in every five people globally, representing a vast pipeline of qualified candidates who are likely to be excluded by inaccessible websites.

Accessible career websites include people with visual impairments, hearing difficulties, motor limitations or neurodevelopmental conditions, giving them an equal ability to navigate job postings and apply for positions. This expands the talent pool and complies with anti-discrimination laws like the ADA. Key accessibility features include providing text descriptions for images, validating the functionality of keyboard navigation, and adding subtitles to videos. These and other important accessibility features mean everyone can effectively interact with online content.

Companies that prioritize accessibility benefit in several ways. They reach a wider range of talented individuals, demonstrate a commitment to inclusion, and may strengthen their brand image. In today's digital world, website accessibility is no longer merely admirable: it’s a necessary step towards a more diverse and qualified workforce.

Respect For All: Doing Better, Together

Diversity and inclusion laws and requirements, and DEI, D&I or other, similar initiatives are important components in shaping fair, equitable and welcoming workplaces. Legal frameworks requiring thoughtful inclusion, and independent efforts by or within organizations, all contribute to unifying and standardizing expanded access to the workforce itself, and to advancement within it, for job seekers and employees from all backgrounds and with different abilities. Through these laws, organizations across the globe are not just motivated but in fact compelled to open their doors wider, making sure that employment practices are fair and that opportunities are accessible to all. The legal requirements for equality have not only helped in reducing discrimination. They have enriched the workplace in businesses and other organizations, bringing in varied perspectives and skills, invaluable for innovation and growth.

Ultimately, a diverse and inclusive workplace benefits everyone. Respecting and welcoming everyone creates a more positive and productive work environment, leading to better outcomes for businesses and a stronger sense of community for employees. In a world that thrives on collaboration and innovation, this spirit of inclusion is more than a legal requirement: it’s a straight path ahead to shared success.


Do diversity laws apply to small businesses?

Yes, most diversity laws apply to businesses of all sizes. The specific requirements may vary depending on the number of employees, but the core principles remain relevant. While some exemptions may exist depending on the country and local regulations, most small businesses must comply with fundamental non-discrimination laws. Specific thresholds may apply, especially regarding the number of employees.

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