The Ultimate Guide to a Total Rewards Strategy with DEI

12 minutes

Total rewards strategy viewed as only cash; the typical yet skewed perception of rewards

The Ultimate Guide to a Total Rewards Strategy with DEI

A Total Rewards Strategy is Best with a Strong DEI Foundation

Total rewards is a comprehensive term used to describe the full spectrum of rewards, including not just salary, but also benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions, and other perks that employers provide to attract, motivate, and retain employees. In today's competitive business environment, these rewards play a pivotal role in shaping an organization's workforce strategy and culture.

Moving beyond the conventional definition of employee benefits, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) emerges as a powerful force driving modern workplace dynamics. DEI is about acknowledging and valuing differences - it's about ensuring equal opportunities for all employees regardless of their race, gender, age, religion or disability.

The integration of DEI into total rewards strategies is not merely a trend; it's a business imperative. Companies that fuse DEI principles into their rewards strategies can expect enhanced employee engagement, improved organizational performance and enriched corporate reputation.

This article aims to delve into the intricate relationship between total rewards and DEI. It will offer actionable insights that organizations can use to adapt their total rewards approach through a DEI lens. The future of total rewards lies at this intersection - where diverse and inclusive practices are ingrained within every facet of an organization's reward strategy.

Understanding Total Rewards

Total rewards encompass a strategic approach designed to attract, motivate, and retain employees by providing a comprehensive package of benefits. Key elements of this strategy include: competitive base pay, performance-based incentives, health and wellness programs, retirement plans, work-life balance initiatives, and employee recognition

Employee Engagement Programs

These programs are integral to securing top talent and maintaining a committed workforce. Engaging employees goes beyond salary; it involves creating an environment where they feel recognized and valued. Initiatives such as peer recognition awards, team-building activities, and open communication channels contribute to a positive workplace culture that supports talent recruitment and retention.

Wellness Initiatives

Recognizing the importance of employee well-being, companies are increasingly incorporating wellness programs into their total rewards strategies. Thus, these initiatives range from health insurance and fitness reimbursements to mental health support and ergonomic workspaces. Such wellness measures not only demonstrate care for employees' health but also lead to increased productivity and reduced absenteeism.

Development Opportunities

Personal and career growth is facilitated through professional development opportunities within an organization’s total rewards framework. Therefore, by offering resources for continuous learning—such as tuition reimbursement, on-the-job training, leadership development programs, and career mentoring—employers can empower their workforce. This investment in employee growth aligns with long-term business objectives while reinforcing the company's commitment to its employees’ success.

The alignment of these elements with organizational goals ensures that total rewards strategies remain dynamic, promoting both individual satisfaction and business performance in a symbiotic relationship.

1. Employee Benefits as a Cornerstone of Total Rewards and DEI

Employee benefits are crucial in both total rewards strategies and DEI principles. When companies align their benefits with DEI values, they show their dedication to meeting the diverse needs of their employees.

Key Benefit Categories Aligned with DEI Principles

Here are some important benefit categories that support DEI principles:

1. Parental Support Programs

These programs help companies promote a healthy work-life balance, which is crucial for keeping employees satisfied and motivated. Parental support programs go beyond traditional maternity and paternity leave policies by offering additional resources and benefits to support working parents. This can include:

  • Flexible work arrangements: Allowing employees to adjust their schedules or work remotely to accommodate family responsibilities.
  • Childcare subsidies or reimbursements: Providing financial assistance for employees who need help covering the costs of childcare.
  • Lactation rooms and breastfeeding support: Creating dedicated spaces for nursing mothers to express milk at work, along with access to lactation consultants or educational resources.
  • Parenting workshops and resources: Offering workshops, seminars, or online resources that provide guidance on various aspects of parenting, such as child development, managing work-life balance, and transitioning back to work after parental leave.

By implementing these programs, companies demonstrate their commitment to supporting working parents and ensuring equal opportunities for career growth.

2. Caregiving Benefits

By offering comprehensive caregiving benefits, companies recognize and address the different caregiving needs within their workforce, ensuring fairness and equality for all. Caregiving benefits extend beyond parental support programs and encompass a range of provisions that assist employees in balancing their work responsibilities with caring for dependents. These benefits may include:

  • Elder care assistance: Providing resources and referrals for employees who are responsible for the care of aging parents or other elderly family members.
  • Flexible leave policies: Allowing employees to take time off to care for sick family members or attend to other caregiving responsibilities without facing negative consequences.
  • Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Offering counseling services or access to professional advisors who can provide guidance on managing caregiving responsibilities.

By acknowledging the diverse caregiving roles that employees may have outside of their professional lives, companies foster an inclusive and supportive work environment.

3. Disability and Accessibility Support

Companies that prioritize DEI principles recognize the importance of creating an accessible and inclusive workplace for employees with disabilities. Disability and accessibility support benefits can include:

  • Reasonable accommodations: Ensuring that employees with disabilities have the necessary accommodations to perform their jobs effectively, such as modified workstations, assistive technologies, or flexible schedules.
  • Accessibility initiatives: Implementing measures to make the physical workspace more accessible, such as ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms.
  • Mental health support: Offering resources for mental health care, including counseling services or employee assistance programs that provide confidential support for employees experiencing mental health challenges.

By providing these benefits, companies promote a culture of inclusivity where individuals with disabilities can fully participate and contribute to the organization's success.

4. Diversity Training and Education

To cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce, companies invest in diversity training and education programs. These initiatives aim to raise awareness about unconscious biases, promote cultural competency, and foster an inclusive work environment. Some approaches to diversity training and education include:

  • Implicit bias training: Educating employees on unconscious biases that may affect decision-making processes or interactions with colleagues from different backgrounds.
  • Inclusive language workshops: Teaching employees how to use inclusive language that respects all individuals' identities and avoids inadvertently excluding or marginalizing certain groups.
  • Cultural competency training: Providing employees with knowledge and skills to effectively collaborate across cultures and understand different perspectives.

By prioritizing diversity training and education, companies create a more inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and respected.

5. Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs

Mentorship and sponsorship programs are valuable tools for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations. These programs pair employees from underrepresented groups with experienced mentors or sponsors who provide guidance, support, and advocacy. Benefits of mentorship and sponsorship programs include:

  • Career development: Mentors and sponsors can offer guidance and advice to help mentees navigate their career paths, set goals, and overcome challenges.
  • Professional networking: Mentors and sponsors can introduce mentees to valuable professional connections, opening doors to new opportunities and expanding their professional network.
  • Increased visibility and recognition: Mentors and sponsors can advocate for their mentees, helping them gain visibility within the organization and enhancing their chances of advancement.
  • Enhanced job satisfaction and retention: Research shows that employees who participate in mentorship programs report higher job satisfaction and are more likely to stay with the company long-term.

Additionally, to ensure the success of mentorship and sponsorship programs, organizations should provide training to mentors and sponsors on effective coaching techniques, cultural sensitivity, and how to address bias or discrimination if encountered. Additionally, regular check-ins and evaluations can help monitor the progress of these programs and make necessary adjustments to maximize their impact."

Examples of Companies Embracing DEI Principles in Their Benefits

Here are two examples of how companies are incorporating DEI principles into their employee benefits:

Ensuring Fairness with Comprehensive Caregiving Benefits

Another great example from BMC Software is their Backup Care Advantage Plans. These plans provide backup child and elder care services to their employees when their regular caregiving arrangements fall through or become unavailable for any reason. This helps employees manage unexpected disruptions in their caregiving responsibilities without having to worry about work.

By adopting these key benefit categories, companies can foster an inclusive and supportive culture that leads to better employee satisfaction, increased productivity, and higher retention rates.

Above all, creating a value-driven culture fuels creative success,  through authenticity and purpose. As a result, a culture of well-being and inclusion contributes to effective total rewards strategies.

A healthy total rewards strategy includes allowing time for family, friends, and loved ones.

A healthy total rewards strategy includes allowing time for family, friends, and loved ones.

2. Nurturing a Culture of Well-being and Inclusion through Total Rewards

Total rewards are not just about money. They include a wide range of things, like well-being benefits, that are important for how employees feel about their job and how engaged they are with their work. Focusing on well-being is not only the right thing to do, it's also good for business. It can make people more productive, reduce the number of days they take off sick, and improve how they feel about their job, which all helps the company do better.

Let's look at BMC Software as an example. They have decided to offer their employees more than just money. They also give them things like time off to spend with their family, flexible working hours, and the option to work from home sometimes. These things show that BMC cares about its employees' physical and emotional health, which makes them want to work harder.

But well-being is not just about time off or being able to choose when you work. It's also about making sure that everyone feels welcome and treated fairly at work. When people feel like they belong in a company, they do better work, take fewer days off sick, and want to stay with the company for longer.

BMC has found that its programs to make sure everyone feels included have made people work better together, feel more connected to each other, want to stay with BMC for longer, and come up with new ideas more often.

By giving everyone fair rewards, companies can make sure that everyone feels like they belong. For example, BMC makes sure that men and women doing similar jobs get paid the same amount of money by comparing what other companies pay for similar jobs. This kind of fairness has made 84% of BMC's employees think that it's important for the company to have a mix of different kinds of people working there.

Laurie Ruettimann reveals her journey from burnout to success, advocating for self-leadership and reshaping workplace well-being in her insightful podcast on well-being and company culture. Incorporating well-being initiatives like the ones discussed in this podcast is now something that companies have to offer if they want to make sure that everyone feels included.

3. Leveraging Technology for Effective Total Rewards and DEI Management

Technology has significantly impacted how organizations manage their total rewards and DEI efforts. Two key technologies driving this change are:

  1. HRIS (Human Resources Information System): An essential tool for creating and overseeing comprehensive total rewards programs. With HRIS, companies can incorporate DEI principles into their reward strategies, ensuring that they meet the unique needs of every employee. For example, HRIS allows businesses to track important employee metrics like performance, productivity, and satisfaction levels. This data helps in designing fair compensation packages that recognize individual contributions and empower all staff members.
  2. People analytics: A valuable resource for making unbiased and efficient decisions about rewards. People analytics involves analyzing large sets of employee data to identify patterns and trends related to performance and engagement. The insights gained from this analysis can guide the development of equitable reward systems that inspire employees while fostering an inclusive environment.
  • Example: The use of AI technology, such as ChatGPT, is demonstrating how technology can be utilized for intricate tasks such as designing reward systems in various industries.

By harnessing the power of HRIS and people analytics, organizations can strengthen their total rewards strategies while also nurturing a culture that respects diversity, promotes equality, and encourages inclusion.

4. Communicating Total Rewards and DEI Value Proposition to Employees

Effective communication is essential for the success of Total Rewards and DEI strategies within organizations. Moreover, transparently conveying these offerings not only fosters an inclusive culture but also cultivates trust and engagement among employees.

Open and Easy Communication

To maximize the impact of these initiatives, companies should develop comprehensive employee communication plans that highlight the clear and hidden advantages of their Total Rewards offerings. This requires a multi-step approach:

  • Simplified Messaging: Avoid using complex language when explaining intricate benefits or policies. Instead, employ straightforward terminology that resonates with your diverse workforce.
  • Detailed Guides: Create comprehensive guides that outline each component of the Total Rewards program and its alignment with DEI principles.
  • Regular Updates: Keep employees informed about policy changes or new initiatives through consistent communication channels such as email newsletters or company intranet posts.

Involving Employees in the Process

Employee participation is crucial to the success of any DEI-focused Total Rewards strategy. Here are some actionable steps to encourage involvement:

  • Interactive Meetings: Hold meetings or webinars where employees can ask questions and share their thoughts regarding Total Rewards offerings.
  • Special Channels for DEI Talks: Establish platforms where individuals can openly discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion matters within the organization.
  • Sharing Stories: Share anecdotes illustrating how these practices have positively impacted individuals or teams within the organization.

By employing effective communication strategies, companies can help employees comprehend, appreciate, and utilize their Total Rewards programs more effectively while simultaneously demonstrating their commitment to DEI principles, because this not only enhances employee satisfaction but also lays the foundation for long-term organizational growth.

For further insights on effectively communicating DEI strategies within your organization, you may find this podcast episode by Dr. Greg Pennington valuable. Dr. Pennington, a Managing Partner at Pennpoint Consulting Group, shares DEI leadership insights for effective communication and change.

A winning total rewards strategy is one that integrates feedback from employees

A winning total rewards strategy is one that integrates feedback from employees

Embracing the Future: Advancing with DEI-Oriented Total Rewards Strategies

As we explore the future of total rewards, it's clear that we need to make a strategic shift. We must embrace a more inclusive perspective and incorporate DEI strategies into our reward programs. This change presents both challenges and opportunities.

Key Challenges and Opportunities

Adopting a DEI lens for our total rewards practices isn't easy. We may face hurdles such as dismantling traditional reward structures and overcoming unconscious biases. This requires a fundamental shift in how we approach and think about rewards. To illustrate, it means moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and customizing rewards to meet the diverse needs of our employees.


  1. Dismantling Traditional Reward Structures: One of the challenges we may encounter is breaking down the existing reward structures that may favor certain groups or perpetuate inequalities. This requires a careful evaluation of our current practices to identify any biases or inequities.
  2. Overcoming Unconscious Biases: Unconscious biases can influence decision-making when it comes to rewards, leading to unintentional disparities. Recognizing and addressing these biases is essential for creating a fair and inclusive rewards system.
  3. Understanding Employee Needs: To create fair rewards, we must understand what different employees need. This involves recognizing that individuals have unique circumstances, preferences, and goals. By listening to our employees, we can gain insights into their needs and tailor rewards accordingly.


If we successfully integrate DEI into our total rewards strategy, we can benefit in several ways:

  • A diverse and inclusive approach can create a happier workforce, leading to better productivity and innovation. When employees feel valued and recognized for their contributions, they are more motivated to perform at their best.
  • It strengthens our reputation as a fair employer, attracting top talent in competitive markets. As organizations increasingly prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion, job seekers actively seek out companies that align with their values. Demonstrating our commitment to DEI through our total rewards strategy can give us a competitive edge in attracting and retaining top talent.
  • Embracing DEI-oriented total rewards strategies not only addresses the challenges of fairness and inclusion but also presents opportunities for organizational growth and success. By building a rewards framework that recognizes and values the diverse contributions of our employees, we can create a more inclusive and future-ready workplace.

Building an Inclusive and Future-Ready Total Rewards Framework

For us to move towards this future-oriented approach, here are some steps we can take:

  1. Assess Our Current Practices: Let's start by evaluating our existing total reward strategies to see if they're fair to everyone.
  2. Listen to Our Employees: We should find ways to hear from our workers with different backgrounds so that we understand their needs better.
  3. Customize Our Rewards: By developing personalized reward programs, we can make sure that everyone feels included.
  4. Promote Transparency: We need to communicate clearly about our principles and what rewards we offer.
  5. Regularly Review Our Strategy: Finally, let's keep checking if what we're doing is working and if we need to make any changes.

This journey towards a DEI-centered total rewards strategy may be complex but the potential benefits make it worthwhile. The key lies in proactive adaptation, listening to employees, and continually refining our approach.

Companies are recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) when creating their total rewards strategy. Here's how it's done.

The Future of Total Rewards and DEI

The future of total rewards is closely connected with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies. These two concepts are intertwined and form the foundation of organizational success. By aligning total rewards with DEI principles, companies can create an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and treated fairly.

Attracting and Retaining Top Talent

Total rewards that support DEI not only attract top talent but also help retain them. In today's competitive job market, candidates are looking for organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusivity. When companies offer comprehensive total rewards packages that promote fairness and equality, they become more attractive to a diverse pool of candidates.

Promoting an Inclusive Culture

A total rewards strategy centered on DEI principles promotes an inclusive culture within the organization. When employees see that their unique contributions are recognized and rewarded, they feel valued and engaged. This inclusive environment fosters collaboration, teamwork, and innovation, leading to a stronger workforce.

Enhancing Employee Loyalty

When employees feel that their organization values diversity and treats everyone fairly, it fosters loyalty. A total rewards strategy that embraces DEI principles demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being and growth. Employees who feel supported and appreciated are more likely to stay with the company long-term.

Driving Business Growth

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace has been proven to drive business growth. When individuals from different backgrounds come together, they bring diverse perspectives, ideas, and experiences. This diversity fuels creativity, problem-solving, and innovation, giving companies a competitive edge in the market.

Guiding Principles for Success

To successfully integrate DEI into their total rewards strategy, companies should consider the following guiding principles:

  1. Assess Current Practices: Evaluate existing total reward strategies to ensure fairness for all employees.
  2. Listen to Employees: Create opportunities for employees from diverse backgrounds to share their needs and experiences.
  3. Customize Rewards: Develop personalized reward programs that cater to the unique needs and aspirations of each employee.
  4. Promote Transparency: Clearly communicate the organization's principles and the rewards it offers to foster trust and understanding.
  5. Regularly Review Strategy: Continually assess the effectiveness of the total rewards strategy and make necessary adjustments.

By proactively adapting to DEI principles, listening to employees, and continuously refining their approach, companies can create workplaces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

"The journey towards a DEI-centered total rewards strategy may be complex, but the potential benefits make it worthwhile.

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