4 Steps to Support DEI Leaders & Strengthen DEI Strategies

Organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion as a part of their business strategy. This awareness, and movement toward converting recognition into action, has been heightened by the social unrest that’s marked much of 2020.

Emerging or deepened commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has ranged from making charitable contributions to social justice organizations and public commitments to equity, to turning a mirror inward and ensuring efforts to promote DEI in the workplace are aligned, strategic and transparent to employees, community members, and other stakeholders.

How to Support Your DEI Leaders

Many organizations have also recognized the need to create a cohesive and longer-term approach. 

This has led to a sharp increase in the number of organizations hiring or appointing leaders charged specifically with developing strategies to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

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At the beginning of 2020, Glassdoor predicted the recruitment of diversity and inclusion (D&I) specialists would surge, CareerBuilder identified an increase in D&I roles as a top employment pick for the year, and LinkedIn recently named the Chief Diversity Officer as the fastest growing “chief” title in 2020. D&I related job postings have increased 30% in the United States—106% in the UK!

As a DEI strategist who has architected the role within multiple organizations, I will caution you that hiring a DEI leader alone will not reap the progress that organizations are interested in. On the contrary, hiring one individual to oversee your DEI efforts without creating the conditions for success could actually undermine your company’s efforts and risk burning out a talented professional.

Below are 4 steps to consider as you lead your organization toward a deeper and sustainable commitment to DEI.

Step 1: Ensure Organizational Readiness

While having the skills, competencies, aptitudes, and attributes of a DEI leader is critical, even the most experienced and accomplished DEI professionals will not succeed if the organization isn’t ready. Organizational readiness is table stakes for true progress and requires investment in both the person and the process of diversity strategy. Additionally, there must be a recognition that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t the responsibility of one person, but requires active engagement by the entire organization – individual contributors, managers and leaders alike.

According to Deloitte, employee perceptions that an organization cares about DEI in the workplace are primarily driven by:

  • Whether the organization has a strategy around DEI that is longitudinal in nature
  • How senior leaders behave
  • How managers behave
  • Work/life sustainability

To underscore the second bullet point, researchers recognize the causal relationship between leadership behavior and organizational climate. Organizational leaders have the influence to serve as champions of DEI messaging, as well as guideposts to model inclusive behaviors.

In addition to executive commitment and organizational readiness, DEI professionals will provide direction in “measuring what matters” and shaping metrics to track the impact that DEI efforts are having. Consider the following data inputs:

  • Monitor critical lagging indicators in the talent management process like hiring, promotion, advancement, and attrition trends. Doing so at the organizational level and for each large functional area will provide deeper insight to opportunities for investment and identify possible emerging/best practices that exist within certain teams.
  • Facilitate employee engagement and climate surveys to gather important input for assessing a workplace culture of inclusion. Disaggregating data by demographic identifiers that you have reliably and consistently collected reliably through your Applicant Tracking System [ATS] and HRIS, will provide greater visibility into where there may be nuanced differences in employee perception based on lived experience.
  • Gather qualitative data through focus groups to help contextualize and “bring to life” the quantitative metrics. Also consider gathering the input of Employee Resource Groups, if your organization has them, feedback from the candidate process in Glassdoor or other sites, and employee exit surveys/interviews.

Step 2: Create and Keep Policies Updated

Policies, both the broad socialization of and transparency into surrounding processes, are a key step in influencing and impacting DEI in the workplace. For instance, are the policies to report microaggressions, bias, and harassment clear, understood by all and applied consistently – or do employees have to hunt through the employee handbook to understand the process? Have you reviewed your parental leave policies to ensure it is equitable and benchmarked against your industry and region? As noted in the previously mentioned Deloitte studies, work-life sustainability, and the policies that support the philosophy, are key drivers of employee perceptions of an inclusive workplace culture. Your DEI leader, advisory group or team should be positioned to regularly review and provide strategic recommendations in collaboration with accountable stakeholders.

Step 3: Implement Programs

Programs such as educational training, discussion forums, and other programmatic initiatives are remarkably important in creating an inclusive and equitable workplace. Many organizations have launched these types of initiatives as an initial, organization wide, commitment to DEI.  The issues aren’t with the programs themselves—on the contrary, they can help cultivate a shared sense of community, understanding, and responsibility. The shortfall of programs is when they exist in isolation and are not complemented by an equal investment in building an infrastructure of equity in policy, process, and leadership commitment, as outlined above. An astute DEI strategist will design plans and recommendations that bring together a sustainable approach that balances programmatic efforts, like training and discussions, with mid-and longer-term infrastructural investments. Doing so will demonstrate the enduring commitment of your organization of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Step 4: Ensuring DEI Talent Have the Right Attributes

In early 2020, LinkedIn identified tthe top five soft skills, or attributes, most in demand by employers: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and emotional intelligence. These attributes strongly parallel the characteristics of a successful DEI strategist who will work across your organization to guide and influence a culture of inclusion and belonging. Similarly, Deloitte has identified six signature attributes of an inclusive leader:

  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Cognizance of bias
  • Curiosity
  • Cultural intelligence
  • Collaboration

A successful DEI leader not only embodies and is consistently growing in all of these attributes, they model them for the rest of the organization. Consider incorporating these attributes to help shape the evaluation process of candidates for a DEI role and to inform the competencies that an incumbent DEI leader is evaluated against.

And, as we have seen, once the role for a DEI is filled, this person or team must also be supported by an organization that has institutionalized DEI and provides the required resources—talent, budget, access to leadership and strategic influence in decision making—to be fully functional in their role. An organization that hopes to progress DEI efforts and make a lasting impact must understand that a commitment to DEI is a commitment is both an organization-wide endeavor and a willingness to embrace cultural change.  

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