The focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) within organizations has shifted from being “nice to have” to becoming a “competitive advantage.” While many teams are moving in the right direction by increasing their focus in this area, the majority are rushing to be part of this wave without a clear direction.
Creating a thoughtful DE&I strategy can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With more than two decades of experience advancing leaders and increasing inclusion within Fortune 20 organizations, I want to share three steps that are foundational to building an impactful plan.
1. Evaluate the organization’s current state by listening to employees. A successful DE&I strategy begins by evaluating our starting point. It is important to look inward and evaluate gaps and opportunities within the organization. The best way to do this is by asking employees. Most companies practice a top-down approach where executives determine which initiatives are best and then have their team implement them, but this doesn’t always account for what their company truly needs. Taking a bottom-up approach and asking employees for their feedback through DE&I surveys and focus group discussions helps us to assess the real challenges and concerns that already exist across the organization. Becoming more aware of our team’s needs will inform a relevant and tailored DE&I strategy.
2. Identify gaps and areas of focus. After we listen to employee insights, we can dive deeper and address specific areas within our organization that require attention. Here are some areas to look into depending on the team’s feedback:
- Recruitment and advancement. Determine the most common barriers that affect recruiting historically marginalized groups and seek a diverse pool of candidates. To further support diverse recruitment efforts, require unconscious bias training for hiring managers. Next, promote equitable advancement opportunities by creating a talent pipeline to develop diverse candidates for future leadership roles, and ensure underrepresented employees are included in mentorship programs.
- Dialogue and education. Increase awareness around DE&I opportunities and challenges by providing ongoing workshops on topics including unconscious bias, working across generations, and handling discrimination case studies. Creating employee resource groups also helps to promote inclusion by bringing together employees with similar backgrounds, such as women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and emerging professionals. The most effective employee resource groups are inclusive and open to everyone — both members and allies.
- Internal and external communications. Ensure the leadership team communicates the company’s focus on DE&I to the rest of the organization in its corporate values, mission statement, and other communications. Then, put words to action by creating feedback channels so employees can share ideas for increasing DE&I or express complaints about discrimination and harassment in the workplace. In addition to making improvements internally, we can exhibit our commitment to DE&I externally and improve our brand by updating the company’s website and posting on social media about our DE&I efforts.
- Implementation through leadership. Demonstrate the leadership team’s focus on DE&I by planning monthly small group round table discussions with executives and a diverse group of employees. These conversations are important for gaining insight into workplace culture in relation to inclusion. Also, include commitment to DE&I as a part of the leadership team’s performance evaluation and compensation plans to encourage action in this area.
3. Establish a DE&I council. Creating a DE&I council makes it possible to establish a dedicated focus on DE&I priorities. This selected group of employees, including executive sponsors, is responsible for setting the short-term and long-term initiatives identified by the organization, and managing their implementation. The number of the council members depends on many factors, including the size of the organization and the scope of the DE&I initiatives. I have seen councils with as few as five members and as many as 20. No matter the size, these groups are a structured and collaborative way to get employees from across the organization to lead, participate in and own the DE&I initiatives. While this council supports the success of DE&I efforts, it also provides personal development opportunities and visibility for its members.
Putting together and implementing a DE&I strategy can feel overwhelming since it needs to be integrated throughout all aspects of an organization. The best way to tackle it is through a phased approach. We can start by identifying and implementing the low hanging fruits, initiatives that are easier to start implementing. What matters is creating momentum and gaining buy-in. That is when we are able to foster real long-term change.