Working in diversity and inclusion can be a gratifying, yet challenging career path. Having worked in the space for over 20 years, I have learned many lessons and found that in order to excel, it is critical to find a company and leadership team who understand that you are not solely responsible for changing the organization’s demographics, but also improving the entire employee experience and driving critical business goals. Here are a few key learnings from my career that I hope can help set up future DEI professionals for success:
Demand a seat at the table and ensure your executive team supports you
Having the support of the CEO and their leadership team is imperative for the success of a DEI professional. So often in this career, leaders view it as our sole responsibility to attract and retain diverse talent, break down diversity and inclusion barriers and change the overall employee experience. While CDOs, or other diversity executives, can act as the catalyst to lead and accelerate DEI changes, buy-in and a holistic DEI understanding from the leadership team is necessary to be successful. Accountability
and change start and end with your leadership team, so before accepting a position, do your due diligence to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.
Listen and approach each new D&I challenge with a fresh perspective
The‘ one size fits all’ approach does not work in this line of work. An initiative that drove results and impacted your previous organization may not work in your new organization. Throughout a DEI career, it is important to approach each new challenge with an open mind and begin understanding the unique case through careful listening. Understanding and seeking the voice of the employee as well as various areas across the organization – how it works, how it makes money, what leadership is concerned about – will help you identify a clear path forward. Beyond learning the company’s unique DEI landscape, it is also helpful to diversify your experience and gain an overarching sense of the business strategy.
Recognize that DEI is a business priority and should be part of the entire lifecycle
The goal of diversity executives is to nurture and grow a pipeline of talent and to foster an equitable employee experience for all. But, this is not just about retaining diverse talent that we are attracting within an organization. DEI is quickly becoming a more prominent business priority and we must understand exactly how it fits into an organization to help effectively strategize. It requires understanding that the employee life cycle and the business lifecycle are inextricably connected. At the end of the day, you must foster an inclusive and supportive human experience that inspires and drives talent to deliver new innovations that resonate with your customers.
Finally, identify and connect with other DEI professionals and organizations
In the DEI space, it is crucial to build and maintain a cadre of individuals doing similar transformational work. We all have the same goal so a mentor and/or a professional network can be used as a sounding board to give trusted advice and guidance, or to share ideas and successes. External thought leadership organizations can also be useful to better understand the overall DEI landscape and produce insightful scholarly research. Through data and expertise, the ‘why’ behind your initiatives and programs becomes clear and key players that are data-driven will be more likely to align with your changes.
To excel in a DEI career, it is important to ensure you are setting yourself up for success. This includes surrounding yourself with a support system, approaching each new challenge with a fresh lens, and understanding how DEI aligns with broader business goals. These core pillars can provide a solid foundation to begin building, strategizing, and transforming your company workforce, workplace and employee experience.