HPE: Tips for Upcoming/Future Execs to Excel in DE

Across the globe, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officers (CDIOs) are expected to drive systemic change – and fast – frequently armed with minimal resources, an ambiguous scope of authority, and high expectations. 2020’s social and racial reckoning heightened expectations of organization’s DEI efforts and resulted in a 123% increase of DEI positions. But the great resignation hit organizations fast and hard with 60% of CDIO’s leaving their positions between 2018 and 2021. For CDIOs to succeed, organizations must equip and empower them to drive strategic change and stay invested, recognizing that changing deeply rooted systematic barriers take time.

At its core, excelling in DEI pertains to an organization’s ability to care about its evolving workforce and create a psychologically safe environment where employees are empowered to bring their entire selves to work. Too often, DEI efforts start at the top, do not cascade throughout the organization, are solely measured on the ability to hire underrepresented populations, and fail to address the everyday lived experience of those employees. Too often the majority of these underrepresented employees may question their belonging in many organizations. Do they feel heard? Are we inviting everyone into the conversation and positioning allies to champion DEI efforts?

As a Black female with nearly 25 years in the DEI/HR field and current CDIO at a Fortune 150, focusing on these three efforts has proven pivotal:

Driving Awareness: The first step toward awareness requires fostering a deep understanding of what DEI is. Yes, learning and development efforts are part of it, but it cannot end there. True DEI is much more than a one-off unconscious bias training; it is a business imperative that it is integrated across all people related processes, led from the top, and owned by the entire organization. Mutual ownership requires specifying what DEI means to your organization, knowing which systems must be evolved or, in some cases, dismantled entirely, and access to the necessary resources to drive these changes all the way to the individual level. Once you have established a foundational understanding, DEI efforts must align with your organization’s core purpose and endure through the daily behaviors of all employees.

Taking Action: Moving in the right direction is no longer enough. Organizations must move at the appropriate pace with boldness. Inclusive efforts benefit the entire organization, but sustainable DEI strategies are directly influenced by the folks they impact most. When DEI strategies start (and stop) at the executive level, they fail to cascade to the level of those most marginalized. This is akin to watering only the top inch of the soil; the plants that thrive in shallow soil continue to thrive, while the seeds at the bottom never gain the nutrients they need to succeed. DEI is a dynamic field with no “one size fits all” solution. As you create and iterate DEI systems, consider what scaling these initiatives calls for and ask for input from stakeholders early and often. Staying aligned to your strategy is important, but the last three years have shown us that external events are unpredictable, and adaptability is required. Significant global events like the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the uptick in women’s and LGBTQIA+ issues have challenged leaders to meet the moment, navigate with empathy, and show up for their people in new ways.

Accountability: We can’t continue talking about DEI without instilling real accountability. An immaculate DEI strategy without accountability will fail, every time.

  • Be specific on how you are holding all employees, especially leaders, accountable for the culture they create daily through their actions and treatment of others.
  • Proactively create and drive awareness of accountability systems. This means all employees, and especially those from historically marginalized groups, should know exactly how to report misconduct, microaggressions, and so forth.
  • Leverage data effectively: consistently analyze and communicate (drive awareness!) of insights pertaining to hiring, promotion rates and attrition across demographics.

Allyship starts, stops and continues with each of us. If it’s a policy, look at the outcomes and understand if any communities are being marginalized or disproportionately impacted. Processes should be reviewed with a desire to make meaningful changes if aspirations are not being achieved. Shareholders and investors’ expectations cannot be the only reason DEI stays on the agenda, a changing workforce requires inclusive leadership bearing the responsibility to operate with trust and empathy and write yourself into being part of the solution.

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