The work of the new DEI professional 

The evolution and development of diversity, equity, and inclusion professionals.

The year 2020 introduced many things to our world, including face masks, social distancing, and the rise of professional diversity and inclusion (D&I) positions. According to Indeed data, corporations demand for D&I professionals increased by 23% in 2019. In late October 2019 (prior to #BLM and the awakening of America around equity issues), Glassdoor predicted employers would ramp up their D&I investments 64% in 2020.  

Of course, having a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) is not a new concept, nor is making a career in the field of D&I. Back in 2014, James Wright offered readers of his blog food for thought before entering the D&I field. Including understanding “your passion” and “knowing yourself.” He stressed the idea that you need more than a passion for diversity and a vision for inclusion to do this work. He spoke about the work being more than just a business case and a need for using metrics and an understanding of the actual work. And yet, companies worldwide often hire their D&I staff based on passion without any idea of what metrics they want to achieve, which is why D&I initiatives fail every day 

It’s more than a committee 

One of the first things many companies do when entering the D&I space is establishing an employee engagement committee. Committee members typically self optin and come to the table both excited and with the desire to make a differenceHowever, many times the companies who establish these workgroups/committees have not thought through or even considered what meaningful work their new committee would do. Guess what? Forming a committee alone is not enough.  

Before establishing a D&I committee, a company must consider how these professionals will help move their D&I strategies forward, which means having a strategy prior to forming the committee. It is unrealistic to expect a group of employees who have come to the table because of their interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion to create your strategy. These groups are better thought of as an employee resource group (ERG) who can offer feedback and become a voice for the movement.  

It’s on the company to create the roadmap 

There has been this underlying urgency to do something. Across the nation, companies have crafted diversity statements as a way to dip their toes into the D&I pool. However, in 2021, a diversity statement and a committee are not going to fit the bill. A company’s commitment to D&I must be authentic and metricdriven. Employees, your customers, and the public will recognize any half-baked attempt at D&I for what it is, tokenism.  

If your company is not prepared to truly commit to examining every aspect of your business through a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) lens, step away. If you’re not willing to provide both resources (meaning money), decision-making power, and tools to the DEI process, step away; if leadership is not willing to commit and focus on DEI, step away.  

If you haven’t stepped away, it’s time to lean in. The first step is to determine what D&I looks like inside your walls. Here are some areas to consider: 

Talent: One of the first places many companies explore is workforce diversity and recruitment. Focusing on how many diverse candidates are captured in your hiring pool will determine if you should look at how you write your job descriptions, where you‘re placing your ads, and how you’re screening your candidates. Looking at retention and employee turnover will shine a light on how inclusive the culture is inside your walls. Examining your C-Suite and upper management will guide you to looking at your policies and promotion practices for areas of equity.  Training/staff development is also relevant in this space. D&I professionals may or may not be versed in all of these areas but should have resources to assist in areas where they are not proficient.  

Supply Chain Diversity: Companies who publicly want to be seen as taking a stance in the D&I space often look toward their supply chain. One way to advance the movement is to offer Women and MinorityOwned Businesses (WMBE) the opportunity to be in your supply chain. Companies who prioritize and set a goal (i.e., 25% of our suppliers will be a WMBE) can take actionable steps to increase their D&I footprint. Working with their acquisition teams on finding and working with WMBE suppliers may be the work of a D&I professional.  

Marketing/Communication: Creating a roadmap is not enough. Sharing it companywide in language that can be understood is essential to success. Pointing out internally how DEI practices will help your company be successful is essential. Sharing your company’s stance, your DEI goals, and the measurements you’re using for success add authenticity and legitimacy to your D&I practices. All of this requires thought, consistency of messaging, and dissemination of information.  

Strategy/Metrics: Like every other business practice, successful DEI initiatives require a robust strategy and measurement metrics. Companies can create and launch multi-level DEI strategies but must ensure measurable metrics to determine success. Your D&I professional must be versed in understanding data and turning it into actionable steps. They should be someone you feel confident in having access to all your company’s metrics.  

Once a company has a road map, the addition of a D&I professional or team will ensure strategic success.  

Good DEI professionals bring more than passion 

Many companies add D&I staff before they clearly understand what success in this area looks like for them. They hire individuals who are passionate about social justice, equity and who want to make a change in your company. However, this work requires more than passion.  

Effective DEI professionals bring both passion and skill to the position. DEI professionals understand strategy, metrics, and how to achieve business results. They are familiar with metrics around ROI and can translate their work into measurable outcomes to be transparently shared across your company and industry. They can motivate your team and explain the benefits of working in a diverse space. They can be called upon to advise you through tough situations and have a level of competency in the space to help you avoid pitfalls. 

When interviewing potential D&I professionals, ask questions about how they do the work, not just how passionate they are. For example: 

  • When was a time when you acted as a DEI advisor, and what was the outcome?  
  • What do you think your first three areas of focus would be? How would you implement your strategy and measure success? 
  • Imagine you’ve been in this position for a time. How would you know if your strategy was working?  
  • This position will be measured by several factors, including DEI ROI. What are some measurements that can be used in showing the ROI of a DEI initiative?  
  • In your previous DEI work, what goals and metrics were used to determine your effectiveness?  
  • What are one or two specific things you have done to promote diversity, equity and/or inclusion in your current or last job?  
  • How would you advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion with colleagues or organizations who don’t understand it’s importance?  
  • What is one way you think or have seen a company embrace equity?  

When interviewing candidates, you’ll want to make sure they have a broad understanding of what DEI looks like in your sector. The clearer you are about where your roadmap leads, the better you’ll be able to find the right professional for your position.  

Some D&I professionals come from academia, where there are strict structures and processes and metrics can be fluid. Others can specialize in hiring and HR areas or focus on training and staff development. Finding the right person for your company requires you to have a keen understanding of what your DEI initiative sets out to do.  

When all else fails… ask for help 

In Shaunna Payne Gold’s blog on LinkedIn, she offers insight to companies who have struggled to see results in their DEI initiatives. When you’ve tried everything and didn’t see results. You’re hearing language you’ve never heard before, like anti-racism, white fragility, racial battle fatigue. You’re diversity trainings have not “worked.” You’ve mistaken an underrepresented person for a DEI professional. Or a critical incident happened. These are all times when a DEI consultant may be the answer. Some companies will contract with a consultant to even help them in the hiring process for their own DEI professional. Consultants who work in this area have a unique understanding of the skill sets needed to move your initiative forward. They can offer coaching, guidance and even help you set the strategy.  

Be patient; it takes time 

Even though many companies rushed to make a diversity statement and may have gathered up their own employee committees on the double, this work takes time. Understanding all the areas included for a company to embrace a DEI initiative authentically takes time, resources, and strategy. Every new practice you adopt is one step closer to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive working environment. Sometimes its about simply taking the next “right” step.   

Additional Resources: 

8 Key Diversity and Inclusion Jobs Explained 

Do You Know Why Your Company Needs a Chief Diversity Officer- Harvard Business Review