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ATD Blog

Helping Leaders Define Their Commitment to DE&I

Friday, March 19, 2021

In this four-part blog series, thought leaders Rita Bailey, Elaine Biech, and Tonya Wilson offer advice for how to drive DE&I initiatives forward at your organization. Read the first blog post, on getting buy-in on DE&I initiatives, here.

When it comes to DE&I, it’s important for the executive team to start with why. Why are leaders addressing DE&I, and why are they doing it now? Is it more of a reactionary response, or is it proactive because leaders know that long-term this is the right thing to do? Are there opportunities for them to do better in this area?

With many organizations, there has been an oversight when it comes to DE&I, even if that oversight isn’t intentional. There are some situations in which employee groups have pushed back because they felt like they were being given the company line, and there was a disconnect between what the organization was presenting publicly and what is really happening within the organization. Maybe the organization came out with a statement around diversity, but when employees see what’s happening in the organization and how people are being hired, promoted, developed, and given opportunities for growth roles, they see inconsistency between what the organization says is important and what is actually happening. So, in addition to helping people understand why the organization is committing to DE&I, it’s important to be authentic in how you communicate that why. The words you use are critical.

The best way to start is to position it as a journey. DE&I is not a short-term event. Leadership is going to have to look at what its destination is and what they need to do to get there. This often starts with helping people understand the foundation of DE&I and engaging people to support and buy into it.

It’s also important to understand what’s at stake for that organization. Everything that is done along this journey—from recruiting and hiring, to vendor relationships, to the community, to internal and external communications—needs to involve DE&I. An executive team needs to assess the entire diversity climate of their organization. They need to have an ear to hear what their associates or team members are saying, and they need to use engagement survey results. If the executive team is not pulsing your organization to understand where they are with respect to diversity, whether they think there’s some level of congruence between what’s said and what’s done, then they may be missing something really important.


Organizations also need to identify the role that they want their chief diversity officer (CDO) to play in DE&I. CDOs may or may not be part of the HR organization. Sometimes they are not viewed as part of the strategic team. They’re seen as the team that wants to sanitize things, as opposed to the team that can be a partner on this or part of the network on that. In reality, partnership is imperative. CDOs need to be looking at initiatives at the senior level, not as an afterthought or accessory.

When there is true partnership on DE&I across the organization, then organizations can develop a people strategy that is inclusive of all DE&I initiatives and considerations. We don’t want to be in a situation in which someone asks, “Did anyone ask the CDO if they had questions to include in the engagement survey?” Instead, the CDO should be at the table when the survey is being designed.


Numerous CDOs officers are at organizations that are in the process of transforming. They’ve brought in new people to help address their DE&I strategies and help the organizations determine where they want to go. In the past, CDOs haven’t been given the resources or the power commensurate with the roles that they’d been given. One of the challenges that CDOs often face is that they lack the necessary support in resourcing or funding. Leaders need to ensure that DE&I teams are properly resourced so they can do the hard work of promoting justice, fairness, and impartiality.

Organizations also need to differentiate between their mindsets and their heart sets regarding DE&I. There might be a mindset around DE&I that is based in compliance, but DE&I is not about compliance. It’s about what an organization’s values are and how they see diversity, equity, and inclusion as core to their ability to be successful and sustainable as a business. There’s a heart set that says DE&I is important because it is the right thing to do. The heart set says that we have a strategic plan to be innovative and produce products that are important to our customer base, and we can do that better if we have a diverse population of employees bringing diversity of thought and capability and who represent the population that we serve.

Everything on DE&I has to be strategic. Organizations can’t just throw together different fragments like training or courses or resources or books. All that’s important, but it doesn’t help people see the total picture and to approach DE&I in an integrative way where people can understand where are we, why are we doing this, where are we going, and how are we going to get there. Organizations need a strategic approach to help people understand the entire journey.

About the Author

As CEO and Founder of QVF Partners, Rita partners with organizations and individuals who want to transform ordinary work environments into high-performing, profitable cultures. She shares her expertise and resources to help create workplaces where enlightened leaders can leverage the strengths and diversity of their people as a competitive advantage. During her 25 year career at Southwest Airlines, Rita served in several roles including customer service, sales, marketing, public relations, and HR. In her last position she was director of the Southwest Airlines University for People. She was responsible for the design, development, and implementation of leadership and personal development programs for over 32,000 employees. She also established a career development services team, responsible for helping employees develop a career path. Rita has served on several advisory committees and boards and was a member of the ASTD Board of Directors, serving as chairwoman of the ASTD Board in 2005. She is often quoted in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Business Week, Corporate Meetings and Incentives, and The Wall Street Journal on topics of recruiting and training practices. Rita is the co-author of the new book, Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit Opportunities in Your Organization. As an international speaker and consultant, she has presented to and worked with groups in Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and Japan on topics including organizational culture, people strategies, leadership, innovation, customer service, and branding. When asked what business she is in, the answer is simply "the people business."

About the Author

Elaine Biech, president of ebb associates inc, a strategic implementation, leadership development, and experiential learning consulting firm, has been in the field for 30 years helping organizations work through large-scale change. She has presented at dozens of national and international conferences and has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Management Update, Investors Business Daily, and Fortune Magazine. She is the author and editor of over 50 books, including the ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals, ASTD Leadership Handbook, 10 Steps to Successful Training, The Ultimate Trainer, Thriving Through Change, The Business of Consulting, 2nd ed., and Training for Dummies. A long time volunteer for ASTD, she has served on ASTD's National Board of Directors, was the recipient of the 1992 ASTD Torch Award, the 2004 ASTD Volunteer Staff Partnership Award, and the 2006 Gordon Bliss Memorial Award. Elaine was instrumental in compiling the CPLP study guides and has designed five ASTD Certificate Programs. In addition to her work with ATD, she has served on the Independent Consultants Association's (ICA) Advisory Committee and on the Instructional Systems Association (ISA) board of directors.

About the Author

Tonya Wilson is the president and founder of AFC Consulting Group. She is a business leader, entrepreneur, consultant, author, organizational psychologist, and coach with expertise in organizational effectiveness and development, change management, and DE&I. She connects people to strategy. She has worked in manufacturing, aerospace, telecom, government markets, fintech, and healthcare. She has been in leadership at McKesson, Change Healthcare, Meggitt, and AT&T. She is a DEI SME/facilitator, Consultant, DEI thought leader, OD SME, and Change Management facilitator for ATD.

Tonya has worked with leaders to drive alignment between business and people strategies, led supplier diversity re-vamp initiatives, and been in leadership and oversight for BRGs. In addition to being published on sustaining DEI, she is also a co-host for the ATD DEI Discussion Series. Tonya coaches leaders on DEI strategy, change management, Communications IQ™, strategic action planning, leadership development, team/leader integration, organizational design, and organizational health. Her mission statement is "setting you up to win."

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