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ATD Blog

Talent Development Must Take a Leadership Role in DEI

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Back in 2019, many professionals thought of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a small subfield of human resources. That notion now seems like something from another era. The racial justice movement that reached a critical point in the US in 2020 made it clear that DEI needs to be addressed in a holistic way across organizations. Rather than living within one department, DEI is everyone’s responsibility.

The talent development (TD) profession, often in partnership with HR, has the potential to play a pivotal role in advancing and sustaining DEI in organizations. TD professionals are uniquely positioned to drive DEI because they understand the needs of their entire workforce population and the levers of opportunity available for developing talent in alignment with organizational strategy, culture, and values.

According to Maria Morukian, author of ATD’s book Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Trainers, professionals in our industry may have foundational attitudes suited for DEI work, including their tendency to think in terms of desired outcomes; their skill in knowledge and competency assessment; and their belief in a growth mindset and people’s ability to develop and change.

DEI strategy is people strategy. If you are responsible for developing others—whether directly or indirectly—you’re likely thinking about or working on DEI today.

While it’s clear that those who are responsible for developing others in the workplace have an important responsibility to drive DEI adoption, a DEI mindset isn’t just critical for TD professionals; it’s good for business. Firms such as Boston Consulting Group (Lorenzo et al., 2021) and McKinsey (Hunt et al., 2020) have led studies that indicate substantial increases in financial performance and improved outcomes around engagement, retention, learning, innovation, and agility in companies that have made DEI a priority.


Buy-in and alignment from all levels of leadership is imperative if our profession is going to drive meaningful impact. DEI must be made an organizational priority and integrated into business strategy. However, far too often, organizations approach DEI as a program or initiative that can be solely addressed or solved through training. While DEI training is not sufficient as a DEI solution, it has a role to play in larger DEI initiatives, and tapping into

TD professionals’ instructional design and facilitation expertise can help DEI learning experiences be effective.
While TD professionals have a role to play in driving DEI within organizations, not all TD professionals have a background in DEI and may not know where to start. Here are some skillsets to set you up for success:

  • Understand cultural differences in the workplace.
  • Develop cultural appreciation and humility.
  • Expand self-awareness, and notice your own biases.
  • Recognize how cultural norms influence behaviors.
  • Adapt and adjust attitudes, perspectives, and behaviors to function effectively in diverse environments.
  • Foster and promote workplace DEI.
  • Develop DEI strategy for the workplace and workforce.

An effective DEI champion will also draw on an array of multidisciplinary skills such as business acumen, change management, consulting, facilitation, evaluating impact, and more.

To make DEI initiatives actionable, TD professionals can look at DEI from three perspectives:

  • Personal: What is your personal relationship with DEI? DEI starts with building a better understanding of yourself and how you relate to others. This involves identifying and understanding types of biases and how they affect your perceptions and decision making. Seek out opportunities to evaluate and build your self-awareness and recognize your own biases. This foundational work prepares you to lead DEI initiatives with honesty and humility.
  • Professional: How can DEI be incorporated into your daily work as a TD professional? For example, TD professionals should consider how they can make training inclusive and accessible for their learners. TD professionals can also advance DEI by thoughtfully integrating its principles into L&D, knowledge management, career and leadership development, coaching, and beyond.
  • Organizational: How can TD professionals drive and influence DEI across their organization? We know that one-and-done diversity training doesn’t truly move the needle. Begin by evaluating your organization’s climate for DEI. Do you need to make changes in how you recruit, grow, retain, and optimize talent? Take steps to build a long-term, sustainable DEI strategy.

The events of the last several years have made it clear that DEI is a workplace priority and will be for a long time. Competency in DEI is not an optional, nice-to-have capability for TD professionals but an integral part of what it means to be in TD. As TD professionals, it is our job to help organizations become truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive—and that work begins by taking steps to develop ourselves.

ATD offers resources for TD professionals looking to develop their capabilities. To explore our offerings, visit the diversity, equity, and inclusion resource page.

About the Author

Courtney Vital is the vice president of education at the Association for Talent Development. With more than twenty years’ experience, her work focuses on the development of learning initiatives that enable professionals to achieve their potential, demonstrate their credibility, and advance their career. Courtney holds the Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD) credential.

About the Author

Eliza Blanchard, APTD, is ATD's Learning & Development content manager. Contact her at [email protected].

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Can we talk about the lack of diversity that exists in TD leadership first? And how many companies are cutting the career path for TD off at the Director level? Representation doesn’t only matter in the C-suite. Not having robust leadership diversity in our own field is something that isn’t mentioned nearly enough. If we want to be taken seriously as DEIA champions, people of color need to see that TD has a place at the table for them first.
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Great blog! 100% agree
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Yes, Yes and Yes!!!!
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