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CTDO Magazine

Be a DEI Guiding Light

Friday, October 14, 2022

To foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, first determine who is responsible for leading that effort.

2020 changed lives and set the stage for examining how closely people's collective experiences are interconnected. In addition to the pandemic forcing individuals to shift and adapt to a new reality, a defining moment for many was the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. That led to multiple protests across the US related to the police and their mistreatment of Black Americans.

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That was some people's first experience with what it means to be Black in America. The outrage and outcry translated to many areas of people's lives and changed how organizations were expected to influence society.

For numerous employers, current events were a catalyst to show a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in meaningful ways. Substantial research already existed to help employers understand that advancing DEI makes good business sense. Investing in strengthening diversity of identity within an organization ensures that a company develops the critical ability to identify problems and create solutions and richer innovations.

However, many have struggled with how to develop a concrete strategy and implementation plan for increasing diversity, becoming inclusive, and accessing the capacity for equity among employees. To start, the question is not about whether organizations should expand their DEI efforts but rather who should lead those efforts. As a talent development professional, you are uniquely positioned to help.

DEI options

Employers have a variety of options to pursue regarding who leads their DEI initiatives. Those are based on the organization's maturity and available resources.

An initial way to think about how to approach DEI efforts is to ask: Which current employees have skills related to change? Who has skills related to facilitation design, organization development, learning, relationship or coalition building, leading through influence, and strategic communications? Individuals with those abilities can support advancing DEI within the workplace.

DEI specialist. Often, DEI efforts start as a separate function, whether that's through the company hiring a manager, director, or chief diversity officer. That works best for organizations that don't have an employee with the skills, are small, or are in a growth cycle.

Often small companies hire a specialist within the HR team who then wears multiple hats, such as an office manager who oversees the more technical aspects of hiring such as paperwork, security, and orientation. That individual may be trained to complete general HR tasks but is not equipped to lead the organization's DEI functions. Small companies often don't have TD professionals, and training is primarily role based and created and facilitated by internal subject matter experts.

The most important thing to understand with any approach to DEI leadership is that it is a journey.

As such, working with a or hiring a DEI specialist is most beneficial. Likewise, for both small and growing organizations, the practice of hiring a specialist makes sense in that launching those efforts requires specific knowledge, skills, and experience.

DEI consultant. For employers with financial resources, hiring a consultant to support establishing the DEI function is an option. When a company is experiencing multiple levels of change—from a new CEO to mergers and acquisitions to layoffs or union efforts—it may benefit from an outside perspective. 

If the organization is not in a steady state, a consultant can serve multiple purposes. They can support information gathering, analysis, and action planning to understand employees' mindsets and expectations for corporate DEI initiatives.

Partnering with a consultant enables the organization to take significant steps on its DEI journey while also learning more about the skills required to move to an internal resource. The necessary skills, mindset, and experience will shift as the company progresses and advances its DEI efforts. A consultant creates the opportunity to be thoughtful about what role to hire for and the needed skills and experience.

TD team ownership. For more experienced or larger organizations, the TD team may be the ideal choice to lead DEI initiatives, with the end goal to convert TD and HR employees into strategic DEI partners. To be strategic partners, TD staff need to apply a diversity lens to current business practices. 

I often advise partners not to create a separate DEI team or function. The reason is straightforward: A separate team or function doesn't have the influence and, in some cases, the authority to change the status quo.

It's not enough to have someone in the organization to see the lack of diversity or inequity. Rather, companies need staff trained and focused on expanding their own viewpoint to look for bias, inequities, and adverse impacts. They are best positioned to see new opportunities and existing challenges if they are empowered to see through the DEI lens.

TD as a strategic partner

DEI directly relates to an organization's most precious resource: employees. Because TD professionals already are leading the processes for mentoring, coaching, professional development, and succession planning, we are critical strategic partners within the organization.

Seeing though a DEI lens means looking for opportunities to change the status quo and seeking different ways of thinking and being, distinct identities, and feedback from affected employees. Pursuing diversity of thought affects and influences individuals' ability to think beyond what is possible and invites others to co-create new realities.

When organizations look through the lens of equity, they should be looking for how decisions and choices affect others and for the data that helps people understand the choices they make.

As TD professionals, we have access to evaluation as a unique tool. We have opportunities to ask questions and investigate the effects of our learning, training, and professional development opportunities on employees. When it comes to DEI efforts, we can examine both who participates and who does not and determine who does not have access.

Equity is also about impact. Oftentimes, people confuse equality with equity. The focus on equity is looking at those with marginalized or oppressed identities and saying, "Do my actions have an impact that predicts a certain outcome for them?"

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Viewing the workplace through an equity lens opens opportunities to seek new ways of thinking and including others for better outcomes. When I think about inclusion, it's never a straight line—it's always taking a step and then testing that thought with others.

DEI efforts cannot and should not be a trend or a fad.

Inclusion opens the door for a person to put their best ideas forward and for others to take those ideas and improve on them until the ideas are better than anything the individual could have done alone.

Looking through the DEI lens means that people are continuously open to feedback. Our role demands that we continuously seek feedback and ask ourselves how we can take what we're hearing and make our programs and initiatives better.

We are already accustomed to separating the emotional reaction to how feedback is delivered so that we can extract opportunities to redesign and reimplement. We are in a loop of continuous improvement.

A journey

Where the DEI efforts begin are not necessarily where they will finish. The end goal should always be to ensure that DEI initiatives are not residing in one department or team but rather diffused across the organization and that each leader plays a key role in advancing those efforts.

The most important thing to understand with any approach to DEI leadership is that it is a journey. It will be filled with complex challenges and opportunities to grow the organization in ways that you may not even be able to clearly visualize or articulate, and that work is hard.

Most people desire certainty, and social change moves individuals from one reality to a new one. DEI work requires patience and that organizations think differently about their approach and how they bring people to the table.

It doesn't matter where the work starts, as long as companies have the determination and drive to keep going. Most people understand that change doesn't happen overnight, but what every employee is looking for is a lasting commitment to change at every level of the business.

DEI efforts cannot and should not be a trend or a fad. DEI initiatives have staying power, and that staying power comes from the commitment from leadership down to frontline staff to ensure that this important issue is integrated throughout an organization.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Sabrina-Yvette d’Almeida is the chief talent and equity officer at Children’s Law Center (CLC). In her role, she leads CLC’s human resource and diversity equity and inclusion strategies. She is a dynamic leader that partners with others in leadership and across the organization to develop and implement HR and talent management operational systems and structures to support CLC’s mission and vision.

Sabrina-Yvette brings a deep level of empathy and emotional intelligence to CLC with her people-first focus. She serves as the organization’s thought leader for increasing diversity of thought and identities, modeling inclusion, along with identifying and implementing systems to assess equity.

She has supported nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions, and global for-profit organizations. She has contributed to research papers and articles to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has presented at conferences, has been featured on podcasts, and consults with organizations to advance change initiatives.

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