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Key takeaways:

  • Clarity and adaptability drive DEI success: Setting clear expectations and embracing adaptability are vital for fostering diversity and equity in the workplace, making DEI an integral part of organizational growth.
  • Inclusion means everyone: DEI initiatives must encompass all employees, including white men who belong to diverse groups, and data-driven discussions should address both diversity and inclusion challenges.
  • Action, relationships, and flexibility matter: Backing DEI commitments with tangible actions, building relationships for effective collaboration, and maintaining flexibility in strategies are essential for long-term success in a constantly evolving landscape.

During a DEI Board panel discussion on upholding commitments while navigating uncertain challenges, senior leaders discussed why infusing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into all facets of your organization’s operations is imperative for achieving sustainable success.

We take a look at their insights and how you can ensure your DEI strategy is set up for long-term success.

Encompassing all people: Everyone must be included to maintain buy-in for your initiatives

Brooke Cartus, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Hard Rock International, emphasized that for an organization to thrive, it must encompass everyone in the workforce.

She discussed the importance of involving white men in this effort, as they might also be part of diverse groups due to veteran, disability, or neurodivergent statuses.

“I think one of the things I like to say in the work we do is, we won’t be around if we don’t have everyone involved in the workforce,” Brooke said. “We need white men too, because white men are in this space where they’re feeling left behind. I need everyone. And by the way, white men may be part of our inclusive populations in terms of veteran status, disability status, and neuro divergence.”

“You have to connect it to the greater issue. I think one of the most powerful things you can do is make space for safe processing.”

– Brooke Cartus, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Hard Rock International

She suggested that data should guide discussions on diversity and inclusion, as the most diverse environments can still struggle with inclusion issues.

Brooke also noted that she can connect any company initiative to inclusion concerns within a few steps. She said she believes it’s business leaders’ responsibility to make these connections clear for people.

“You have to connect it to the greater issue,” Brooke said. “I think one of the most powerful things you can do is make space for safe processing.”

She does so through initiatives like focus groups, where people can engage in separate discussions based on race and then come together with shared objectives.

Establishing relationships: Creating an understanding is foundational for advancing DEI

Nashunda Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at JLL, discussed the significance of building relationships as the foundation for effective collaboration.

She pointed out that when someone proposes integrating a new business process into the company’s diversity and inclusion practice, her initial response is to understand the person behind the proposal.

“I think it starts with the conversation, that dialogue and getting to know who the person is,” Nashunda said. “Understand what their challenges are, and just like Brooke said, connect those dots.”

“I think it starts with the conversation, that dialogue and getting to know who the person is.”

– Nashunda Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at JLL

Nashunda also acknowledged that without establishing a relationship first, there’s likely to be resistance to change.

To address this, she said she employs informal meetings with no specific agenda to foster these relationships over time.

She also highlighted the importance of approaching these conversations with sensitivity to others’ time constraints. Instead of presenting a new task, Nashunda focuses on asking about others’ business challenges and finding ways to collaborate to address those challenges.

Backing words with action: Putting your money where DEI matters

Creating external partnerships beyond your organization is a pivotal strategy to fortify DEI initiatives for the future.

These efforts, coupled with internal practices, showcases a commitment to DEI and amplifies the impact of your efforts.

Kristin Malek, Global Director of Business Diversity at CDW, highlighted the significance of considering supply chains in the context of economic recovery and diversity efforts. She emphasized the importance of incorporating small and local businesses into procurement strategies.

“If we’re not spending money with marginalized communities, with communities where they have not particularly been included in these procurement opportunities or opportunities to participate in bids or RFPs, then it’s all for what?” Kristin said.

She connected financial support to closing the racial and generational wealth gap.

“Money makes the world go round,” Kristin added. “These programs have to be revenue enabling. If the overarching goal is that we really want to close the racial generational wealth gap, then we have to be talking about money, too.”

“Money makes the world go round. These programs have to be revenue enabling. If the overarching goal is that we really want to close the racial generational wealth gap, then we have to be talking about money, too.”

– Kristin Malek, Global Director of Business Diversity at CDW

Kristin suggested that discussions around DEI initiatives must encompass money and support for minority-owned, women-owned, and small businesses in order to create sustainable change for the future.

By fostering partnerships with these businesses, organizations create opportunities for economic empowerment, break down barriers, and facilitate upward mobility for marginalized communities, which is beneficial to the success of your company.

Kristin added that she envisions a future where terms like “disadvantaged” and “marginalized” are replaced with “high potential” communities.

Adapting to changes: Flexibility is needed to enhance your efforts

When it comes to maintaining buy-in, it’s also critical to be adaptable to the ever-changing landscapes. Nashunda explained that she approaches her strategy with a flexible mindset.

She employs a 70-30 rule, entering with a 70% expectation of outcomes, while reserving 30% for adaptation.

“You get to test it out, get some feedback, and then three months later, there might be another change externally or internally that we have to adjust to,” Nashunda said.

She explained how she also embraces the dynamic nature of these initiatives, acknowledging the potential for unexpected, innovative ideas to drive adjustments.

Nashunda said she finds enjoyment in the adaptability, considering it a rewarding aspect of refining and enhancing strategies as they unfold.

Brooke added that many experienced DEI practitioners have observed a trend of Chief Diversity Officers leaving their positions.

She attributed this exodus to failed strategies due to factors like lack of leadership support, siloed approaches, or performative actions. But she noted that in order to sustain successful initiatives, DEI needs to be treated like any other strategy.

“Why wouldn’t the DEI strategy be like every other strategy, where we don’t break, we don’t ‘death grip’ the strategy?” Brooke questioned. “We understand that everything is going to change in this space, and we have to be more flexible.”

She noted that there’s been a lack of recognition, particularly in the U.S. over the last three years, that DEI strategies should be treated with the same flexibility as any other business strategy.

However, she said that DEI stands apart due to its immense significance for a company’s success. In her opinion, DEI is not just another strategy; it’s a pivotal driver of business prosperity.

Whatever the future brings, your peers in the DEI Board will be there to help

To create lasting change, it’s vital to recognize that inclusivity encompasses all individuals, foster relationships to drive collaboration, take action to support DEI commitments, and remain flexible to navigate the ever-changing landscape.

Ultimately, treating DEI not just as a strategy, but as a fundamental driver of business success, holds the key to shaping a more equitable and prosperous future.

Kristin, Nashunda, and Brooke shared more during the panel discussion on how you can uphold your commitments, and benchmark weekly in our confidential, vendor-free community on strategic planning for DEI initiatives.

If you lead DEI at a large company, you can apply to benchmark with your peers on how to create long-term success.

Interested in learning more?

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