As diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders continue to address fatigue in their organizations, they face the challenge of keeping senior leadership engaged in how their strategies impact business goals. This challenge is increasingly difficult when executive leaders are not as involved in the DEI strategies to address the most demanding challenges.
To combat DEI fatigue, leaders must recognize its direct impact on organizational goals while keeping stakeholders in the loop. So how can you keep senior leaders engaged in your strategies and keep the needle moving to advance your initiatives?
Executive leaders must be committed to DEI goals
The focus on DEI has increased over recent years, and according to DiversityInc, the hiring of DEI leaders has nearly tripled in 16 months. Unfortunately, DEI strategies still lag behind other business units. Forbes reported that DEI strategies receive less research than other business areas.
To address this, DEI leaders must ensure there’s a commitment from senior leadership to help achieve organizational goals.
Loreli Wilson, Director of People Services at Veterans United Home Loans, and Christyl Murray, Executive Director and Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Morgan Stanley, explain how executive buy-in is needed for DEI programs to succeed.
“Folks in diversity and inclusion are battling heavily ingrained beliefs and implicit biases daily,” Loreli says. “A program that does not have the support of their executive team and has to take additional time to justify its actions to leadership is destined for failure.”
Giving senior leaders responsibility in achieving DEI goals can also help keep them engaged in your strategies.
“If you state that DEI is a business imperative, then all leaders have a responsibility and should be tracked on progress toward your stated and specific DEI goals — on a dashboard for their business,” Christyl says.
Provide learning opportunities for leaders
DEI leaders cannot solely be responsible for achieving organizational goals — executives have to be dedicated to advancing initiatives and addressing DEI challenges.
A Harvard Law report showed how CEOs and board chairs play a critical role in driving DEI goals because they set the tone for the importance of DEI and create inclusive environments. But many executives may not be as up to date on how to be champions or lead DEI strategies successfully. As a result, they may face burnout in trying to understand how DEI relates to their bottom line.
DEI leaders have a unique opportunity here to coach their executive leaders and help them understand how to be more involved, even if it takes time. Noël France, Senior Global Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Avantor, explains how this can be done through updates on initiatives.
“I had their buy-in, but not necessarily their participation,” Noël says. “So the ways to get them engaged are regular updates — finding ways to just update them in terms of here’s what’s happening and here’s what I need from you. But also opportunities to update their teams. So I engaged with their team calls on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, depending on their own cadence to say, ‘here’s what we’re doing in DEI.'”
Using senior leaders who participate more in DEI efforts as examples also creates a sense of competition amongst executive leaders to be more involved, Noël explains.
Another way DEI leaders can help C-suite executives gain perspective is through listening sessions and engagement with employee resource groups. Vice President of Human Resources at Delta Dental Kathie Eiland-Madison says, “this requires authentic and transparent conversations with both our team members and leadership.”
Kathie explains how listening sessions help executive leaders learn more about initiatives. These listening sessions help align team members and senior leaders with strategic DEI goals. Additionally, they serve as opportunities for education on DEI topics through podcasts, movies, book clubs, educational courses, seminars, and more.
Share DEI data to keep stakeholders and senior leaders informed
As DEI leaders continue to mitigate fatigue, data transparency is one area of focus that many are looking to improve. While sharing DEI data may not always be pretty, the transparency it provides creates accountability that leads to action.
Julie Coffman, Bain & Company’s Chief Diversity Officer, talks about how publicly announcing DEI data can help advance strategies and increase DEI awareness.
“Specific goals with tangible metrics inspire organizations,” Julie says. “Too many of the stated goals today, however, focus solely inside a company’s four walls and don’t take aim at the broader marketplace and community outcomes. For example, fewer than half of the Fortune 50 have externally communicated supplier spending goals. And too many goals stop at broad aspirations to increase diverse representation without providing clear focus on specific populations or metrics for progress.”
Providing demographic information and representation data to stakeholders builds a line of trust between customers, communities, associates, and executive leaders to achieve greater DEI goals.
Talk with DEI leaders like you about how they keep senior leaders engaged
While the task of keeping senior leaders engaged in DEI efforts can be daunting, you don’t have to do it alone.
There are great resources for sharing your DEI strategies with your leadership team, like the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, or Huckel Inclusive, which leaders use for self-assessments to help address identified gaps.
DEI leaders at billion-dollar companies often look to their peers for best practices when mitigating fatigue. You can benchmark your strategies in a trusted community of peers who face the same challenges, such as the DEI Board.
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