Where DEI Accountability Sits and How to Build a Foundation for Your Strategy

23 Jun 21

DEI is becoming a strategic priority for companies. Though many think DEI is a people initiative, all executives and employees across the organization should be held accountable to drive DEI efforts.

As many companies are starting to pursue sustainable and growing DEI strategies, including ours, people are wondering where does the responsibility lie? Many jump to the conclusion that DEI is a people initiative, so it should just fall within human resources.

Within the halls of digital DEI forums, there’s talk on where accountability of DEI lies. Yes, DEI is a people initiative, but the buck doesn’t stop at the human resources or people team even though they are a big piece of the puzzle. Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is a cultural and behavioral change that will take more than a DEI statement on job postings and celebrating history months on social media.

Knee-Jerk Reaction Turned Strategic Priority

It’s been one year since George Floyd protests erupted in the Spring of 2020, and many organizations have verbally committed to DEI. In fact, HR Executive surveyed 400 CHROs of the largest global employers, and 82% cited DEI as their top concern, and more so than a cultural transformation post-COVID environment. Recent research has also found that while American companies have pledged $50 billion on racial equity since the Summer of 2020, only $250 million has been spent or committed.

It’s safe to say that many of us are still trying to figure out how to allocate those dollars and how they’ll be best spent. If you’re still asking yourself, why should you even commit financially or with your energy, first ask yourself how important your employees are to your organization.

Not only are consumers paying attention to brands they buy from and their impact on making the world a better place, but so are employees. A recent example is when Basecamp’s leadership announced its new policies for not allowing employees to discuss societal and political issues. Following the announcement, a third of employees left the company.

With an ongoing fight for great talent, implementing DEI into your strategy is becoming a non-negotiable. To lay a proper foundation of DEI at the firm, start holding accountability at the top across all leadership levels and define the opportunity that DEI can address at your organization.

Start From the Top

To build a DEI strategy that will sustain, companies must think about building out a strategy with strong accountability. A band-aid approach, or performative DEI actions, with social media posts and a blanket inclusion training, won’t do the job and can often be seen right through. Accountability doesn’t just stop at HR. It falls on all people leaders, especially the C-suite, to make real change. To hold accountability across the entire organization, the people and leadership team should start with revesting culture and values.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that a DEI strategy would only be fully effective if it’s embedded in a company’s culture and values. I’m not talking about values that are reflected with a poster that says ‘teamwork’ with a picture of a rowing team on it. I’m talking about values that all people in the organization are held accountable to and evaluated by at the end of the year. Underpinning inclusivity within the company’s values and discussing particularly how equity and inclusion could be ingrained in employees’ day-to-day is a great place to start catalyzing action.

Define the Opportunity With Leaders

When it comes to accountability with the people leaders, all senior leadership should be bought in and discuss what the employee experience for their company wants to look like in the future, and acknowledge what the "opportunity" that DEI can address. Implementing a DEI strategy could stretch a team in many different directions. Still, it is harder to argue against initiatives if they are working towards the same goal, even if initiative metrics are hard to track.

Discovery activities can also help to identify opportunities. These activities could include:

  • Conducting an equity and inclusion sentiment survey with current employees
  • Host focus groups with different cohorts (e.g., women, roles, neurodiverse groups, leadership, etc.)
  • Conduct a DILO (day in the life of) with employees to understand the hurdles they face

After collecting quantitative and qualitative data, take a hard look at the data and see what specific initiatives can help serve the needs of the existing team. Don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable discussions amongst leadership and other company ambassadors, and don’t hesitate to share findings with your employees. Acknowledging issues that are uncomfortable to talk about will allow your employees to feel heard.

Though discovery activities could take some time, start by leading by example as a leader of calling out non-inclusive behavior, reading more history, sharing learnings, etc. Set the intention and example of calling out microaggressions, have conversations with your colleagues about their upbringing, ensure that continuous discussions are being had with all people leadership, and understand how to best encourage a DEI mindset with the company. Most importantly, provide a platform for a dialogue to embrace everyone’s differences.

If you are seeking to build your DEI strategy alongside company goals, contact us. We are invested in helping you build your culture and make your number. You can also join our Inspire Others group on LinkedIn to connect with peers and share your own best practices for DEI.