What are your company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals for the year ahead? In our uncertain economy, it’s more important than ever to be strategic when it comes to planning and investing in DEI efforts. Many HR experts agree that 2023 will be the year when we see which companies are truly committed to building organizations that work for everyone, and which companies are still just paying lip service to DEI ideals. If you want your company to be part of the first group, here are three important DEI challenges to focus your efforts (and your budget) on in the coming months.
Finding your DEI purpose
Much of the conversation around DEI in the corporate world is focused on strategy, but successful DEI efforts need to go beyond just creating a roadmap. To build a foundation for lasting change, what your company needs to figure out in terms of DEI is not just where you’re going, but why you’re going there. In other words, your organization needs to find its purpose in DEI.
The fact is that DEI efforts are not one-size-fits-all. Every industry and every company has its own needs, objectives, and challenges, and therefore must define diversity, equity, and inclusion in relation to its own unique reality. Otherwise, your company will be left scrambling to meet intangible goals and ideals that aren’t solidly connected to the way you do business.
The takeaway here is that in order to be effective, a DEI strategy must be tied to a company’s overall business strategy. DEI is all about how your company handles its business and its people, so it only makes sense that DEI goals and strategies should be connected to your broader approaches to financial and human capital. Once DEI is defined in a purposeful way, many other elements of your strategy can logically fall into place, including clarifying roles and responsibilities for implementing change at all levels of your organization.
Making a solid investment in DEI
The vast majority of corporate DEI efforts, including the creation of positions such as Chief Diversity Officer, aren’t as effective as they could be for one big reason: a lack of adequate investment. The people, units, and departments responsible for DEI have a huge job to do, and they need specialized resources and support to be successful. This includes things like a dedicated budget, necessary team members or collaborators, leadership buy-in, and access to data. Without these tools, it’s unrealistic to expect any meaningful change to happen. It’s also important to keep in mind that when DEI efforts don’t receive the same level of investment as a company’s other critical strategies, that sends a clear signal that whatever the corporate messaging may be, DEI is not really a priority for the organization.
In addition, when thinking about DEI investment, it’s important for companies to avoid getting so caught up in the creation of new roles and teams that they forget about one of their most important resources: the people they already have. The diverse talent at your company right now is going to help diversify your leadership in years to come, and help you continue to attract diverse talent at all levels. Remember that in this economy, candidates are deliberately choosing jobs with better cultures where they see themselves represented, even if those jobs pay less than other options. It’s therefore important to keep investing, financially and in other ways, in your existing diverse talent.
We all know that it’s not enough to have a strategy without measurable goals. Unfortunately, when it comes to companies’ key DEI objectives, especially around hiring and retention practices, there are significant gaps in the available data, which makes it extremely difficult to monitor and build on tangible change.
This is perhaps the biggest reason, and the biggest benefit, to defining a DEI purpose for your organization. Once your purpose is set, you can then identify what metrics need to be tracked to ensure you’re making progress toward that purpose. In recent years, a growing number of organizations have demonstrated their understanding of this dynamic by investing in major internal and external research projects that track diversity data, both on the company side and the consumer side. Acquiring this data is essential if companies are to understand what impact their DEI work is having, and what adjustments need to be made.
When talking about data and measuring impact, it’s also important not to overlook the qualitative in favor of the quantitative. For example, it’s great to know whether new hiring policies are helping your company attract more diverse talent, but how is that talent faring once they’re in the door? Do you have a way to empower your employees to share their experiences, and then to use those learnings to inform policy and process changes? Combining quantitative and qualitative data is not always easy, but it’s a very important step in creating lasting, meaningful outcomes.