Eight Concrete Steps to Advance DEI


Originally published December 20, 2023, in Twin Cities Business magazine.

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” —Ava DuVernay

In my newsletters, I often ask you to reflect. Today, I’m going to ask you to do something a little different: think ahead. Picture yourself a year from now as you are coming to the end of 2024. When you think specifically about your DEI work: Where do you want to be with your progress? Who do you want to be as a leader? What do you want employees to say about your DEI efforts? And, how do you want external folks (your peers, prospective employees, customers, partners) to perceive what your company stands for and your role in that reputation?

Maybe you want to be a choice employer for BIPOC. Perhaps you want to have employees who are so excited about working at your company that they share job listings with their personal networks. Or maybe you want to have a culture where everyone feels they belong and are psychologically safe. Perhaps you want to have a company where DEI is recognized by staff and leadership as not just a business imperative but also a moral one. Maybe you will use this time to become a respected ally or even move on to being an accomplice.

It’s important to think about what we want to achieve in the year ahead and then set ourselves up for success. Whatever goals you envision, here are eight actions to take to make your DEI dreams come true.

Budget for all DEI commitments

A budget is a value statement. What you spend and set aside money for reflects what you care about. If you looked at my personal budget, you would be able to tell that I care about buying books, eating out, and getting my nails done. And I couldn’t argue otherwise if you showed me my receipts. So if you say you’re committed to DEI work, but have not planned on paying for that work, then you are not really committed. If you don’t already have a specific budget line item for DEI investment, create one for each aspect of DEI work you’re planning. Get specific about costs, like training, ERGs (yes, pay people for the time they dedicate to running or designing ERGs), external speakers, new programs, mentoring, or coaching.

Create and rehearse your elevator pitch for why this work matters. Believe it and talk about it often. 

The ‘why’ that supports your commitment is an important element to success. Say it often. For people who want to do the work and believe in the work, it’s the rallying call. And it reminds people who are apprehensive about DEI work that it is a priority. Once you set your specific 2024 DEI goals, communicate them to employees and constituents. As you make progress, update everyone—whether it’s a success or failure. Being transparent about what is working, what isn’t, and where you (or the company) messed up is all part of the process toward building trust.

Invest in coaching for your leaders and managers 

Every person at the management and leadership level needs to be involved, and all in. While DEI is not an individual effort, each person’s contribution is critical and many people will need guidance to understand and do the work with their teams. Coaching provides individualized conversations that allow each person to tackle challenges and determine their own next steps. Consider group coaching so peers can learn from what others are doing.

Ensure that every member of your company is included in DEI training

When done successfully, DEI work includes people throughout the company. It may start with leadership, but it certainly can’t end there. Find training that is relevant to your company, your industry, and where your company really is on its DEI journey. Ensure the training demonstrates how all roles and people can be actively involved in the work. Provide tools and resources for everyone to engage in the workdailys (and ensure those tools and resources are budgeted for). Depending on the type of business you operate, it might also be important to offer training to your constituents (i.e,. board members, community partners, etc.).

Measure the impact of your work…and be honest

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Whether it’s quantitative or qualitative data, data is absolutely necessary to make progress. Who is the work benefiting? Is it benefiting anyone? Determine what metrics make sense for goals and then ensure that you can effectively get the data for those metrics. For example, if you want to measure the experience of historically underrepresented employees at your company with qualitative data, ensure you have a process for gathering feedback and that people trust that process. If you want to track where historically underrepresented employees are over- and underrepresented within specific roles, make sure you have access to the critical data points. Create specific and measurable KPIs and definitions of the impact you expect those KPIs to have.

Decide how to use your findings to move forward

Once you determine how you’re going to measure your impact, use each of those measurements to inform how you move forward. “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023,” a recent McKinsey report written in partnership with the World Economic Forum, identified “Rigorous tracking and course correction” as one of the five factors common among impactful DEI initiatives. If your BIPOC employee turnover rate indicates that your retention efforts aren’t working, then change it up and start re-measuring. If your exit interviews continue to reveal that you have organizational culture challenges—reevaluate. Constantly use data from your company and experiences to determine your DEI roadmap.

Get over any fears or lingering resistance you have about doing or continuing the work 

The work of creating inclusive environments is not going away. If you thought you could wait it out or half-ass it, you can’t. Neither tactic will work as the world gets more diverse and your workforce begins to look more and more like the U.S. population. You need a cogent strategy for approaching this work, as an individual and leader. If you feel nervous or have trepidations, reflect on why and work through those feelings. Remind yourself that you have done hard things before—tap into the resilience that you’ve built on your way to being a leader. Get a personal coach to work through obstacles and provide you with specific methods to move through fears as they come up.

No matter what, don’t quit

There is a lot of work to do. Let that motivate you, not discourage you. Progress has been and can continue to be made if we stay at it. So again, I ask, what kind of leader do you want to be in 2024 and how do you want to make an impact? Start now.