Setting Up A Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council

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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) has become a business imperative for many firms given the recent events of 2020. Many companies have realized that the only way to combat bias is with a more rigorous and responsible approach to DE&I. Some have responded by introducing company-wide initiatives that lay the responsibility of progress at the feet of both the leadership team as well as each individual staff member.  Whatever the approach, it is key to have the appropriate governance structure in place that includes ongoing formal communication to all employees. The ultimate DE&I goal is to embed it into the firm culture. It should be embraced as a journey and not approached as a program with a start and end date.

Why You Should Set Up A Diversity Council

As a certified diversity professional who has been consulting on DE&I for the past 8 years, I can tell you there are many benefits in setting forth the proper framework to introduce DE&I to an organization. Leadership needs to set the tone from the top by demonstrating the importance and benefits this has to the firm. Setting forth a governance structure comprised of senior business leaders representing a cross section of the firm is a fundamental part of the structure that should be put in place. This structure is referred to as an Executive Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council.

Forming a DE&I Council: Factors to Consider

There are several factors to consider in forming such a council, such as championing council initiatives, determining who should sit on the council, developing your mission and objectives, the practices affecting DE&I, measuring council success, and more.

DE&I Council Checklist (2)

Procuring Leadership Buy-in and Support

Buy-in and engagement from your executive team, as well as key stakeholders in HR, legal, and finance is vital for council success. As first-line change agents, senior-level stakeholders play a critical role in championing your efforts toward DE&I. To procure support from the top, start by developing a business case for DE&I initiatives that highlights your strategic roadmap and goals. This business case should link all DE&I goals back to the organization’s mission statement, values, and business goals. Next, identify and communicate how all executive leaders and key stakeholders will be held accountable for supporting and engaging your DE&I goals. Clearly delineate potential council roles and responsibilities, while outlining key milestones and deadlines for all initiatives.

Deciding Who Should Lead Your Council

The chair or CEO and Chief Diversity Officer will usually lead the Executive Diversity Council. Membership is comprised of senior vice presidents representing all business functions of the enterprise. The executive diversity council is responsible for developing the overall integrated diversity strategy. Ideally, members of the diversity council should mirror the organization’s diversity goals. The council should be composed of members of varying gender, age, race, position, department, seniority, and so on.

Designing Your Mission, Council Goals, and Focus Areas

The goal of the Executive Diversity Council is to create a roadmap to drive the DE&I strategy and develop the framework for implementing and impacting initiatives, programs, policies, and processes. To ensure effective collaboration and council success, the council's mission, objectives, and desired outcomes must be appropriately laid out.

A well-defined council mission should align to the organization’s business objectives, use inclusive language, and specify diversity initiatives—for example, removing unconscious bias, promoting respect, building inclusive teams and resource groups, and so on.

When developing council objectives, consider a data-driven approach to identify focus areas and sources of underrepresentation. This step will likely involve capturing data on employee demographics across departments, locations, pay levels, management levels, etc., to identify significant disparities. Additionally, it is essential to assess the consensus among employees regarding your existing DE&I efforts. Often, this may involve conducting an anonymous survey of current employees to determine concerns and perceptions on diversity within your organization, as well as your current approach to DE&I. Company reviews, such as those found on Glassdoor and Indeed, can provide additional qualitative insight into areas of strength and weakness within your existing DE&I initiatives. Set specific diversity goals based on data and feedback. For example, if your organization is seeing a significant lack of women in senior leadership roles, consider setting a percentage goal for getting women in those roles.

Determining Success Metrics for Council Strategies

There are many ways to measure the success of your DE&I initiatives. Tracking diversity metrics prior to implementation of the DE&I council and continually thereafter can provide a clear picture of your workforce composition by demographic and illustrate how those demographics have shifted following the introduction of the council. These demographic compositions should be continually measured across departments, locations, pay levels, positions, and promotions received. Other measures of how your diversity initiatives are performing may include: increased employee participation in DE&I events and training, increased positive mention of your diversity efforts in employee reviews, and diversity awards, certifications, and recognitions.

Organizational Process and Practices Effecting DE&I

The council should consider all areas impacting DE&I in the workplace. This includes the employer brand, corporate culture, hiring, employee retention, development, mentoring programs, education and training, employee networks, referral programs, and business strategies and goals enabling all employees to contribute at their full potential.

For example, a common concern with referral programs is that employees may only refer candidates like them in terms of race, gender, background, personality, religion, and so on. Additionally, not having a diversity-tailored employer brand can result in failure to attract diverse candidates, which can be detrimental to your efforts to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. The council will need to consider such areas to identify any barriers to diverse and inclusive opportunities within the organization. Where necessary, a thorough examination should be conducted into how each of these practices might be modified to support the council’s DE&I objectives.

Communicate Council Initiatives to Ensure Adherence and Adaptation

Develop DE&I messaging and deliverables that will inform, engage, and encourage participation from key stakeholders and employees within the organization This content should clearly communicate the council’s “value proposition” and mission statement for diversity within your organization. The content should be shared by your communications team, HR, and senior leadership across various channels such as company town halls, internal newsletters, DE&I workshops, presentations, and social media. Consider sharing data and metrics gathered during the goal design and monitoring stages to underscore the need for and impact of DE&I initiatives. As part of ensuring adherence and adaption into the workplace, the diversity council must also assist, mentor, sponsor, and provide key goals to Employee Resource Groups.

Monitoring Outcomes and Making Continuous Improvements

The DE&I council should meet periodically to monitor goal progress against pre-determined success metrics. Relatedly, the workforce should be surveyed regularly to bring to light any demographic changes in workforce composition, as well as any change in how your organization’s efforts toward DE&I are being perceived. A lack of improvement in these metrics or a failure to meet goals suggests that the council may need to revisit the organization's DE&I needs and refocus its objectives accordingly.

I have worked with organizations in forming these councils and developing the strategy and roadmap. With this in place, there is a clear vision set with goals and objectives on which the firm can act. All employees are encouraged to get involved and form Employee Resource Groups which fall under the governance of the DE&I. This is the way the culture starts to embrace DE&I and become part of the firm.

6 Key Takeaways

As a takeaway, here are 6 best practices that every Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council should follow:

  • Design a clear and approved charter.
  • Develop a well-defined mission and clear goals aligned with organization’s diversity needs and business objectives.
  • Acquire executive sponsorship and participation.
  • Include members that represent a cross-section of the organization that are DE&I advocates.
  • Develop a system and process to track and measure progress.
  • Have a strategic communication and marketing plan that reports progress and distributes diversity messages via multiple media channels.
  • If your organization would like outside perspective or assistance to establish your DE&I governance structure to create a culture of DE&I, please reach contact MaryAnn Fappiano at LevelUP HCS for a consultation.


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