6 steps to building your DEI strategy from the ground up
How does an organization new to diversity, equity and inclusion build a strategy? By finding their “why” and following these tips.
Corporate social responsibility is not a new concept in the business world. But now, more companies than ever have committed to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their operations and beyond.
But where do companies new to DEI begin? These six steps can help you develop a strategy from the ground up.
1. Find your motivation
Start by asking yourself: Why are we making DEI a priority for our business? Once you know your "why," everything else will likely follow.
Idris Stover, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture at Shake Shack
Pinpoint the reasons DEI matters to your business. Is it because DEI is important to your internal teams? Your business partners? Your customers? Your communities? Or maybe DEI efforts align with your corporate mission statement, like Shake Shack’s pledge to Stand For Something Good.
Then, consider how inclusivity impacts your business, culture and communities. Honest, transparent answers can help clarify your motivations. Once you have that core “why” answered, you can begin to build your strategy around it.
“Your ‘why’ can be your North Star,” says Idris Stover, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture at Shake Shack. “It will help guide everything you do to support your company’s DEI strategy and business objectives.”
2. Gather DEI data
Data is important to any business strategy, including your DEI strategy. With your “why” in hand, you can collect data to inform how DEI will look in business operations.
For example, your “why” may relate to your employees and increasing representation of marginalized groups in your workforce. If so, you should find data points that focus on workforce demographics, including:
- Who do you employ today?
- What employees are you retaining?
- Which employees are you developing?
- What talent do you want to attract?
Both Stover and Brian Lamb, Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase, stress that quantitative and qualitative data are critical to supporting a DEI strategy. The way your company is perceived by employees and potential job applicants is just as insightful as quantitative hiring metrics.
“When you think qualitative, there are always ways to evaluate engagement, to gauge how employees feel about belonging,” Lamb says. He mentions opinion surveys as an effective method of gaining perspective into how employees feel about your firm’s DEI efforts.
3. Generate DEI Buy-in
For your DEI strategy to work, it’s important for everyone involved to have a personal stake in your efforts.
“You can’t build an effective strategy in a corner,” Stover says. “You need others to join you to have a collective championing of DEI.”
Start with securing commitment at the top.
“C-suite and executive leaders are important to the success of any company initiative, and DEI is no different,” Stover says. “Decision-makers need to understand why DEI matters from a business standpoint, then drive the strategy forward through their respective spheres of influence.”
HR and core business operations teams should also understand how DEI connects to your organizational goals.
And don’t forget to include key stakeholders aligned with the “why” of your strategy—from customers to vendors to community leaders.
For a real-life example of this, look to the many Business Resource Groups (BRGs) that JPMorgan Chase supports. These groups give JPMC employees of all abilities, ethnicities and life experiences a forum for speaking up. The firm believes that feeling listened to helps make employees feel personally considered, included and valued by the business. An approach such as this creates a true sense of belonging and can transform your employees into DEI ambassadors.
4. Look to external resources
You can lean on other organizations—particularly those dedicated to supporting underrepresented communities—to help move your DEI strategy forward. Leveraging their resources and know-how can set you up for long-term success.
Your “why” will point you toward the right organizations. For example, “Shake Shack looked to The Trevor Project for resources on how to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community,” Stover says. “Their focus is narrow, in terms of who they serve, but they [offer] a wealth of resources that we’ve been able to tap into. We even brought them into our organization to help educate our people.”
For companies new to DEI, Stover recommends researching organizations and consultancies that can support initial efforts, including:
5. Start small
It may be difficult to know where to begin with your DEI efforts. Stover advocates starting small and focusing on actions that speak directly to your “why.”
“Don’t try to boil the ocean,” she says. “It’s perfectly OK to start small, which allows you to be intentional, build momentum and create a sustainable DEI strategy.”
In these early stages, Stover suggests you pick a few DEI goals and break them out into smaller, achievable goals that can be more easily tracked and measured. This could be critical to getting your strategy off the ground in a meaningful way.
6. Ensure accountability
Accountability is crucial to keeping your DEI efforts focused and aligned with your “why.”
According to Lamb, transparency and accountability help ensure that JPMorgan Chase is performing to the high standards the firm expects. That may mean providing public updates on your progress toward goals.
You can also ensure accountability by communicating with key stakeholders.
“Make them part of the journey,” Stover says. “Don’t just tell them what you’re going to do. Ask them what they want to see, incorporate that feedback and then tell them what you’ve accomplished.”
Your DEI journey is your own
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a DEI strategy. Stover emphasizes consulting that North Star of your “why” to light the way forward.
“If something’s not working, take a moment and be real with yourselves,” she says. “Do the organizational soul searching—reassess, regroup and get back toward your overarching DEI purpose. You have to do what’s right for your organization. You cannot simply take a DEI strategy off the shelf.”
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