Strategies for building your company’s DEI team
As your business expands its DEI work, you may need to hire a dedicated team. This guide can help you start the process.
Companies with a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy may ask themselves, “What can we do to further ingrain DEI in our operations and achieve more?”
The answer for many is to hire a dedicated DEI team. Most businesses begin with volunteer employees to help guide their DEI strategy, but at some point you may need to add a consultant or in-house staff.
Idris Stover, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture at Shake Shack
When do you know it’s time to hire?
Each company will build its team differently, but there can be a few indicators that it’s time to hire a consultant or in-house manager.
- DEI work interferes with employees’ jobs. Most organizations start their DEI journey with well-meaning employees who volunteer their time. But Stover cautions those efforts may reach a natural ceiling because employees have existing job responsibilities that likely don’t include DEI. If these contributions start to impact employees’ work, it may be time to hire additional resources.
- Your efforts aren’t aligned with your “why.” Remember the reason you created a DEI strategy. If it becomes clear that your efforts aren’t in alignment with your “why,” hiring help could get you back on track.
- You’ve achieved certain goals. Businesses should periodically assess their DEI strategies and progress, often on a quarterly basis. Stover says these reviews are natural opportunities for adding DEI staff. If you’ve already moved the needle on goals such as workforce representation or community engagement, you may want to bring on new staff to level up your strategy.
Regardless of where your company is in its DEI journey, you should continually review your efforts to see where you can improve, says Brian Lamb, Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase.
“Ask yourself, ‘Are we organized in such a way that we can do better?’” Lamb says. “Do you have DEI engagement and operating rhythms within the businesses? Is DEI being woven into all processes and practices?”
If your answers aren’t reassuring, you may need more help.
DEI consultant or in-house hire?
Consultants and in-house hires can help advance your business’s DEI strategy. Who you hire often depends on how much DEI work you’ve already done.
If you need help getting your strategy off the ground, Stover suggests hiring external consultants.
“Consultants can be an extension of your team,” Stover says. “They bring experience, expertise, best practices and—most importantly—benchmarking.”
Consultants can be valuable, but they’re often unfamiliar with the inner workings of your business and its culture. When DEI professionals embed themselves in your organization, they may be able to better manage efforts, troubleshoot problems and fit pieces of your strategy together. As your DEI work progresses, building an in-house team could be a great way forward.
“Consultants bring a lot to the table right out of the gate,” Stover says. “But in-house people can take your business from strategy to execution.”
What makes a good DEI hire?
There are different ways you can vet consultants and in-house hires. For instance, if you’re hiring a consultant, consider reaching out to other businesses that have worked with the firm or reading online reviews.
When it comes to hiring a full-time DEI employee, there are many more considerations. At a high level, you should look for competence and commitment. “Look for passion coupled with skills and knowledge,” Stover says.
Seek DEI employees who can:
- Influence others: DEI professionals should be adept in managing interpersonal relationships. “They need to be able to collaborate and build internal partnerships with people to get stuff done,” Stover says.
- Solve problems: The upside of having in-house staff is they can immediately respond to challenges. You should look for someone who is motivated and capable of resolving strategy hiccups.
- Be accountable: Your DEI hires should hold themselves and others accountable to ensure your strategy and business are in lockstep. “DEI strategy should have strong connectivity to business priorities and be woven into business process—from service delivery to your clients,” Lamb says. “An important element of that is ensuring a level of accountability.”
Best practices for smooth onboarding
To set your DEI team and overall strategy up for success, it's important to have a smooth onboarding process. Let new hires immerse themselves in the business at first, then slowly ramp up their work. Stover credits her early experiences as a Shake Shack employee as being pivotal to her success at the business today.
“For the first 90 to 120 days, they just told me to listen, get to know people and help us get to know you,” Stover says. That included in-person visits to Shake Shack restaurant locations to learn about the business, its people and how it sets itself apart.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” Stover recalls. “Having that deep cultural immersion helped me to see who was, is and will be impacted by this work. Never lose sight of that! You can walk in the door with a DEI strategy and business plan, but it can all fall on its face if you don’t understand the company and its people.”
Your DEI journey is yours alone
Keep in mind that your DEI journey may not look like the textbook example. But no matter who you hire—whether it’s an outside consultant or an internal team—make sure that everyone is committed to the road ahead.
“DEI must be a part of everything you and they do,” Stover says. “It can’t be something else after the fact.”
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