You’ve stepped into a leadership position — perhaps a role as chief diversity officer (CDO) — and leading diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts is a priority.

Where do you begin? How do you set yourself up for success? How do you effect positive change and tackle DEIB challenges?

Darden Professors Melissa Thomas-Hunt and Laura Morgan Roberts, experts in DEIB, share five steps you can take to advance DEIB efforts, create an inclusive experience for all employees, build relationships with allies in the organization and move your organization forward.

Be Clear About Your Role Expectations

As a CDO — or leader generally — what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing? Where do you begin? How can you jumpstart having an impact? Thomas-Hunt was once in this position as head of global diversity and belonging at Airbnb. She says to start with getting clear about your role expectations.

“Where are you positioned within the organization’s leadership team?” she says. “With which divisions are you formally associated? What is your reporting relationship with other senior leaders in the organization? Map out the organizational chart and pinpoint your formal role, your key partners and your scope of responsibility.”

Study Your Organization’s DEIB Profile

If you’re leading diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts, you’ll want to study your organization’s profile, and Roberts says to start with data.

“You can refer to employee sentiment surveys, engagement surveys, other sources of quantitative and qualitative data,” she says. “Examine the data from various perspectives, look at subgroups along different dimensions.”

Then ask yourself what trends and patterns you’re seeing.

5 Tips for Chief Diversity Officers
Professors Laura Morgan-Roberts and Melissa Thomas-Hunt discuss best practices

Build Relationships With Your Stakeholders

Before coming to conclusions about the current state of your organization, it’s imperative to seek input from representatives of all organizational stakeholders. Thomas-Hunt stresses that it is critical to listen to employees at all levels of the organization.

“Use town halls, meet with employee resource group leads, chat with talent partners and recruiters. There may be an inclination to run from the challenging voices or naysayers,” Thomas-Hunt says. “Instead, bring them close, listen to them, give them a voice to be heard.  You’ll need to assess things that you can do without approval and the things for which you can make the call. Even with things for which you can make the call, you will still need to get input and socialize ideas. Most DEIB work is asking people to do things differently and requires an organizational change mindset.”

Be an Influencer

If you’re in a CDO position, you may have some formal authority — and hopefully some resources. If you’re in a new role or crafting a role for your organization, you’ll probably start out with less authority, but you’ll be able to rely on influence, nonetheless.

How do you create that influence?

“Influence techniques to lead change start with assessing your allies,” Roberts says. “These individuals will typically reach out to you, demonstrate their interest and their longstanding commitment to the work. Embrace the opportunities to connect with them, make time for them on your schedule. The relationships you build with them now will be very useful when issues arise.”

Identify where in the organization there are resources and expertise that you can draw upon and, where you have authority, use it to support others as well.

Commit to Lifelong Learning

Whether you’re experienced in leading DEIB efforts or new to the arena, it’s wise to be an active learner. You can find many tools by searching online or connecting with other DEIB leaders on social media and sharing resources with each other.

Thomas-Hunt also recommends, “Invest in professional development programs to help you build awareness, access cutting edge insights and collaborate with peers in DEIB efforts. Engage subject-matter experts to offer topical discussions and research presentations that will facilitate organizational learning and cultivate relationships with mentors and sponsors.”

An Essential Bonus Tip: Perspective

Pay careful attention to your health and potential for burnout. DEIB leaders are on a steep learning curve that requires a wide range of skills, including emotional intelligence and cultural humility. As people confide in you regarding their challenges, concerns and hopes, set realistic expectations with them about what you can and cannot do … and then set realistic expectations for yourself using a healthy growth mindset.

DEIB leaders are playing the long game. Many organizations and people will ask for short-term results; remind them that this work requires long-term, significant investments.

Watch the full video playlist from Professors Laura Morgan Roberts and Melissa Thomas-Hunt and their tips to help chief diversity officers and other DEIB leaders navigate their critical and often challenging roles.

Normalize DEI in Your Organization
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