3 Steps to Forming an Effective DEI Steering Committee

3 Steps to Forming an Effective DEI Steering Committee

In Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Erika Powell

In the wake of the events of 2020 and early 2021, your organization may have realized that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training is a starting point towards a larger DEI journey.  If you’re eager to put what you learned during training into action and create organizational change, consider forming a DEI Steering Committee/Council.  Forming a DEI Steering Committee/Council is not the only or final step in your organization’s DEI journey but it is an important one.  Establishing a DEI Committee/Council demonstrates your ongoing commitment to DEI and will enable your company to:

  • Create sustained organizational change 
  • Focus and align your DEI efforts with the wider business goals, vision, and mission 
  • Build policy and process infrastructure to support your DEI initiatives 
  • Foster wider accountability and engagement with DEI values, commitments, and goals through the entire organization 

Here are 3 steps to getting a DEI Committee/Council started at your organization:

Step 1: Invite People to Participate

People are the heartbeat and pulse of a DEI Committee/Council.  When assembling your Committee/Council members, keep the following recommendations in mind:

RecommendationWhy & How it Helps
Invite people to volunteer to be part of the Committee/Council rather than requiring participationThis work should be open to anyone who cares deeply about this work and who wants to make a difference at your organization.  Positioning participation in this manner helps ground your commitment in passion and sincere interest rather than obligation or compliance. 
Assess your Committee/Council’s DEI skill set and experienceIdeally,you’ll want at least some of your members to have foundational DEI-related skills and/or experience.  However, this may not always be possible.  It’s common for DEI Committees/Councils to be composed of individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences with DEI.   

That said, the work of a DEI Committee/Council requires more than passion and good intentions.  So, as you’re organizing your committee/council, take time to assess where your team may have gaps in knowledge, skills, or abilities as it relates to DEI.  Don’t hesitate to bring in a consultant who can provide your team with the education or skills that will help set your committee/council up for success, equip you all with shared language, and help foster shared meaning around terms and key issues. 
Make sure you have cross-functional and multi-leveled representation Your participants should come from various departments, segments, and levels within your organization.  Having cross-functional and multi-leveled representation ensures that your committee will have insight into what is happening within the organization as a whole, not just in isolated areas.  It will not only help the committee align their decisions with wider business goals but also help them see how their work impacts, competes, complements, and/or creates additional synergies with other initiatives that may be happening concurrently at your company. 
Center the perspectives of multiple marginalized identities Your committee/council should mirror the diversity found within your organization.  However, to achieve that diversity you should NOT automatically appoint, pressure, or require marginalized people to participate in the Committee/Council.  Let’s be clear – it’s not their job to do this work.  By looking exclusively to them to carry this work forward for your organization, you reinforce the systems and dynamics that keep power, privilege, and oppression in place at work.   

That said, you should make a point to center their perspectives in your discussions and/or any initiatives that you rollout.  Do your research to learn about their perspectives, needs, and any challenges that they may experience in the workplace.  Doing so will help make your DEI efforts more impactful and keep equity at the forefront of the work your committee/council does.
Ensure that participation in Committee/Council activities are counted towards accomplishments and contributions during performance reviews and bonusesIt goes without saying that Committee/Council participants are dedicating their time to making the organization a better place to work.  They are also doing hard, highly complex, and emotionally taxing work to address issues in your workplace that are created by systemic racism, oppression, the unequal distribution of power, and longstanding inequities.  Make both their efforts and this work meaningful by ensuring that it’s taken seriously and rewarded from a performance and financial standpoint.  

Step 2: Involve Your Leadership

Executive and senior management buy-in and support are critical to the success of your Diversity Committee/Council.  It shows that DEI is important and a priority for those at the top.  It also sets the tone for the entire organization to embrace DEI as vision, mission, and commitment.  

Leaders can provide direction around where the Committee/Council can best align with business goals and organizational strategy.  Their support and involvement can also be instrumental in removing barriers and roadblocks that would impede your Committee/Council’s efforts from being successful and having maximum impact.  In addition to providing or making it easier to access key information or data, their investment in the Committee/Council can also make sure that your recommendations and ideas for change actually get put into practice, receive necessary funding and institutional support, and are communicated or promoted throughout your organization.    

Keep in mind that the presence and participation of executives and senior management at meetings may introduce an unexpected dynamic to your Committee/Council interactions.  This tends to stem from the power and privilege that they hold within your organizational system.  So, as you connect with leaders around your Committee/Council, make a point to:

  • Be clear in communicating norms and expectations for how you’d like them to engage with the Committee/Council.  
  • Be strategic about how you leverage their support, input, and roles & responsibilities.
  • Ensure that decision making for the committee is not dictated by existing organizational hierarchies and power structures.  Instead, consider making important decisions via consensus and/or other democratic processes.  

Step 3: Get Clear About Your Committee/Council’s Mission and Focus, Norms, and Engagement Strategies

Once you’ve assembled the key players for your Committee/Council, spend some time thinking about the Committee/Council’s mission, focus, functioning, and areas of responsibility.  Indeed, as you embark on this work, you might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of places that you can start and the journey that lies ahead.  So, this step is critical in ensuring that you approach the work by pacing yourself as if it were a marathon and not a sprint.  

Here are some topics that your Committee/Council should dedicate time to exploring together:

Key AreaTopics to Explore
Mission & Focus
  • Draft a charter and mission statement
  • Outline some possible short- and long-term goals
  • Gather preliminary DEI data about your organization (i.e. demographics, pain points, resource gaps & needs, current available programs & resources, etc.)
Norms
  • Discuss logistical and operational items such as:
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Meeting cadence
    • Subcommittees
    • Process for new members who might be interested in joining
  • Define communication and interaction norms such as:
    • General ways of being together
    • Feedback norms & process
    • Decision making norms & processes
    • Norms for handling conflict and/or expressing dissent
Engagement Strategies
  • Examine how to best secure buy-in and support from executives and key teams within the organization.
  • Brainstorm how you will establish and communicate the committee/council’s presence, progress, accomplishments, and contributions throughout the organization.
  • Explore opportunities to partner and include the perspectives of existing ERGs/BRGs within the organization.

Sign up for our newsletter to be notified when Part 2 of this series is live. We’ll dive into how to sustain the efforts of the committee/council.