The First Five Steps to Take as a DEI Leader- Part 2

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

This “First Five Steps to Take as a DEI Leader” series explores how you can set yourself up for both short and long-term success by laying out the first five steps to take in your first 90 days of starting a new DEI role. So that you get off to a strong start, the top five areas we recommend you focus on during that time are:

  1. Make Your Presence and Role Known
  2. Find Allies and Champions
  3. Assess Where the Organization Is In Its DEI Journey
  4. Create a Vision & Secure Necessary Resources
  5. Set & Track Progress Towards Your Goals

In part two, we’re diving into the second and third areas, Find Allies and Champions, and Assess Where the Organization Is In Its DEI Journey.

Find allies and champions

DEI cannot be the work of one single person, or even a single team within an organization. So it’s important to identify who the key leaders, influencers, and team members are who you’ll want to partner with during your first few weeks on the job, and to start working on enlisting their support. When connecting with them, be sure to:

  • Make it clear that you will need their support, influence, and allyship in order to effectively champion change, transform the culture of your organization, and increase the visibility of DEI initiatives and issues at your company.  
  • Ask them to connect you to key meetings, contacts, internal communication tools, and spaces such as Slack channels, shared drives, documents, and/or resources that will help you understand your new organization’s culture and begin to infuse DEI into the fabric of your new organization.  
  • Invite them to help maximize the impact of your DEI work by using and leveraging their power and privilege within the organization to amplify your efforts, remove roadblocks and obstacles that would hinder progress, and to help influence it in the direction of the vision that you and your leaders are holding. 
  • Offer them something in return! It can be challenging to realize that part of the success of your role rests in your ability to convince other people to help you. One way to overcome potential hurdles to getting stakeholders to spend time and energy on your initiatives is to figure out what you can help them with. As someone newer to a role and/or organization, this is also a tried and true way to quickly build relationships internally. 
Assess where the organization is in its DEI journey

Working in the DEI space will require you to confront institutionalized and systemic racism in its many forms. These systems of privilege and oppression have been in place for a very long time. Reversing that trajectory can be challenging and making progress can take a long time but the rewards, and even the smallest accomplishments, are something to be celebrated.

While you may receive a warm welcome during your first month, be prepared to be met with resistance once the honeymoon period wears off.  This usually occurs when you start digging into the root cause behind some of your organization’s most pressing DEI challenges, attempt to make changes in processes or policies, or press for increased accountability around behaviors and biases that shape how your organization (and individuals within it) operates.  

Resistance to DEI work within an organization can show up as: 

  • Denial – “we don’t have a diversity problem here”
  • Passivity – “let’s not get too radical”
  • Minimization – “it can’t be that big of a problem”
  • Outward refusal – simply not talking about the work or the issues. This can also manifest as exclusionary actions that keep you from having access to the parts of the system that require change, or not giving you enough power to implement any real actions.  

To mitigate and navigate resistance, be proactive about assessing where your organization is during those first 90 days. The first step in countering resistance is to understand what you are working with. By understanding where your organization is, and what has happened in this space historically, you can also identify potential root causes where resistance might stem from. Once we know why there is resistance, or where it comes from, we can be much more effective about tailoring the work, communications, interventions, and efforts accordingly. It will also help you set realistic expectations and goals for yourself and for your stakeholders, which helps prevent the burnout, disappointment, disillusionment and the emotional fatigue that often arises within DEI work.    

To assess where your organization is on its DEI journey, consider:

  • Leveraging the Meyer’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Spectrum Tool.  This handy tool can help you locate where your organization is on its journey, identify potential areas of growth and future work, and provide common language for your teams and leadership to talk about their current and desired states.   
  • Gathering and collecting data that is relevant to your organization. Data will paint a picture of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. You can also use this data to establish a baseline from which to track progress and set new goals. It will also help you identify pain points where you might be able to make the greatest impact and contribution. Critical data that you should seek out during your first 90 days include: 
  • Employee engagement survey results
  • Demographic information related to employees and the customer base
  • Promotion and retention rates
  • Representation in leadership stats 
  • Information pertaining to vendors, suppliers, or contractors that your company does business with. (Otherwise known as “supplier diversity”). 
  • Qualitative data from exit survey data, listening sessions, or focus groups.  

As you analyze the data, look for trends and patterns. Also work towards uncovering any gaps in resources or supports. To maximize your impact, pinpoint any underlying needs or barriers that should be addressed through your efforts.  

If your organization doesn’t have much data to begin with, then make collecting it a top priority for your first set of quarterly goals. Doing so will help you better understand where your organization is at and will help with benchmarking your organization’s progress later down the road.  


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