The First Five Steps to Take as a DEI Leader- Part 1

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

It’s the night before you start your new DEI role. You feel giddy with excitement about starting this new role in the morning. You really vibed with your new team and think that you’ve found great allies in the leaders that you’ll be partnering with. Although you sense some nervousness about the journey that lies ahead of you, overall you feel pumped with determination to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (‘DEI’) forward in your new organization and with the teams that you will be working with. Of the 401,648 jobs found on LinkedIn that are currently related to diversity, YOU landed one and feel invigorated and empowered by the opportunity to make long overdue changes in today’s workplace. 

The first 90 days are critical to both your short and long-term success in this role. So that you get off to a strong start, there are five top areas we recommend you focus on during that time.

  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 one of this series, we will be focusing on the first area:

Make your presence and role known

Within organizations, DEI positions vary with regards to their role, responsibilities, and scope. Some roles focus on business strategy and alignment while other roles focus on managing special programs, guiding Employee Resource Groups (‘ERGs’), or spearheading DEI initiatives at the enterprise level. Most recently, there have been an increasing number of roles which focus on driving or partnering with parts of the business such as recruiting, training, HR business partners, talent management or development, corporate social responsibility, and/or communications. Some of these roles focus exclusively on the US while others are becoming increasingly global with a lens towards fostering intercultural competence.  

Most likely the DEI role that you are about to begin has overlapping and cross-functional responsibilities in a few of the areas mentioned above. Given the wide variability of DEI roles, people within an organization may not fully understand or “get’ what you do.   

This challenge can be compounded by a few other dynamics. For example, positions and roles exclusively focused on advancing DEI in the workplace are a completely new concept for many organizations. Additionally, companies that already had DEI roles in place may be experiencing an influx of complex requests, pressure to produce rapid results in a short amount of time, and challenges holding the business accountable for deep-rooted systems-level changes. In either case, don’t assume that people know what your role entails and how it benefits the organization. 

When stepping into a DEI role, you will need to make your presence known. People at your new company should know YOU, what you do, and how your role helps or benefits the organization and its teams. Additionally, depending on where your role sits (do you report in to HR? Are you embedded within a business unit?), your duties and responsibilities might vary greatly, and the people you will need to work with, leverage, and support might vary as well. 

As you make your presence and role known during those first 90 days, position DEI as a strategic business function and continue to do so often as necessary during your tenure. Draw attention to the fact that the work that your work is critical to the business because it:

  • Enables representation and inclusion of employees of various identities at all levels of the organization 
  • Helps employees experience a sense of belonging 
  • Creates conditions that allow them to thrive as their authentic selves; and/or 
  • Promotes equity in process, procedures, access, and outcomes within the workplace.

Take time during your first 90 days to meet and connect with the individuals, teams, and leaders that make up your organization. Be explicit about how your work in DEI intersects with their efforts, fits into the wider organizational picture, and how it creates value for the organization as a whole.  

Also use your initial meetings to learn about the issues that are on their hearts and minds. Setup recurring meetings with key leaders and teams so that you can be in an ongoing dialogue around DEI in your organization. Doing so will ensure that your efforts are meaningful, impactful, and responsive to their real time needs.  

Lastly, don’t be afraid to formally present at a company All Hands meeting, quarterly or monthly meetings, and/or even weekly departmental/team meetings. This is another way to establish your presence known, help people understand your role, and make the vital connections that will serve you in the journey ahead.


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