10.01.2021 Diversity Equity and Inclusion Author: Kelly Campbell
Photo by Clay Banks

Organizations and conferences are abuzz with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—and for good reason. For years, corporations and other large organizations diminished the importance of diversifying their employee populace, particularly regarding their executive teams and boards. However, times are changing for the better, leaving many companies with a lot of catching up to do.

On August 6, 2021, the SEC approved NASDAQ’s plans to require listed companies to meet specific race and gender targets in pursuit of improved DEI. Their goal is to have at least one female board director and another board member who identifies as either a member of a racial minority or the LGBTQIA community. Additionally, they will have to release statistics about their boards. This doesn’t seem like much, but as of 2020, more than 75% of listed companies do not meet these requirements.

The business case for diversity is clear, with companies in the top quartile of gender diversity for executive teams 25% more likely to have above average profitability.

Diversity and inclusion goes further than that though, to include safer, more supportive environments for people to work and grow their careers. To effectively integrate these changes throughout a large organization in a meaningful, impactful way is no small task. While the SEC’s move to set a mandate for diversity and inclusion is a fantastic step forward, there is much to be done. Thus, as companies begin to navigate these challenging but necessary waters, it’s critically important to keep a number of different considerations in mind.

Leadership Must Truly Take The Lead

As with any meaningful initiative, leadership must first champion it and reflect its stated values back to the company at large. Particularly, CEOs must “take a public stance, embed D&I in the organization’s purpose, exemplify the culture, and take responsibility for progress toward goals.” Likewise, the board members should be equally engaged in these efforts. In addition to holding fellow board members accountable, it’s important for the board to keep the executive leadership on their toes. Leaders must own the strategy, and regardless of whether they employ diversity and inclusion experts, they need to embed themselves in these efforts from here on out.

Identify Meaningful Metrics and KPIs

It is impossible to enact meaningful strategies without having the necessary measures in place to ensure that said strategies are actually impactful. In the case of the NASDAQ mandate, the primary metric is representation, and ensuring that at minimum, a certain number of board members are diverse hires. However, DEI efforts should clearly go well beyond the boardand pervade the company. As discussed by Boston Consulting Group, other meaningful metrics include recruitment, retention, advancement, and pay. Once an organization has benchmarks for where they stand on each of these items and DEI at large, they can set meaningful goals alongside strategy implementation to track progress and see what is or is not working.

Dive Deep and Challenge Assumptions

It’s easy for companies to get sucked into the trap of thinking they have DEI figured out if they have a few women and a handful of LGBTQ and/or BIPOC in leadership roles. However, there is much more to this complex issue.

Diversity is, of course, the first word in DEI. This means companies need be persistently proactively about understanding where their blind spots are, and what populations they are failing to give voice and opportunity. For example, binary definitions of gender do not actually address the entire spectrum of gender identity. Likewise, many other marginalized groups such as cultural minorities or the physically impaired are often neglected relative to DEI efforts.

In addition to persistently refreshing views of diversity, leaders must understand the power of unconscious bias and how it acts as a deterrent to meaningful DEI work. It is defined as “prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.” Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to combat without understanding it, given that it is implicit and unconscious. Thus, building a culture of diving deep, challenging assumptions, and willingness to iterate and learn are all important characteristics of the DEI integration process.

DEI Experts Are Critical  

Ultimately, companies cannot go it alone when it comes to these critically important initiatives. The good news is that help is out there; in fact, lots of help is out there. Employing and engaging with diversity and inclusion experts is undoubtedly the most important step that organizations can take. While the above-mentioned steps are key, they must be led intentionally by subject-matter experts in each of these arenas. For example, executive coaches fill an important role for leadership teams to learn and be held accountable, while workshop facilitators can help coach larger groups of people. Likewise, consultants offer meaningful high-level strategy and implementation advice. By aligning these efforts with the right diversity and inclusion experts, there is a higher likelihood of success.

At Consciousness Leaders, we are committed to changing the world and raising collective consciousness through the organizations we serve. We have a large group of diversity and inclusion experts available to help you and your organization navigate the implementation of meaningful DEI in your workplace. Thankfully, this is just the beginning for the future of inclusive work, and we are excited to work with you and help your organization evolve for the better.

About the author

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Kelly Campbell is the founder of Consciousness Leaders and Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach to self-aware visionaries. She writes for Entrepreneur and has written for Forbes. They are the author of "Heal to Lead" (Wiley, 2024), a new book on transforming past trauma in order to uncover our innate leadership power.