Hiring a Diversity & Inclusion lead? Some things to consider first...
Almost every day, Linked In sends me a fresh list of new job openings in DEI – ranging from ‘Diversity and Talent manager’ to ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ or ‘Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’. There’s clearly been an enormous surge in DEI roles over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, however, we’ve also seen a high rate of turnover in these roles.
I’ve written and spoken to many colleagues about why DEI lead roles are particularly challenging within our organisational structures, and how they can be a ‘double edged sword’ for the person in them: the job is, by definition, counter-cultural and personal; and it requires a wide range of skills, capabilities and mindsets that aren’t always considered. Broadly speaking, it needs:
1. Knowledge: an understanding of the relevant historical, psychological and social issues that are at play and an appreciation of the role of power and culture in how we think, act and change
2. Values: unflinching alignment with the principles of justice, equity and inclusion, beyond self-interest, and an openness to continuous learning through one’s own lived experience and that of others
3. Ability: to impact change at a systemic level; a ‘below the surface’ awareness of oneself and others, and the skills to teach, coach, facilitate, enable, collaborate, inspire and influence positive change for individuals and organisations (all this, while managing one’s own mental and physical wellbeing – It's not a small ask!)
That said: from what we’ve observed, the biggest factor that determines whether the DEI lead will be effective in their role is not any of the above skills. It is where the rest of the organisation is – the readiness, maturity, and openness of others in the organisation to look at and address DEI (beyond tokenism and performance).
We’ve seen too many examples of ‘knee-jerk’ and reactionary appointments where a person is put into a DEI lead role without adequate thought or consideration given to what they are being asked to do and why, and how they will achieve it.
So, before you hit ‘publish’ on that job ad, here are 10 questions to ask that might help you get your organisation ready first:
1. What is the Why? This is the first question we ask new clients at Rewire. In the flurry of ‘doing something’ about DEI we often busy ourselves with replicating what other organisations are doing. So, pause, and make sure you (and the DEI lead you’re hoping to hire) knows what your real driver for change is right now. Why, and why now? This is what grounds the work and helps to untangle the performative from the reformative.
2. What is the need? Assessing “where you are now” and “where you need to be” is your first step, it’s what we call the ‘Discover’ phase of the work. It’s important to understand where your people are, what their hopes and fears are, and what your vision is for the organisation. However you may also have blindspots if you're only looking inside the glass bowl - your DEI lead can help to uncover, contextualise and deepen this self-knowledge.
3. What is the goal?
DEI goals are often articulated as percentages and representation, but we need to get deeper and articulate why those numbers are important, and what impact those targets will have, otherwise it can come across as “diversity for diversity’s sake” and disengage people. The goals also need to be realistic and in tune with where you are and where you want to be, and why. Be open to your DEI lead/team potentially revisiting these goals and identifying any gaps you may have missed.
4. How does it link with our mission?
The DEI vision and goals need to be linked closely with the overall purpose and strategy of the organisation, otherwise it won’t withstand the test of time. This link needs to be made explicit for everyone in the organisation and weaved into how everything is done so it's not just an "initiative" but becomes part of how we do things.
5. What is the strategy?
In other words, how are we hoping to move the organisation and people within it, what is our approach and what is the underlying theory of change that drives our approach?
6. What’s our commitment?
There needs to be a clear and authentic message about the importance of this work, along with adequate resources, remit and support. Think about where this role will sit and why, and how it can be positioned for maximum impact across the organisation.
7. Who’s job is it?
Don’t appoint a DEI lead and think your job is done. The DEI lead (or team) is there to help you weave the principles of equity and inclusion across everything the company does – but it’s on each person to play their part. DEI success requires strong buy-in and collaboration across the entire organisation, to translate intentions into results. Do your leaders and teams understand this? How can you better position and equip them to successfully collaborate with your DEI leader?
8. How will we measure success?
Rather than writing representation-based KPIs for the DEI lead (and seeing the meeting or not meeting of these targets as that individual’s success or failure), use the expertise of the DEI lead to help you draft relevant diversity and inclusion-based KPIs for everyone else (at least all people managers) in the organisation – and then support your employees to make the changes they need to make to achieve the goals.
9. How will we support the DEI lead?
The DEI lead is there to help the organisation change, so be prepared for differences in opinion, and the productive discussion and learning that can come from these. Don't underestimate the toll this role can take on the individual; make sure wellbeing support is in place as well as consistent allyship, sponsorship and vocal support from leadership across the business.
10. How will we sustain the change?
What steps will we take to make sure that the changes we make are embedded into the organisation’s functioning, not just for now but for the long term so they survive changes in leadership and become normal ways of working.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it provides a starting point.
If you’re currently looking to hire someone into a DEI role, some of these reflections may help you begin to take the necessary steps to create readiness in your organisation, and set the role up for success.
AND: if you’re looking to work in DEI, the questions above might also help you assess whether the job you’re considering is a good fit for you and whether it will provide you with the opportunity to impact real change. (Alternatively, come talk to us! Rewire is always looking for Consultants and Associates who have the skills, interests and values that align with us.)