Over half of employers (52%) think the Chief Human Resources Officer is partially or fully responsible for DEI, while 36% say it’s the CEO and 17% think nobody is.
While it’s critical that the DEI vision is inspired, championed and accountable from the executive level, a DEI committee positions your people as an integral part of the DEI journey - rather than having the DEI function siloed or dictated top-down.
A DEI Committee is a purpose-driven task force - composed of diverse staff with differing perspectives - that helps to steer DEI decisions, strategies and actions in your organization. In some cases, the group has decision-making roles and, in other cases, acts as an advisory to leadership. It also becomes a developmental opportunity for future leaders.
What’s the Role of a DEI Committee in Your Strategy
A DEI task force helps to educate, support and champion the organizational DEI initiatives - and because it comprises diverse and passionate constituents - helps to hold leadership and the organization accountable to the DEI journey. Members of your DEI committee are ultimately ambassadors to build an inclusive culture.
A DEI committee should not be charged with convincing leadership to value diversity, equity and inclusion: it should be charged with helping to keep leadership on task, in check, supported and challenged. The DEI committee should originate with leadership buy-in, not pitch for it.
To help move the meter, a DEI committee will be most empowered when:
- The organization is equipping itself with a strong data-based situational analysis of the current state of affairs: diversity and inclusion metrics that paint a picture of how different groups and individuals experience your workplace.
- Clear DEI objectives are aligned to the wider business goals, vision and mission.
- Targeted DEI strategies are being identified based on understanding where, why and how the organization needs to focus DEI initiatives towards reaching DEI objectives.
- Executive leadership is on-board and engaged, valuing the DEI committee as a strategic consultancy and implementation task force.
- The DEI committee is tasked with a clear mission statement and SMART goals that support the agreed, and iterative, DEI strategies.
- Everyone is committed to iterative and sustained accountability to the DEI journey, and the progress against strategies is benchmarked and measured.
- Time, participation, contribution and accomplishments by team members are built into individual work plans, performance reviews and financial compensation.
A DEI steering committee can be instrumental in:
- Developing DEI strategy to mitigate bias, overcome barriers to inclusion and address areas of opportunity as well as in implementing and executing changes.
- Exploring key areas of concern around inclusion in your organization and providing a pulse-check on whether proposed changes are wanted/needed.
- Fostering wider engagement and accountability for DEI values, goals and initiatives.
- Reviewing current policies, processes and practices (eg hiring, referral, sponsorship) to identify bias and create interventions.
- Ideating proposals to address barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion in your organization.
- Leading the charge on specific DEI activations.
- Amplifying the voice of inclusion across your organization.
Who Should Be Part of your DEI Committee
If leadership is not onboard, your DEI task force risks wheel-spinning. Executive championship and executive advocates are the foundation of the DEI committee, clearly understanding why you want to initiate one and the role it plays in the DEI strategy. Engagement with executive leadership should be iterative and on-going. This means an executive-level sponsor needs to be an engaged and active participant of the committee - not just a figurehead.
Whether your DEI committee is five or twenty-five people, you want an invested membership that will support listening, cohesion and momentum.
When forming a DEI committee:
- Seek voluntary members who are committed to DEI and wish to participate, advise and contribute: do not appoint or require participation from individuals. Ensure people are interested in getting involved not just spectating: the committee role is an active role and that should be made clear.
- Invite participants that reflect the diversity in the organization, considering both visible and invisible diversity, to help center diverse (not overrepresented) perspectives.
- Keep in mind that you need participation from both dominant and non-dominant groups. Underrepresented groups can advance understanding of challenges and inclusion gaps, but participation is required from dominant/majority groups who have the voice, position, and authority to advocate for organizational change.
- Invite people from cross-functional departments and various levels of seniority, workplace experiences, backgrounds and perspectives and ensure everyone has a voice Identify if there are any glaring gaps in representation from particular departments or positions/levels as your committee forms, and seek to address those.
- Assess the skills and experience in DEI across your members, so you’re aware of skill sets, knowledge gaps and educational needs that will support team success.
- Consider how you will allow and invite new members onboard as the group gains in traction.
Once your committee is formed, it will be important to:
- Engage participation from executive leadership; an active executive sponsor is best positioned to ensure leadership interaction with the council in a way that prioritizes members’ voices.
- Build psychological safety by setting up agreed codes of conduct, communication norms and a learning culture. Tasked with navigating the difficult conversations, it’s important to be able to carry friction in voices towards greater outcomes.
- Clarify roles and structure, including chairs for different initiatives who head up committee accountability for progress on that initiative.
Beyond the core members of your team, as you get to work, it will be necessary to develop departmental DEI allies. For example, if the team is reviewing aspects of the performance review process, it will be important to align with relevant individuals.
ERGS are also key partners to your DEI task force, and engaging them will benefit both ERG group interests as well as DEI committee objectives. The DEI Committee can be a place where ERGS can share their voice and elevate the issues their constituents find most important. Equally, the DEI committee can leverage ERGS to gain feedback on ideas,to circulate communications on initiative roll-outs, and turn DEI goals into action.
Rounding back to where we began, the role of leadership is more than visibly championing the DEI committee. Strong leadership involvement is important for staying close to the business vision, securing necessary operational and initiative budgets and resources to support DEI task force initiatives, removing roadblocks and barriers of impact, and for amplifying key messages and gaining traction on initiatives.
DEI Leadership is about follow-through, not only kick-off.
Measuring the Impact of your DEI Committee
Too many DEI efforts are focused on taking actions on all the good ideas that are proposed; to launch a successful DEI committee, switch from an activity orientation to an outcomes orientation. An effective DEI committee will be anchored in a clearly defined leadership-aligned mission with tangible goals that are extensions of a data-backed DEI strategy. Measuring performance is not about what actions are done but what impacts are quantifiable on the workforce, culture and business - aligned to desired outcomes written into your DEI strategies.
For example, imagine the organization has a DEI objective to increase neurodiversity through hiring. A short-term goal is to create a partnership with a recruitment firm around neurodiversity recruitment. The partnership is a process metric, but it’s not enough. The longer term strategic goal is to increase the representation of neurodivergent hires and cultivate neurodiverse inclusion in your organization. The action needs to be carried through to measurable outcomes.
The best way to measure impact is to first benchmark where you began. Begin your DEI committee with baseline data metrics on diversity and inclusion in your workplace and let that set the map for strategic action. Communicate actions, celebrate qualitative and quantitative progress and reflect the value of those accomplishments in performance reviews and compensation. Monitor not only the progress on initiatives, but feedback on the DEI Committee itself.
When a DEI Committee is set up for success from the beginning, it can help steward the DEI journey of your organization.