Starting a DEI plan: it’s all in the team
Picture it: your organization, in a few years, when your DEI journey is underway. You’ve undergone an assessment, a strategic planning process, and thoughtful staff development. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are beginning to be embedded into your organization. How do you know?
Because the diversity of your people is an ongoing source of value, both for your business or mission and for the people themselves.
Can you picture that? If you can, hold on to that vision—it will serve you well as a leader.
But if it’s more abstract to you, that’s okay. So many of us really have no visceral sense of how DEI work will pay off or how to do it.
Before you begin to work on your plan there is a crucial step that will show you exactly how much of a difference diversity will make in your success. That step is assembling your strategic planning task force.
In a way, assembling and managing this group is one of the first tests of your DEI leadership, because the group has to be diverse itself. You need to be able to hear from a truly representative group of employees—all levels, all roles, all identities—in order for your plan to succeed.
People with different tenures, not just the company elders. A range of ages, from about-to-retire to first-job-out-of-college. Pull from every department—management, front-line workers, facilities, back office, all of it. And of course, find demographic diversity: folks who bring as wide a range of genders, orientations, ethnicities, and races with them. As a leader, you shouldn’t think that you know all the ways employees experience your organization. By bringing a diverse team together, they will bring the wisdom based on their experiences and help you create the best plan for the organization.
Now, this task force may look and feel different from other strategic planning groups you’ve been part of. And the make-up of the group isn’t the only thing that might feel like a departure. Often when people do strategic plans for their business, it’s top-down. Leadership sets the vision and priority areas, and the job of implementation cascades down the hierarchy.
This can be appropriate in some types of planning—but not for DEI. The mix of people providing input in this task force should truly be working together to set the goals. That special factor shapes the end result in ways you cannot produce with a homogenous team. When you adopt ideas from people you haven’t heard from before, you meet needs you weren’t aware of and make changes that solve broader issues.
It’s also the key to following through. Your chances of success are much higher when you engage in an inclusive process like this one than if you hire a DEI expert to create a plan for you. That’s because when people in the organization have a hand in the development of a plan, they are more bought in. When they carry it out, they recognize their institutional knowledge in the plan and build on it. Conversely, when they are asked to execute something they had no part in and which fails to acknowledge the experience (and experiences) they have had, they may feel unrecognized—as if the work they have already contributed isn’t acknowledged.
Aside from the make-up of the task force and the focus on their ideas and leadership, a DEI strategic planning process will be familiar. Team-building, benchmarking, visioning, small-group brainstorming, synthesis, committees—then polishing and releasing it to the whole organization so that people can integrate the work.
The process itself may not be that different for you. It’s the diverse, inclusive team that makes it special.
If you succeed, you’ll have a road map to follow and a high-priority starting point. You will also have an important proof point. The experience of making decisions informed by your people’s diversity will have brought new ideas and stronger follow-through. Remember that feeling—and get used to it. There will be a lot more of it as you increase your organization’s equity and inclusion!