By Dr. Nika White 

President and CEO, Nika White Consulting, Best Selling Author of “The Intentional Inclusionist®” and “Next-Level Inclusionist: Transform Your Work and Yourself for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Success”

Many people perceive that in order to create a robust Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) plan you have to be a large organization with deep pockets. This is not true. 

I am of the persuasion that the work of D&I is the responsibility of everyone. However, to optimize efforts, it is a best practice to have someone in the organization who intentionally focuses on strategies to build and maintain an inclusive culture. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “if you don’t intentionally include you will unintentionally exclude.” 

The reality is, some organizations are not in a position to assign the role of D&I to a particular staff member. Or, they might not have the resources to have a full-time position.

I believe it’s even more critical for small businesses and firms to find this work as an imperative for business success. 

Most organizations already operate quite lean and can probably be overworked. D&I often falls to the wayside since it ends up usually being hit or miss instead of an impactful and strategic approach to addressing the work. One of the next best practices to implement the work of D&I is to create a Diversity and Inclusion Council. 

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES OF NOT HAVING A SPECIFIC D&I COUNCIL OR CONSULTANT?  

Unfortunately, I find that when you do not have a staff member who is assigned to the work of D&I, the work might just be “layered on” as an afterthought to other responsibilities.  

This creates a start-and-stop approach to the work that can lead to negative consequences. It causes people to question the authenticity and sincerity of the work. You can get people excited through movement and activity, only to then, a few months later, have it just go cold.  

This can have an adverse effect and make it just seem like “window dressing”. You can lose engagement, lose trust, and people disengage. It can be much harder to come back from a situation like that versus creating progress out of the gate.

And I always say—this D&I work is about ‘Progress, not Perfection’.

There’s no target or destination. You’re constantly having to evolve. If you have to start all over again, you can lose momentum and traction.

In order to avoid those negative consequences, you need to have someone on staff who is responsible for that diversity work. Even if you can’t have a full staff person where D&I becomes their primary and only responsibility–you need alternative solutions to make sure the work gets done.

HERE ARE A FEW THINGS ORGANIZATIONS SHOULD CONSIDER WHEN ADDING D&I RESPONSIBILITIES TO STAFF MEMBER’S JOB DESCRIPTION:

  1. Hire an outside consultant to help supplement and guide the work. This consultant can support whoever is charged to drive the role internally with strategic direction. Considering that the D&I position did not previously exist, it is appropriate to assume that the individual does not have in-depth experience with leading, developing, and implementing strategic diversity and intentional inclusion. 
  1. Add ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ to their job description—even if it’s a shared role. This descriptive addition creates perception, accountability, and development towards that role. If necessary, consider blending D&I with the person’s current title to keep it top of mind to people in the organization. 
  1. Support that individual with learning and development opportunities. Make sure they are well supported to get the knowledge base they need. Send them to DEI conferences and networking events, enroll them in online learning platforms, support  them with trainings and certification programs.  
  1. Develop their leadership capabilities. Current leadership needs to support the people in D&I roles so they can build their own leadership capabilities. In addition to the learning opportunities from Point #3, being able to effectively lead and inspire others within the organization is a vital skill that helps move the D&I work forward.  

NIKA’S TOP TIPS FOR CREATING A D&I COUNCIL:

Sometimes, rather than assigning a singular staff person to lead the D&I work, it’s necessary to consider establishing a council with shared responsibilities among multiple individuals. 

When you create a Diversity and Inclusion Council, you must be very specific on how you structure that council to ensure high performance.  Similar to an affinity group, Employee Resource Group (ERG), or Business Resource Group (BRG), you must have leadership sponsors who support the efforts of the group. The sponsor’s role is to provide support, advocacy and guidance in aligning the council’s efforts with the goals of the organization — all through a lens of D&I. 

Here are some of my top tips for creating that Diversity and Inclusion Council in your organization:

  • Make sure you’re very clear about the role, purpose, and function of the council. All of these need to align with the overall goals and missions of the organization.   
  • Be selective on who you bring on the council. Many organizations casually ask people to serve on a committee or invite them because they seem interested in D&I work. You must have a strategic approach to who you invite to the council and how that invitation is extended.  
  • Be thoughtful about how this position is created. The invites should come from the most senior leader and it should feel like a privilege. I like to recommend a direct invitation served by the President, CEO, or another influential senior leader. Make it feel like a significant appointment (because it is).
  • Think about the Terms of Service. What is the structure? Do you have subcommittees? Do you need a chair? How are individuals selected, etc?  You don’t want a council that’s very large in size, but you want ways to engage and get buy-in from others. That’s where subcommittees can be important. 
  • Make it a big deal! Put some fanfare around it. Have a launch event. Show people what it is and how you can partner. Show people how you can help extend the lens of D&I. Make the creation and announcement of it just as important as the work.
  • Always have a commitment statement. This helps people crystalize what they’re really getting involved with. Attach the purpose of the council to the business case for D&I. Have a statement that the people in the council and the organization can refer to.
  • Treat it with the same level of sophistication as other committees. The makeup and logistics of the council need to be well thought out. Gather a mix of people across disciplines and departments. Treat it with just as much importance as other significant elements of the organization.
  • Make sure you have a safe space where people can respectfully question and challenge things (i.e. leave your formal roles outside the door). Remember that you are peers who are there to learn and challenge each other. If the group is not conditioned to operate in that lens, how effective are they going to be in modeling that into the culture of the organization? It’s important to have values that are respected and accepted.
  • Set the tone and establish consistency in how the group interacts through clear expectations and agreements. Routinely post these expectations and agreements in the meeting room or on the agenda. As the team is developing the function of the council, it is just as important to make sure you’re just as thoughtful about what the D&I council is NOT there to serve. Set these in your expectations.

An important note:

With many organizations, people will see the function of the council as a “grievance body”— i.e. a group to bring complaints of exclusion or discrimination to. But that is not the point of the group—it’s meant to be a strategic and productive body. 

The D&I council is meant to come up with policies, systems, procedures, and tracking metrics for this work. Then they can make recommendations to other leaders and help to bring that voice and lens of inclusion to other disciplines and business groups.

To make this work viable, it’s also vital to coach departments to include D&I in high-level strategy and through the lens of their decision-making.

For example, people want to know that there are opportunities to matriculate to higher levels inside an organization. Weaving opportunities for advancement into communications and conversation is supportive of creating that inclusive culture. Finding the blind spots and bringing that lens of DEI to traditional operational decisions is often one of the most important critical roles of a council.

So, how will you integrate Diversity and Inclusion into your organization? Can you start the process of planning and creating a D&I council within your business?

If you have any additional tips, please share them in the comments!

Best,
Nika