Leadership Buy-in for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Leadership buy-in is the cornerstone to unlocking the transformative power of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), driving sustainable success and meaningful change. Barriers to buy-in can be addressed through education, engagement and empowerment.

In response to the societal call for greater DEI efforts post COVID-19, organizations have been growing their internal diversity, equity and inclusion functions with roles such as Diversity Recruiters, DEI Program Managers, and Chief Diversity Officers, to continue their commitment and capture DEI as a competitive advantage. In fact, Indeed reported that in the US between May to September 2020, DEI job postings increased by 123% to around 219 jobs per million. 

To realize the benefits of DEI, organizations need to invest and allocate resources towards the planning, implementation and continuous improvement of their DEI Strategy. For this, diversity professionals must convince leadership that DEI is not merely a checkbox exercise, but a fundamental driver of sustainable success and meaningful organizational change. 

Despite the mounting evidence of tangible benefits associated with DEI in the workplace, achieving genuine buy-in from leadership remains a persistent challenge for many organizations. Workplace culture, an organization’s values, and change management begin at the top, so leadership buy-in is a crucial step in an organization’s diversity journey. 

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    Barriers to Executive Buy-in

    It is imperative for professionals to understand the numerous barriers that keep leaders from fully committing to DEI initiatives. Some of these barriers include: 

    • Lack of Awareness: Leaders may not comprehend the strategic value of DEI or its correlation to organizational and financial performance. Without a full understanding, DEI efforts may be perceived as peripheral rather than integral to organizational success.
    • Fear of Change: DEI efforts often require challenging traditional norms and established power structures. Leaders may fear loss of control, disrupting existing processes, and a preference for the familiarity in the status quo. However, this may perpetuate existing inequities and stifle progress and innovation for the organization and its workforce. 
    • Perceived Trade-Offs: Executives may hold a belief that DEI conflicts with other business priorities, such as profitability or efficiency. They may be skeptical about the tangible benefits of this investment.
    • Lack of Accountability: Without tangible goals and clear metrics for accountability, leaders may feel that DEI efforts are superficial gestures rather than actions to drive meaningful change for employees and the business. 

    • Avoiding Discomfort: DEI work comes with engaging in difficult conversations and confronting one’s own biases. Leaders may be reluctant to engage in such conversations and introspection due to discomfort or to avoid raising conflicts within their teams.

    It is important to survey and understand the unique concerns held by leadership, to build an effective strategy to garner buy-in. Raising awareness on the strategic imperatives of DEI and mitigating the emotional fears executives may hold will take time to educate, engage and empower leaders. 

    Strategies to Gain Executive Buy-in

    To cultivate authentic buy-in, DEI professionals may need to foster a deeper understanding of how DEI can be a competitive advantage, dispel misconceptions and demonstrate how DEI goals can align with and help achieve organizational priorities. Here are several strategies to secure and sustain executive buy-in:

    Build a Compelling Business Case

    Present data and reports that show the tangible impacts of diversity on companies and the correlation between DEI and financial performance, innovation, employee engagement and decision-making. Consider competitors with a public diversity strategy and/or consumer trends, and present that information to key leaders in your organization to emphasize  the importance of initiating internal efforts.

    Outline Tangible Goals

    Going hand-in-hand with a strong business case is demonstrating tangible DEI goals. Consider  how DEI goals can be integrated or aligned to an organization’s strategy and KPI’s. Similarly, provide industry benchmarks and metrics to demonstrate measures of accountability for leaders and their teams.

    Demonstrate a Cost Benefit Analysis

    At the foundation of every DEI strategy is the Universal Human Rights Act. A DEI strategy that will help proactively minimize discrimination, harassment, and workplace violence is important. Equitable and inclusive policies, and creating opportunities to share these policies through training, education, and other mediums should reduce potential incidents within the organization.

    This minimizes allocating resources towards crisis management efforts, turnover, recovering brand image and reputation, and other efforts used when resolving incidents. Moreover, heightened employee engagement as a result of a DEI strategy not only fosters a positive work culture but also significantly boosts productivity and profitability, directly impacting the bottom line.

    Establish Safe Spaces for Discussion

    In these conversations, leaders are confronted with topics they may have previously avoided. It is beneficial to encourage open and honest conversations that allow leaders to express concerns and questions without judgment. DEI aims to foster psychologically safe workplaces for all where employees feel empowered to explore new ideas.

    Training and Education

    Start with introductory workshops to increase awareness of DEI topics and fundamentals. Professionals can focus on topics such as unconscious bias or inclusive communication and provide actionable strategies and tools that will educate and empower executives to be champions of DEI. Organizations can explore bringing external professionals to lead conversations with leadership. Encourage executives to take their learnings to their teams to open a dialogue and model a commitment to DEI.

    Celebrate Wins and Grow from Failures

    DEI is a journey that will have ups and downs. Recognize any achievements in an organization’s DEI efforts through channels such as town hall meetings, emails from executive leaders, or employee resource groups. Similarly, acknowledge setbacks and gather feedback to use them as opportunities for continuous improvement. Show leaders the return on their investment and to the workforce.

    Final Words

    A comprehensive DEI strategy demands a genuine commitment and allocation of resources toward its development and implementation. This commitment begins with leadership buy-in by identifying and addressing the barriers in a multifaceted approach that involves continuous education and engagement. 

    Remember, leadership buy-in for a DEI strategy is not a one day discussion. It requires ongoing efforts, investment, and a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths. However, creating champions of diversity and inclusion from the top down contribute to the success of creating inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces that not only add to an organization’s competitive advantage, but also benefits its employees.

    Ready to make a commitment to DEI?

    Strasity is your partner in strategic diversity. As experts, we are here to support teams through the challenges they face on their diversity journey. Request a free consultation today.


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