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Why your DEI and business strategies should be aligned (and how to do it)

May 10, 2021| Reading time: 10min

BY ChartHop

The past year has been a catalyst for social change and civil justice. From George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement, to discrimination against Asian-Americans in the wake of COVID-19, 2020 forced us to face the harsh realities of racism in modern America.

As these issues are cast into the limelight, business leaders are left questioning their roles in tackling these systemic problems and fostering equitable workplaces. While there’s not one single way to guarantee a diverse and inclusive workspace, prioritizing DEI as a business strategy, and aligning it with overarching company objectives is a place to start.

“DEI isn’t just an initiative or a program. It’s a business strategy in and of itself,” says Tamika Curry Smith, President of The TCS Group, Inc. “Rather than appointing DEI leaders to HR with no headcount or budget, they need to sit at the table with the rest of the C-Suite and have a hand in helping to inform people and business strategies that spark creativity, innovation, and business outcomes.”

In order for true systemic change to happen, DEI needs to be a top business priority. As Curry Smith said, it’s not just another HR initiative — a comprehensive DEI strategy that’s woven into the fabric of a company can help create more equitable workplaces for all.

Rather than appointing DEI leaders to HR with no headcount or budget, they need to sit at the table with the rest of the C-Suite and have a hand in helping to inform people strategies that spark creativity, innovation, and business outcomes.

Tamika Curry Smith, President @ The TCS Group, Inc.

Want to align your DEI and company strategies? Read on for more tips from Curry Smith and other DEI leaders on ways to give DEI the platform it deserves.

3 Ways To Better Align Your DEI and Business Strategies

1. Embed DEI in every facet of the business

It’s commonplace to think of DEI as another function of HR. But to make change and create a more inclusive culture, however, DEI can’t just be limited to HR — it needs to be embedded in every aspect of the business.

“A holistic DEI strategy is inclusive of HR but goes much further beyond that,” says Curry Smith. “It also includes product design, sales and marketing, operational procedures, procurement and supplier diversity, brand partnerships, and more.”

To align DEI within your business strategies, you need to return to standard business fundamentals. Just like the development and deployment of other core operations, like budget allocation or product design, DEI requires setting a holistic strategy — one that mobilizes teams, sets goals, and measures how progress is being made.

Additionally, consider what DEI means to your business. An equitable workplace isn’t just about representation in hiring decisions, or just about tackling microaggressions — DEI is multi-dimensional in what it accomplishes and how it impacts multiple parts of the business. From philanthropic initiatives and partnerships, to employee experience and company culture, to user-experience and product development, you need to create a holistic DEI strategy that encompasses a mixture of people and business goals. This will cultivate a healthy culture while driving results.

2. Foster a culture of shared accountability

It’s inspiring when companies have big, lofty aspirations around diversity and inclusion. But unless people and teams are held accountable to reaching those goals together, aspirations won’t be met.

To ensure alignment, create shared accountability across the organization where teams, departments, and individuals are “on the line” for accomplishing goals. Using metrics and data, set reasonable OKRs and KPIs with clear, tangible steps, so everyone has clarity around what they’re marching towards, and why it matters.

Ulysses Smith, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at the lending company Blend, knows the role ownership plays into delivering DEI results. “It’s so important to use data to set goals and keep people accountable,” he says. “Know what specific, measurable initiatives your people are taking on and give them some responsibility and ownership over that.”

For example, say Blend wanted to increase its diverse partnerships and sales by 25%. Rather than setting this as an ambiguous company goal, Smith recommends getting the relevant leaders and stakeholders involved and onboard to produce results. First, this means leaders at Blend would use data to show everyone what gaps need to be filled or improved upon. Then, they would create tangible goals for teams to own and hit, like “Increase engagement with Black-owned banks by 10%” or “Create a pipeline of 100 minority-owned lending leads per quarter.”

Whatever your DEI strategy might be, aligning it to your business requires accountability. That way, everyone knows what needs to be accomplished, and how to get there.

It’s so important to use data to set goals and keep people accountable. Know what specific, measurable initiatives your people are taking on and give them some responsibility and ownership over that.

Ulysses Smith, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging @ Blend

Whatever your DEI strategy might be, aligning it to your business requires accountability. That way, everyone knows what needs to be accomplished, and how to get there.

3. Invest in DEI leadership

Successful company initiatives are those backed by the right people and resources. If you want to align your business strategy with DEI, it’s time you invest in it. Rather than just tacking DEI into a learning & development module or baking it into onboarding, give it the platform it deserves.

Natasha Kehimkar, the CEO and Founder of coaching and consulting firm Malida Advisors, recommends considering how an executive position, like a Chief Diversity Officer, will spearhead DEI efforts. This executive would act as the driving force for ensuring the workplace, its customers, and its partners are all in on the same DEI-related strategy. “Whether you have the head of DEI report to the CEO or HR, you’re asking for a seat at the table,” she says. “It’s important to take the extra step of ensuring  DEI is integrated into the business through the development and use of shared objectives, so there is no asking for a seat at the table — we’re all building that table together.”

Many companies are very successful with DEI programs that run out of their HR function. The key is to invest in people who are dedicated to DEI, allocating money to them for programs, and providing executive-level support for their initiatives. For smaller companies, this may be a single person, but it is important to scale the DEI team as you would any other function as your company grows. This allows the DEI team to proactively identify gaps, build programs, and deliver measurable results.

When you have the head of DEI report to the CEO, you’re asking for a seat at the table. But if diversity is integrated into the business, there is no asking for a seat at the table — we’re all building that table together.

Natasha Kehimkar, CEO & Founder @ Malida Advisors

An Equitable Workplace Starts With Alignment

Like any other business initiative, you can’t enact change in your company’s DEI initiatives without cross-company alignment. By investing in DEI leadership, embedding it into different facets of the company, and fostering shared accountability, you can create a DEI strategy that’s in-line and incorporated within larger company goals.

But the work doesn’t stop there. For the best results, go back to the data, interrogate business goals, and communicate honestly with your workforce.

Looking for more ways to build and enhance your DEI strategy? Tune in to our recorded webinar with DEI leaders for more insights.

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