7 Ways to Build a Really Fair DEI Strategy


By Rhianna C. Rogers 7 minutes Lily

The cultural impacts of a racialized pandemic have sparked renewed interest in DEI spaces in recent years. Such interest has opened new doors for people to join the ranks of “DEI experts,” while creating new avenues for underrepresented peoples to rise to positions of power – and perceived power. According LinkedIn Databetween 2015 and 2020, there was a 71% increase worldwide in all DEI roles. The number of people worldwide with the title of “Diversity Manager” has more than doubled (107% growth).

Despite this growth, little has changed regarding the power structure in these spaces, still centered on C-suite (statistically less diverse), and tend to be populated by groups that are less well informed on research in the DEI space. Black and Indigenous Peoples and Other People of Color (BIPOC) represent only 17% of the C suiteaccording to Gartner, a technology research and advisory firm; Less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs publicly identify as LGBTQ+.

This power imbalance is further compounded when those in these positions of power do not actively engage in corporate DEI training themselves, which often means a missed opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the factors impacting on underrepresented peoples.

As part of my academic work in the DEI space, prior to my appointment as Director of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy (CAREP), I was heavily involved with an organization called #BlackandBrilliant, an advocacy group for creating a more diverse workplace. In 2020, I participated in a series of conversations focused on “Drill the Middle” and had a conversation on LinkedIn with Rock of Ronnellthe CEO of Brand Apostles, who said that among the challenges of the C-suite paradox are “building and maintaining diverse hiring pipelines, holding everyone accountable for building sustainable infrastructure, mobilizing the energy to the mission and the achievement of measurable results. ”

As a byproduct of these conversations, I began to wonder what it means to be an “expert” in the DEI space, who can make that decision, and how these people might best create a DEI framework within organizations and companies that reinvent power. and positionality fairly?

Here are seven strategies for building a more equitable DEI program:

Embrace an equity-centric design

Equity-centered design is the practice of involving diverse communities throughout planning and implementation, to allow their voices to impact solutions to current inequality. Equity does not happen by chance, but with intention and focus. Although it is a widespread practice, applicable to all sorts of institutional settings, Equity-Centered Design lends itself well to education and learning, and it has applications for design. of research. It can also be used to redesign existing power structures in an organization or business, such as advisory boards.

An example comes from my work at CAREPwhere our equity-minded Board members include public and private sector leaders who bring wealth in at least one of three key areas: critical strategic advice on community knowledge and advocacy, academic research and/or policy expertise, and relevant philanthropic experience that will help achieve the goals of racial equity research and policy analysis at RAND.

Partner with trusted messengers

While a profitable consultancy industry has developed to help companies achieve their DEI goals, they often have exclude voices of the communities their work is meant to advance. For organizations wishing to sue DCI, partnering with trusted messengers within underrepresented communities is not an act of charity or goodwill, it is an act of economic and social justice. Establishing trusted messengers takes time, active listening and humility. It means giving up some power to allow others to feel included in the conversation. It is important to note that due to lack of access in specific communities, it will take time to create a sense that they are part of the conversation. One strategy I would recommend is to create safe and courageous spaces for people to express their understanding of DEI without judgment and enable growth at all levels of the organization. It means facilitating difficult conversations with intention. Here are some strategies for building trust:

  • Engage in community stakeholder conversations that intersect with your company’s stakeholders and culture: Invite community members as well as company personnel to regular dialogues that create space for comments, opinions, ideas and comments.
  • Don’t be afraid to formalize discussions: clarify who can speak, when and for how long, and what topics are “no go,” and assign roles, viewpoints, questions, or topics in advance.
  • Let data and insight guide the conversation, not emotions. The focus of deliberation is on the exchange of ideas rather than trying to win everyone over to a singular point of view. Acknowledge where and how reasonable disagreement can exist, and give people time to build on each other’s ideas, rather than assuming that each issue only has two or three possible viewpoints.

Including trusted messengers can allow us to distract from superficial reasons why organizations might engage in DEI – it refocuses this work on real organizational and systemic change.

Provide DEI learning opportunities

A person cannot change an organization. It takes a team of people trained in DEI spaces to create real organizational impact. It is also crucial to recognize that people will be at different stages of their journey. Its good. You can’t expect every person to be in the same space. Taking a developmental and lifelong approach to DEI learning opportunities is key to allowing that learning to flow through your organization. In my work at CAREP, I have set up learning opportunities that target different levels of knowledge in the racial equity space (introductory, intermediate, and advanced). It should be an iterative process. No one can know everything there is to know about DEI. Things change, terminology develops, and issues that impact DEI evolve. You need to build a fluid structure, not stagnant, or risk being left behind.

Include well-being in DEI

Another potential strategy is to de-stigmatize mental health breaks and display healthy boundaries between work and personal life by modeling healthy company norms and processes. This could encourage employees to find mentors or sponsors who can help balance their personal, professional, and (if applicable) spiritual needs. Or it might look like a scale business healthy work/life balance program. At the organizational system level, this could involve prioritizing mental well-being by offering self-care days, instituting more robust holistic health programs that address fatigue and racial trauma, and integrating needs wellness and personal care components in leadership and employee skills.

Realign around inclusive language

Drop non-inclusive terms such as “diversity hiring”. Conducting a thorough analysis of your organization’s culture and the experiences of employees within that culture and among stakeholders is a good first step. Language is culture, and how we frame our DEI-related terminology matters. One strategy for developing inclusive language is to create a list of words and ask stakeholders to provide their definitions. Management could then co-create working groups to finalize the terms. It would be important for these groups to be made up of different levels of people in the organization and for the leadership of these sub-groups to have leadership representing different levels of the organization. This illustrates an intentional recognition of the power dynamics that may be at play within the organization and extends ownership of definitions to a broader group of stakeholders in your business. As part of your process, be sure to recognize and celebrate those who participated in the process and not just the people who remain engaged throughout the process. Everyone’s contributions matter, even if DEI engagement is intermittent.

Review the written commitment against the concrete commitment

This would mean questioning the articulated and implicit ‘why’ of your organization for engaging in this work. It also means monitoring your organization’s strategic follow-up on identified blind spots and gaps. For example, you can review documents and listen to leaders to determine whether the work is rooted in principles such as “competition, innovation, profit” versus concepts such as “collaboration, inclusiveness and active listening”. If the first substantiation supersedes the second, then you need to think critically about the authenticity of the work in that space. Commit to diversity and inclusion for “profit marginsonly pales against the background of a socio-political environment where oppressed populations are literally assaulted.

Create continuous checks and balances

Adding continuous checks and balances to all levels of the organizational DEI process can hold everyone, from the C-suite to entry-level employees, accountable. It is important to remember that all stories should be included in these conversations and trainings; I specify this because I have frequently encountered exceptions for middle frames and the C suite. When this happens, the DEI loop is broken. Often the policies for these spaces are written at the top, so it’s crucial to ensure that all levels of leadership are held to the same standards as employees. As Ronnell Rock told me, we all need to “stay focused beyond the moment to ensure the movement.” I would go one step further: lasting change happens when we begin to look closely at our diverse life experiences and practices, and only when we unpack them can we create truly equitable workplaces.


Rhianna C. Rogers is the first director of Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy and policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization RAND Company. Rogers is an expert in cultural and ethnic studies, intercultural skills and diversity education, cultural mediation, and the development and implementation of virtual exchange programs.

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