Setting up DEI Officers to Succeed

May 31, 2021 | Leadership, Organizations

Many more organizations, across sectors, and of all sizes are moving to create DEI officer/director roles. Doing so suggests that DEI is a priority, but at the end of the day, achieving real outcomes depends on the power DEI officers have to influence the whole organization. Among the factors that contribute to that influence:


1. DEI officers should be in the C-Suite
If DEI officers do not report directly to the CEO they will not have the level of influence necessary to create transformational change in the organization (and this is what’s required). If the DEI officer role is several levels down, siloed within a business unit (even HR), the officer and their team will not be able to broadly influence the culture and DEI priorities across operations, finance, technology, and marketing.

Of course, we also need CEOs and other C-Suite executives willing to listen to and learn from the DEI officer for them to succeed. Few executives have all of the intercultural competency they need to be successful. They have to be committed to their own growth, as well as company-wide transformation to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for a diverse group of employees, customers and partners.

2. DEI officers need resources
A DEI officer who lacks a budget commensurate with the task of driving DEI throughout the organization will not be able to create sustainable change. No matter the individual’s talents, they alone cannot deliver everything that will be required to create the necessary changes. DEI Officers need a team and also outside consultants – in a small organization, consultants may suffice. DEI is a multi-faceted, ongoing change initiative with many touchpoints that ultimately needs to engage everyone in the organization across a range of identities. It requires a thoughtful and dynamic plan with ongoing resources to implement it.

3. Make DEI part of your organization’s DNA
DEI cannot be a side show. It has to be strategic, a tangible value in the culture, and woven throughout operations. DEI officers play an essential role in catalyzing this transformation by supporting leaders to grow their own capacity, and ultimately, the capacity of their teams. In many ways, DEI is learning how to see and engage the world differently. Once this shift starts to happen and old blind spots start falling away, it leads to a broad re-examination of how business is done.