You’re Hiring A Diversity & Inclusion Leader – Here’s How To Enable Success – Forbes

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You’re Hiring A Diversity & Inclusion Leader – Here’s How To Enable Success – Forbes

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Hiring your DE&I Leader is only the first step, you must proactively embed measures to set them up … [+] for success


Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) roles are becoming more commonplace in organizations of all sizes,ages, industries and more. Since 2015, the number of executives with diversity and inclusion job titles is up 113% and in the summer of 2020, due to the globalization of the Black Lives Matter movements and social unrest surrounding racism, there was a significant uptick in the number of these roles being posted. But when we investigate the job descriptions and people in these roles further, there is very little consistency in criteria and role responsibilities.

There are very different approaches to what a “DE&I leader” is and what it does. Here are some considerations you should discuss before hiring, during interviewing and after you have hired a new DE&I leader, to set them up for success.

Before you consider hiring

Remember to consider why you’re hiring. It could be argued that many who quickly went to hire after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality were rushing to prioritize inclusion, when they hadn’t previously. It is a positive that this was an awakening for many companies, but let’s not forget many DE&I roles were made redundant this year when the world responded to the initial impact of COVID-19, only for many of the same companies to try and re-hire in that space after internal and external pressure on them to do more a few, short months later.

Sit down and genuinely think about the role purpose. Is it to be “seen” to do something due to pressure? Is it to be able to say you are doing something… anything? If that is the case, do not hire for this role. What will happen is you’ll create a tokenized role who’s only purpose is its existence. As a senior leader in DE&I, when any company is interested in hiring me, I make it clear at every stage of the interview process that I will never be the brown woman you roll out to scapegoat or when it suits you to talk about DE&I-related issues. This work is too important to be reduced to so little.

Before you consider hiring, think about:

The impact you want this role you have and on who

Who is this role supposed to impact and why? Is it really a senior leader role you want or is it a junior/manager role? Title is important here. Choosing the wrong title creates different expectations. For example, if you call a role “Head of”, but it sits in no leadership remits, then is it really a Head of? Be upfront, otherwise applicants and employees will expect one thing, but you will have another in mind.

What brought the idea to the surface

Did internal or external influences play a role? Why? Are you reacting too quickly? Have you considered about the long-term impact of this role, or are you trying to address something reactively, vs taking time to assess, and then move forward?

Are you ready?

Are you ready to do real, meaningful work to change and rework your business, policies and processes? If you are not, this is not the role for you.

If you’ve considered these different scenarios, and you still want to hire a senior DE&I leader, then let’s talk about how to hire the right person for your company.

Hiring the right person

DE&I roles are different in different companies because firstly, industries are contrasting, with some having unique issues that need addressed and secondly, for many organizations, this is the first time they have hired for this role and with anything, as you find out what does/doesn’t work, you rework and move forward.

Before you set anyone up for success, you must interview candidates and decide on the right person for you. To do this, you should consider:

How you are going to interview each candidate

Interviewing is a must and should be concise and rigourous. All too often, we conflate passion for skillset in DE&I, and are then shocked that someone saying the right words doesn’t translate to a data-driven, measurable strategy. Spend time understanding the type of company you have, who your employees respond to and what kind of skillset is needed to engage them, bringing them on this journey. Remember that DE&I is integral to your business, and that means hiring properly for it.

What pool to hire from

Are you hiring internally or externally for the role? Does the skillset exist internally or are you potentially conflating passion for skillset? Remember that caring and being passionate about DE&I is not the same as being a Head of/Director/VP/Chief Diversity Officer, and thrusting people with little experience into those roles should not be done lightly (and only if they are given appropriate training to do so). If you are hiring externally, be sure to cast your net wide, making sure challenge any biases that will undoubtedly be unearthed in your interview process. Don’t rush this. Spend the time to find the right candidate.

What the role’s main focus will be

Companies have different focuses in DE&I and you should be clear on what yours is, as you seek to fill this role. Is it primarily in:

  • Marketing, where the main focus in on your external presence in DE&I,
  • Talent attraction, where the main focus is on hiring and attracting diverse talent,
  • Learning and development, where the main focus is training and educating your employees on DE&I-related sessions,
  • Community-building, where the main focus is launching/owning responsibility across your employee resource groups,
  • Operations, where the main focus is policy and process review, amendment or creation,
  • Product/Engineering, where the main focus is creating a better and more diverse way of developing your product, or
  • Legal, where the main focus is compliance?

It will likely be mix of all of these, but defining the main focus(es) will be important so you can understand the skillset you’re really seeking to find and what reporting lines need to be in place.

Now, you’ve found and hired your new DE&I leader. How can we set them up for success?

Setting your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader up for success is key and requires in-depth … [+] preparation.


Setting up a newly-hired DE&I leader for success

Success means many things and you must consider what success in DE&I means to you, as it will be crucial.

To set a senior DE&I leader up for success, you should:

Be clear on seniority level and communicate this accordingly

A spade is a spade and you should be clear. If your role is a senior leadership role (it should be), then it should be treated like all other senior leadership roles – being in the right rooms, sitting at the decision-making tables and feeding into company vision. Be sure to communicate this appointment company-wide, or at a minimum to the rest of the senior leadership team, to ensure that the person is actively sought out and brought into these rooms. This is even more important given more of us are working remotely than usual, meaning it’s easy to forget about new hires, when you can’t see them in the office.

If it is not a senior leadership role, as mentioned before, do not give it a title that it isn’t. You should be ready to communicate why it isn’t, and why you believe your organization has chosen to have this role sit in a different remit. Employees will typically expect this role to sit in senior leadership because realistically, any DE&I role should feed into business decisions, and having a role that doesn’t do this, will raise concerns around how serious the company is taking this work. Be prepared to respond.

Define strong lines of accountability

DE&I leaders must have clear lines of accountability. This role must sit at senior leadership and have direct lines into your C-suite, if it does not sit at C-suite level. DE&I affects your internal workforce, your product/solution creation, how you sell your product, why you sell it and everything in between. That is a significant amount of responsibility and you should not take it lightly. Ensure direct line manager(s) have weekly meetings to keep up to date on progress and any issues that they may need to put their weight and privilege behind.

If the role does not answer to the CEO, ensure there is at a minimum, regular lines of communication, ensuring this person is engaged and aware of their role in this journey.

Decide on a budget and delegate ownership

Budget is different for every organization. A study by the Society of Human Resource Management reported diversity-department budgets at Fortune 1000 companies average around $1.5 million per year. The range for diversity department budgets was $30,000 to $5.1 million. When diversity was housed in Human Resources, the average annual diversity budget was $239,000. 

These budgets differ broadly depending on company size, geographical representations, industry and business goals. The budgets are usually focused on tooling used in DE&I strategies (however, this can also align under Operations costs), staffing of DE&I-focused roles, external sponsorships and partnerships, training and employee resource group funds.

The owner of the budget is key. DE&I leaders should be trusted to decide how and when to spend it, informing other leaders as relevant. They have the expertise in this work, therefore have the best knowledge on where and how to spend the budget – if they don’t or you don’t believe they don’t, then why did you hire them?

There is a lot to consider before making this key hire but it is clear, now more than ever that DE&I must be integrated into your business decisions and vision. This role is unique and unlike any other role in your organization. It has the ability, if hired and embedded correctly, to transform your culture, people, leadership and product for the better. Take the time to decide what your goals are and how you see this role bringing them to life.

Previously, DE&I work may have been viewed as a priority. But things have changed. It is no longer a priority. It is a necessity.

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November 11, 2020 at 12:03PM

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Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman