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4 Tips to Build a Sustainable Internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategy

In 2020, there was a significant push toward developing DE+I strategies within companies in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Companies focused on societal demands for diversity within employees, hiring a much greater number of diverse workers and creating positions designed to encourage company inclusivity. 

As this 2020 boom has lost momentum, companies are pulling away from their commitments to racial justice and general inclusion. Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs), many of which hired during the push for DE+I, are increasingly leaving their positions either voluntarily or after termination of the position. Chief Diversity Officers, most of whom were hired during the Black Lives Matter movement, are experiencing 40% higher turnover rate and a greater number of layoffs as compared to other positions. It is also increasingly harder to search and obtain diversity-focused positions. 

Sustainable internal DE+I strategies are critical for the success of the business as well as the development of an inclusive workplace. Internally, employees often feel more valued and heard when DE+I is made a company priority. And externally, DE+I efforts can positively influence brand reputation, as companies are more capable of understanding diverse market segments, generating more innovative ideas, and fostering relationships within a diverse global market. 

4 Tips for a Sustainable Internal DE+I Strategy

As DE+I exits the spotlight, companies must work to maintain and further previously established strategies to reap the benefits that diversity can bring. This requires the creation of a sustainable strategy to ensure that internal changes are maintained. We’ve developed four tips that can help establish a sustainable internal DE+I strategy that is successful both in the short and long run. 

1. Assess Current Efforts + Identify Key Internal Leaders 

A temperature check of your company’s current DE+I strategies is essential for determining next steps to promote sustainability. By doing so, you can assess areas of strength and areas that require remediation. Survey your employees to determine which strategies are working and which are not. This process of analysis and reflection encourages informed decision-making, fostering a healthy workplace environment where DE+I change can flourish and foster a culture of inclusion and progress. 

Checking in on your current strategy and initiatives will also bring to light loyal internal employees who are going above and beyond to champion these efforts. It’s imperative to keep these leaders engaged and ensure they have the tools and resources that they need. Key players for DE+I include Chief Diversity Officers, diversity coordinators, and diversity and inclusion managers. Teams that are diverse and focus on diversity strategies make company decisions more effectively 66% of the time, increasing profit and allowing greater company goal completion. 

What This Can Look Like in Practice: Organizational Network Analysis can help businesses specifically pinpoint and identify those influential employees who are key to building a sustainable internal DE+I strategy. This kind of custom assessment helps visualize both the formal and informal collaboration patterns across the business and can help organizations reach their highest potential. 

2. Create Steady Channels of Cross-Functional Collaboration and Communication 

Maintaining and growing internal DE+I strategies requires multiple departments to come together and communicate. Key players in DE+I implementation include HR leaders, executive leadership, employee resource groups (ERGs), and often an organization diversity committee or diversity council. A stream of communication between these leaders is critical for inclusivity to permeate all internal avenues of the company. 

Collaboration between these groups can be achieved through regular involvement in each other’s key meetings, forums, and decision-making. ERG leaders should not be left out of the conversation and should be encouraged to sit in with the DE+I council to make executives aware of internal goals and changes.  

A sustainable DE+I strategy requires all involved parties to make a consistent commitment to set goals and implement the necessary policies to enact change. Stakeholders must all be aligned with necessary elements such as a schedule, common means of communication, and change approval structure. 

What This Can Look Like in Practice: We know that cross-functional collaboration sounds simple in theory, but in practice, it has to be extremely intentional. Clarkston has partnered with organizations to deliberately map the flow of communications, key forums, and approval flows to ensure that key parties are looped in at the correct times. 

3. Gain Executive Buy-In 

Internal DE+I initiatives often struggle to stay afloat without the support of company leadership. In a survey conducted on 2,000 workers and their thoughts on their company’s DE+I initiatives, 89% noted that their company does have initiatives in place. However, 62% of those surveyed don’t believe that the company leadership is truly committed, leading to a lower sense of belonging in the workplace. 

Company executives must buy into DE+I efforts for initiatives to be culturally and financially sustainable. Without executive support, it can be extremely challenging for efforts to remain in place and receive the attention needed for maintenance and growth. 

DE+I strategy should be framed as a company priority by recognizing and vocalizing the consequences of inaction as well as the rewards of inclusivity. DE+I principles can be enforced when company executives receive feedback and approach DE+I as a business necessity, not an afterthought. Internal DE+I advocacy should also be made personal, which can tap into the emotions and values of company leadership. 

Executive support doesn’t need to be financial in nature – advocating for the need for diversity alone can push the company in the direction of growth. With executive backing, it’s much more likely that DE+I efforts will internally exist beyond the ebbs and flows of social trends. 

What This Can Look Like in Practice: Often one of the first steps of gaining this executive buy-in and support is getting folks in a room together and aligning on the history of DE+I at their organization, the desired impact, and key areas of organizational focus. We’ve seen companies do this in a variety of ways, but something that is often successful is having intentional workshops to start these conversations.  

4. Track and Manage Progress on a Regular Basis 

To ensure that implemented DE+I actions are long-term, it’s critical to monitor progress toward inclusivity. Without a form of measurement, it can be challenging to determine if growth is continuing or slowing down, as “what isn’t measured isn’t managed.” 

Set distinct, measurable goals and stay up to date on the level of achievement. Once goals are met, evaluate progress and set higher expectations to avoid a plateau of DE+I efforts. Implementing DE+I into your company culture will not be beneficial for employees or consumers if it isn’t sustainable. 

What This Can Look Like in Practice: We know that while goal setting feels exciting in initial conversations, it’s sometimes easy for the tracking to get lost in process and can be challenging to keep up with. Clarkston’s Insights to Action Tool can help alleviate some of the stress that comes with measuring your goals. The tool can be customized to your business to employ an analytics-driven approach to your strategy and support immediate changes as well as guide your future plans. 

Going Forward 

To establish an internal DE+I strategy that outlasts its initial goals, companies must be committed to sustainable implementation and effective communication. Executives must play into the strategies to provide credibility and importance to DE+I efforts, and there must also be strong communication between them, and the other teams involved in inclusivity-minded decisions. Establishing these lines of communication and building upon achieved progress and goals will push your DE+I strategies beyond their starting point. 

To learn more about developing a sustainable DE+I strategy, reach out to one of our DE+I experts today. 

Contributions from Sam Weitzel 

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Tags: Diversity + Inclusion