These days, most companies say they are committed to prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But then when it comes to investing time and money into meaningful change management, that commitment often waivers. Most DEI practitioners say leaders at their company don't make this work a priority – even if those same executives have made public pledges saying the opposite.
As an HR or DEI leader, making real change starts with executive buy-in. But how do you actually do that? In this article, we'll share seven techniques to help you rally your leadership team to make the investments necessary to bring your DEI strategy to life.
1. Make it personal
Research shows that emotion is often more powerful than reason when it comes to decision-making. At some point in life, everyone has experienced the powerful emotions associated with feeling excluded or seeing someone they love treated unfairly. Appealing to the lived experiences of leaders in your organization can help them better understand the importance and urgency behind this initiative. Consider asking leaders on your team if they have any personal experience with exclusion or inequity. This will likely have a greater impact than impersonal statistics and give them a sense of personal investment in the cause.
2. Create opportunities for advocacy
When leaders are put in the position of having to advocate for DEI – even for a short period of time – they'll naturally be more inclined to align their behavior with the principles behind the initiative. This creates accidental advocates. For example, you might ask leaders to speak on a panel about their experiences with overcoming barriers or ask them to serve as mentors to employees from underrepresented groups in the company. The more leaders internalize the principles of DEI and work to create a culture of belonging, the more these principles are reinforced.
3. Don't be afraid to give feedback
If members of your executive team say that diversity and inclusion are a top priority, but have not devoted time or resources to this focus, bring that (kindly) to their attention. Avoid accusatory language, and take a curious approach. You might say "I know DEI is important to you, but we haven't been able to focus on it with competing priorities. What blockers are getting in the way and how can we prioritize this?"
4. Approach DEI as a key business function
A powerful way to get buy-in for diversity, equity and inclusion at work is to show executives how its impacts contribute to other key business priorities. Often HR teams are small, but mighty – which can mean DEI work gets pawned off on a junior HR person or a cross-functional employee committee to oversee. Although these advocates can do great work, it's not what they've been trained to do or hired to do, and it's often something added on top of their "day job." No other business priority would be handled this way, and neither should your DEI strategy.
Point out the ways in which your DEI strategy is prioritized differs from other key business initiatives. For example, it wouldn't be logical to build a product without a roadmap, and a meaningful DEI strategy is no different. Then you can help leaders see the value in building a strategic, year-long DEI roadmap. Then, back it up with the data that shows diverse and inclusive companies are proven to make more money, have more innovative teams and have more engaged employees.
5. Highlight the risks of inaction
Investing in DEI is not just about what can be gained, it's also what can be lost. Remind executives of this. Research has consistently shown that unfair treatment is the number one reason that people leave a tech job, and that each employee who leaves costs an estimated $144K to replace. Further research reveals that non-inclusive working environments lead to a lack of productivity, creativity and employee engagement. Inaction can have a detrimental effect on talent acquisition and retention.
6. Suggest immediate next steps
Once you've made your case, it's important to "strike while the iron is hot." The fresher these topics are in executives' minds (and hearts) the more urgent investing in them will feel, and the more likely it is that leaders will be willing to allocate resources to this important work.
Come prepared with a concrete proposal and try to get executive sign-off right away.
Like everything with DEI, there are no universal guidelines for building advocates. Every individual and organization is at a different stage of their journey, and it's a constant work in progress. However, with an understanding of the current DEI landscape, you're well-positioned to make significant strides toward a more diverse and inclusive company culture.