How to Get DEI Buy-In: 5 Actions Leaders Should Take

DEI leaders shared their tips on how to talk about diversity with employees.

The way company leaders position the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to employees is important—especially now when DEI is being challenged in the US and across the globe—because it signals your company’s values and priorities. When talking with employees, do you emphasize that DEI is good for the bottom line (the “business case”) or that it is the right thing to do (the “fairness case”)? Catalyst global research shows that nearly half of employees want their organization to talk about DEI using both a fairness case and a business case. Of those who prefer one over the other, more than twice as many prefer the fairness case.

At the webinar Still Making the Case for DEI? Drop the Spreadsheet, moderated by Senior Director of Inclusive Work Cultures Research Emily Shaffer, PhD, Catalyst discussed messaging and other ways that leaders can demonstrate organizational commitment to strengthening workplace culture. The participants, experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion, shared five actions leaders should take to leave no doubt about their commitment to enabling all employees—from the front line to the C-suite—to thrive.

Create a tailored message in which you lean into the fairness case while balancing it with the business case, and tell stories with your messaging.

“You need to understand the needs of your audience and meet them where they are. One of the most powerful ways to get your message across is to share stories of people’s lived experiences, which can bring both the business and fairness case together and sometimes cause a light bulb to go off for some people where they suddenly realize what equity looks like.”

—Michael Cherny, Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan

Make sure your messaging comes from the top: the CEO, senior leadership, and board.

“When you’re the leader and you’re saying that DEI is really important, employees see that it’s not just the people working in DEI who are invested in it; it’s coming from the top. That approach makes a difference.”

—Shannon Carstens, Audit Partner and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader, KPMG

Align your organization’s DEI work to company core values so that DEI is integrated and part of the culture.

“We embed equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging into every facet of our work. For us at Metrolinx, it’s ensuring our employees thrive, that we provide equitable customer service and that we are a trusted partner in the communities we work in. Aligning your values with your work is how you build an inclusive culture.”

—Karima Hashmani, Chief Inclusion Officer, Metrolinx

Conduct regular employee engagement surveys—and then take action based on the results.

“Make sure you have a good format to obtain feedback so that it’s anonymous and people feel safe. We do quarterly pulse surveys as well as annual employee engagement surveys at KPMG. But you shouldn’t just collect feedback; you need to then take action. And make sure employees know what you are doing in response to what they told you.”

—Shannon Carstens, Audit Partner and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leader, KPMG

Try something new, even if it’s just a small and simple thing. It just might work. “I once encouraged all employees, and especially senior leaders, to add their pronouns to their email signature, when I was at a different company. One senior leader came up to me and said, ‘I’m not comfortable doing this; no one is misgendering me; why does it matter?’ I encouraged him to try it for two weeks and see what happens. And then he came back and said, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how much conversation this would spur, and how this would make me an active ally, and how much this mattered to people.’ Sometimes big things happen from the little steps we take, not just from the big initiatives.”

—Michael Cherny, Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan

Is your company a Catalyst Supporter? Watch the Supporter-exclusive webinar on making the case for DEI.

Not yet a Supporter? Learn how your company can join the Catalyst community.

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