6 Steps to Empowering ED&I Professionals

Close up of business officer teamwork brainstorming talking, finding solution and analyzing project using paperwork to explain next steps to do consulting together in meeting room. Generative Ai.

Over the last 2 years we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of national and global organisations hiring ED&I professionals. This investment in ED&I is driven by a number of core factors: an increasing spotlight on corporate approaches to ED&I from policy-makers, expectations from corporate and public sector regulators, and the rise of employee activism – diverse employees raising issues of fairness and business equity – an expectation that businesses act with fairness and human kindness. 

This investment in ED&I professionals is welcomed, however, effective and sustainable change will be dependent on the ways in which organisations empower this new ED&I army. 

Global inclusion management company VERCIDA Consulting are gold sponsors of the DE&I Symposium, which is taking place within the MAD World Summit on 12th October. In this article, Managing Director Dan Robertson, who is opening the Symposium with his view of “The past, present and future of DE&I”, shares 6 steps organisations can take to empower ED&I professionals to drive sustainable change.

You can find out more about the fantastic speaker lineup and reserve your place at the DE&I Symposium here.

1. Set clear expectations, goals and targets

Far too often businesses start their ED&I function (I use the term function over individuals, as ED&I should be a business function and not a personally driven activity) without having a strong sense of purpose or direction. They hire-in (in-source) an ED&I professional, or a team of professionals without fully setting out clear strategic expectations of the ED&I function. To ensure ED&I professionals are empowered and that their work has value and meaning, it’s vital that business leaders determine clear business goals and a direction of travel. Without a clear and shared vision or roadmap, success will be hard to track. How do we as ED&I professionals show business value and return on human investment, aligned to areas of talent, innovation or customer insight without clear goals and business objectives?

2. Provide adequate resources

Consider this scenario: You’re planning a road trip with a group of new friends. You’re excited to start this new journey in your life. You’re promised it’s going to be a fun, if at times long and a tiring ride to reach your end point. You’re full of excitement and passion to get started. Day 1 arrives. You’re packed and everyone’s sitting in the car. Your new friends say, “off you go, drive”! Nothing. No one put any gas in the tank. You’ve stalled on day one!

Apply this situation to the role of an ED&I professional. Full of exciting ideas for making lasting change happen and yet there’s no budget to invest in the programmes and initiatives needed to drive your business goals.  

For ED&I professional to be empowered, business leaders need to shout “let’s go”, with well thought-out financial and human resources. Financial resources are the allocation of adequate budgets to invest in, for example training programmes or to bring in that amazing keynote speakers, or to develop a career sponsorship programme for underrepresented talent. Additionally, ED&I professionals need human resources, that is time and energy from key stakeholders to support their ideas; this includes time and emotional support from HR colleagues, employee resource group (ERG) leads and more critically business leaders. Money alone does not facilitate the empowerment needed to create lasting change. 

3. Provide a seat at (right) the table

Where you sit matters. It’s hard to have your voice heard when you are sitting at the back of the room. For ED&I professionals to feel truly valued and empowered it’s important that business leaders ensure there is a strategic communication line between the ED&I function and the CEO office. Having one’s voice moderated, edited, (and yes in some cases silenced) by HR, L&D, business executives or other functions is a sure way to disempower a community of change makers.

Organisations should ensure that ED&I professionals have structural lines of direct communication to core business functions that drive value – the R&D department, the innovation team or the customer insights team. They should be fully connected to marketing and employer branding agencies. By being so, the role becomes positioned as a central voice in organisational thinking and decision-making. 

4. Give them a voice 

Aligned to a seat at the table, the fully empowered ED&I professional is given licence to challenge existing ways of thinking and doing things. They, together with other voices, ERG leads for instance, are provided with a platform to call out bias and non-inclusive practices in ways which promote psychological safety.

Having a voice promotes a sense of empowerment through feelings of being valued and taken seriously by colleagues. It strengthens the psychological contract between the ED&I professional and other business stakeholders, which in turn promotes trust-based relationships and fosters collaboration through mutual respect.

5. Autonomy to drive necessary change 

For ED&I professionals to feel valued and empowered business leaders and other stakeholders need to enable space for autonomous decision-making. In a highly collaborative global business environment this does not mean siloed action; rather the space to drive agreed actions, targets and goals without unnecessary interference or deliberate blockers.

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Autonomous decision-making leads competent ED&I professionals to drive change with the explicit consent and support of business leaders. This support instils a sense of purpose and meaning – pride and value in the work that they do – which in turn drives self-motivation and determination through the difficult times as well as in times of success. 

6. Sponsorship 

As the poet John Donne once said (using rather gendered tones) “no man is an island”. This sentiment holds true in the context of ED&I. As business and social change makers, whose role is to facilitate lasting and meaningful change, we cannot do it alone. Reflecting on conversations I have had with ED&I colleagues, it is clear to me that having organisational sponsors is key to our change-making actions.

Business leaders and others should take every opportunity to champion ED&I work. Talking up the important work ED&I professionals do increases feelings of belonging, value and empowerment. Forums such as Town-Hall Meeting or Team Talks provide useful platforms. 

Together, the six steps above will, in the words of Baltasar Gracian, the 15th Century philosopher, “…put a grain of boldness into everything we do”  

About the author

Dan Robertson is MD at VERCIDA Consulting and the Global Head of ED&I Advisory Services for Hays International. Dan is widely regarded as a global expert on workplace diversity and inclusive leadership. He has a particular expertise in the science and application of leadership decision-making and behavioural science. He spends his days supporting executives to turn diversity theory into meaningful actions through the application of global best practice. Dan has over 20 years’ experience of supporting global businesses, having worked extensively across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.

He is known for his no-nonsense facilitative style supported by an expertise on the core principles and practical application of total inclusion management. Dan is currently the Chair of the Lord Mayor of London’s Power of Inclusion programme (London). He has been named by Hive Learning as a top 50 D&I leader for his work globally and locally

His publications include:

  • The Long Road to Inclusivity: Published in Beyond 2015, Shaping the Future of Equality, Human Rights and Social Justice. A Collection of Essays: Equality & Diversity Research Network. (2015)
  • He is a contributor to the 3rd edition of the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. (2020)

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