Last summer offered an opportunity to examine the inequalities of our societies as expressed and articulated by various groups and organizations. Many organizations responded by making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts a top priority. A year later many are asking, “Has anything changed?” 

For DEI efforts to really take hold, an organization’s culture, including many of its fundamental beliefs and assumptions, need to be examined, understood, and challenged. This may include a thorough examination and possibly a reimagination of organizational decision-making methods and talent selection and development processes. In other words, it is hard work, requiring a multi-dimensional approach. The interesting thing is that successful organizations know that winning strategies take time, commitment, and appropriate resources. Developing a winning DEI strategy takes more than a public declaration and a half day of training. Let’s take a look at what goes into planning for success. 

Many organizations started the DEI journey last year, taking a public stance on issues and situations involving racial justice, inclusion, and equity. Many organizations jumped to offering mandatory training, mostly on the topic of unconscious bias. The problem with offering training on unconscious bias is that there is little evidence that indicates that this type of training, on its own, actually works. It can even backfire. The saying goes, if you have a brain, you have biases; it’s involuntary and unavoidable. As Francesca Gino and Katherine Coffman write in the September-October edition of HBR, raising awareness to biases isn’t enough. Instead, programs need to be expanded to include actions to help employees override their biases. Employees need information to challenge their stereotypes and they need to be actively engaged with people who have different lived experiences than themselves. Changing behaviors does not happen with offering one class. Instead, it is a commitment to developing a long-term practice of curiosity, empathy, and self-examination that is reinforced and aligned with organizational goals and updated expectations.


To create sustainable change, we suggest that organizations use a framework with the following components:

  1. Vision – What is the organization aiming to accomplish with its diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda? How will the organization be different and why is this an imperative?
  2. Strategic Objectives – In what specific areas does the organization need to drive improvement? DEI initiatives need to be articulated as a high importance for all positions and be a part of the organization-wide scorecard. Here are some examples: 
    1. Achieve racially diverse representation at all levels.
    2. Establish clear expectations for each level and strengthen equitable pathways to advancement.
    3. Build a culture where trust, collaboration, and constructive disagreement are found within every team and in cross-team interactions.
  3. Goals/Measurements – How do we know when we are successful? Metrics tied to strategic objectives must be in place. Without clear goals or objectives and measurements an organization cannot measure progress or know with certainty if sustainable change is happening. For example, for a strategic objective on racially diverse representation at all levels, a measurement could be something like: 40% of director and manager levels are people of color, including at least 25% men of color by 2026. (Note: this example was taken from an actual organization based on their current demographics and their desired state; every organization will be different).
  4. Initiatives – What are the bold moves that will allow the organization to reach its goals and enable the vision? When it comes to prioritizing and resourcing initiatives, less is more. Do a few of the right things with depth and conviction instead of doing a lot of things with minimal resourcing and diffused focus.
  5. Accountability – Who’s responsible for leading the charge, taking action, holding others accountable, and achieving results? For private sector organizations, tying DEI objectives and initiatives to bonus plans re-enforces accountability and can more rapidly incentivize the right behaviors and actions the organization is seeking


To create the vision, set strategic objectives and goals and determine the most impactful initiatives, the organization will most likely conduct a thorough “current state” organization assessment. This requires conducting a diversity talent pipeline assessment looking at hiring, promotions, training, transfers, compensation growth and departure data across a range of demographic groups including gender, race, level, and tenure. It requires interviews, focus groups and surveys to understand the lived experience of working within the organization. This qualitative data must also be examined through a range of demographic lenses to understand themes and patterns. Simultaneously, involving employees at all levels, across all lines of business/teams, geographies, and demographic groups is imperative in defining the organization’s future state. This will require thorough listening and interrogation of deep seeded ways of working. 

As Ivuoma Ngozi Onyeador, Assistant Profession of Organization and Management at the Kellogg School of Management says, none of this is easy. “Diverse organizations are not built overnight or by accident. But just because the work is challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.” By taking the time to complete a DEI strategic framework, organizations can increase their probabilities of living their truth on their public statements and forging systemic change.

EMI knows how to create sustainable and systemic change. Reach out to let us help you.