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How To Convince Leaders To Invest In DE&I

The national spotlight on the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as so many others, and the international protests that occurred this past year, forced all of us to take a critical look at racial injustice and inequality in our society. 

This serious examination gave us a renewed focus on how we tackle diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Companies that were once far too silent on racial and equity issues found themselves needing to enter the conversation. Employees wanted a change in the system and in their places of work. With that, we are seeing the tremendous growth of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) profession. 

While this showcases how the workforce is growing and transforming (rightfully so), it doesn’t speak to the fact that it still can be an uphill battle. 

Many diversity and inclusion professionals find themselves having to “make the business case” for why DE&I is important. Not only that, but explain why their company should be implementing changes today

The uphill battle for DE&I & talent professionals

Houston, we have a problem. Not only do diversity professionals have to continuously prove the necessity of diversity, but they also need to fight for more resources and budget to achieve their goals. 

And yes, these are becoming easier battles to fight over time. But the fact they are still “battles” is frustrating and we can’t ignore that. 

Why the pushback?

You’re probably wondering why the heck is there any pushback at all? Isn’t it obvious as to why companies need to invest in these efforts? And if you’re a DE&I or talent professional, you probably know this all too well. 

Diversity and inclusion is a larger systemic problem that is so complex, leaders don’t even know where to start. It’s not just one issue. It’s tackling sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, and much more. Leaders can become paralyzed by these complexities.  

On top of that, some larger corporations don’t even have a diversity executive on the team. Without experts within the company, it can be difficult to make a sustainable and substantial impact. 

Another obstacle? Diversity fatigue. It can be emotional and upsetting when you pull back the curtains and see the reality of our society and our current workforce. Doing the hard work is just that, hard. It can be tiresome to keep fighting, not seeing the results you’re hoping for, and trying to break through barriers over and over.  

How can we fix this? 

Even with the social push to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace, DE&I and talent professionals need to come fully prepared when convincing business leaders to invest in DE&I. 

With that in mind, we created 10 ways you can persuade your executives if they need that extra push. 

10 Ways to Get Exec Buy-In for DE&I

1. Emphasize the desire from employees 

There is strength in numbers. When most of your employees care deeply about an issue, your leaders will start to take notice. It’s clear now that employees want diversity and inclusion to be tackled within their organizations. 

The research backs this up. A 2014 Glassdoor study revealed, “67 percent of active and passive job seekers said that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.” Just imagine how much that sentiment has increased in the past six years. 

So we know potential candidates value diversity and inclusion—what about your current employees? According to the same Glassdoor study, “more than half (57 percent) of people think their company should be doing more to increase diversity among its workforce.” 

Want to know how much your company cares? Do an anonymous survey. Conduct a company town hall meeting. Get a pulse on what employees care about, in regards to creating a diversified workplace. The best thing you can have on your side isn’t just executive buy-in, it’s employee buy-in. 

Once you get company-wide buy-in, the next step is defining and announcing what DE&I means to the company and how you’ll define it.

2. Showcase how DE&I positively impacts company goals

Diversity initiatives aren’t just a “good thing” that your company is doing. It’s positively impacting employers’ bottom lines. In our 2020 Diversity Trend Report, we report that investing in DE&I not only helps “lower employee turnover,” but it also helps companies increase the diversity of their customer base.  

On top of that, according to McKinsey & Company, “companies in the top quartile in terms of racial diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns higher than the national median in their industry.“ 

We also surveyed recruiters on our platform and the findings were very insightful. “100% of respondents agreed that diversity brings value to their organization. And 91% have OKRs around diversity and inclusion.” 

3. Shift their mindset 

It’s all in the mindset, right? Diversity can have varying meanings. Remember, it doesn’t mean the same thing to each person. It’s critical to get on the same page about what diversity, equity, and inclusion actually mean within your organization. 

DE&I isn’t solely about hiring untapped candidates and then you’re done. It’s much more than that. It’s about creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels welcomed and supported. It’s about employing people with different backgrounds and lived experiences that will put your company in a better position to produce greater results. It includes fostering your company’s culture so individuals don’t feel isolated because of who they are. 

Make sure to define each term individually (diversity, inclusion, and equity) and come together on what they mean to your company. 

4. Show them what success looks like

When an executive asks, “Why should we implement these DE&I initiatives today?” You need to have a quick and thoughtful response. Showing examples of companies where DE&I helped their bottom line should always be up your sleeve. 

Sodexo, a company enhancing the quality of life in schools, hospitals, and offices, has put a huge effort into gender diversity within their company. “55%” of Sodexo’s staff are female, which is “up from just 17% in 2009.” And, “58% of the members on the board of directors are female” as well. What did they find? A “4% employee engagement increase” and “gross profit increases by 23%.”

It’s also critical to define what success might look like for your specific company. Each organization will need to determine what success means for them. How will you know when you’ve reached your goals? What metrics will you be measuring? Specifying these variables is a good place to start. 

5. Demonstrate how DE&I initiatives are tied to the bottom line

At the end of the day, leaders care about company key performance indicators (KPIs) and how we can surpass them. Highlight how DE&I is tied to the organization's KPIs. 

Hit them with the facts first. According to McKinsey & Company’s in-depth diversity report, “In the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.”

Another notable finding is from Credit Suisse’s examination of women in senior management roles. They found, “Those whose senior teams are more than 15 percent female had a return on equity of 14.7 percent last year, compared to 9.7 percent where teams were less than 10 percent female.”

6. Don’t forget to connect emotions 

Company execs aren’t all made of stone. Most have the best of intentions and just need a little push. 

Insert: emotional persuasion. 

The best marketers often use emotional persuasion to sell a product or a service. Why not do the same for your DE&I initiatives? Connect with your leaders on a deeper level—a human level. Ask them if they themselves have ever felt isolated because of who they are and their experiences. Find out if they know someone or ever witnessed a person who was being treated unjustly? Help them connect to this issue emotionally. 

Yes, it’s important to speak to the numbers of why diversity and inclusion will positively impact their bottom line. It’s also key to speak to what really matters, people. 

7. Highlight the what-ifs 

It’s helpful for leaders to see both sides of an argument. In that case, show them the what-ifs. What if we don’t invest heavily in DE&I this year? What if we don’t make this a top priority? What will happen? Paint them the picture. Spoiler alert—the picture isn’t pretty. 

First, not creating extensive diversity plans could potentially build an immense amount of discomfort for your employees. And discomfort doesn’t just sit and stay there without notice. It’s in the air and it has a huge effect on the psyche of the company. 

Comprehensive DE&I strategies not only enhance company culture but also lead to more retention. According to a study by Kapor Center for Social Impact, “62% of all employees would have stayed if their company had taken steps to create a more positive and respectful work environment. 57% would have stayed if their company had taken steps to make the company culture more fair and inclusive.” 

8. Build out a long-term roadmap 

Every good result starts out with a well thought out plan. Come prepared with a long-term roadmap to wow your company executives. Think two-year plan with measurable quarterly goals along the way.

You’ll want to include how you’re defining DE&I, best practices, a breakdown of the landscape today within your company, the path to success, target goals (including short-term and long-term), what metrics you will be measuring, associated costs, and which individuals will be involved. 

Not sure where to start with your roadmap? Check out our latest Diversity Hiring Ebook: Bold Strategies for Equitable Hiring Across Every Candidate Touchpoint. 

9. Measure ROI 

With anything, data is key. Being able to prove the impact DE&I efforts are having on your company is going to be instrumental in keeping it moving forward. Be sure to continuously measure your return on investment, so when company execs ask numbers, you’ll be more than prepared. 

You’ll want to focus on three parts: the current state, the future, and the cost of changes. Look at how many new underserved hires your company was able to make. Track the changes to the percent of underrepresented employees in the organization. Evaluate the retention rate of untapped talent within the company. And don’t forget to run diversity campaigns and track the progress. 

10. Listen 

Every great leader knows the first step to convincing someone is honing in on your listening skills. In order to fully understand the obstacles at play, you’ll need to put on your listening hat. Listen and understand the why behind the pushback. Figure out how to knock those barriers down. Even beyond the executive team, listen to what’s important to your employees. 

Listening to learn should be your mentality. 

Keep pushing 

With pushback, you’ll need to be resilient and keep pushing forward to make a breakthrough. Hopefully, you’ll be better armed with these tactics. But just remember, it might not always be an easy battle, but it’s one definitely worth fighting for. 

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