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No time to DEI – why the right diversity, equity, and inclusion leadership skills are so important

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Over the past decade, and especially the past three years - diversity, equality and inclusion along with their cousin - belonging - have started to permeate many aspects of life and expressed in a number of underlying trends:

• trans and non-binary conversations mainstreaming

• the Black Lives Matter movement is making waves globally

• gender equality and female representation at board-level being addressed

• accessibility for the impaired changing the approach to architecture and living spaces

• rock bands are almost as likely to be touring in their 70s as their 20s as ageism gets the boot.

Diversity and equality have become more tangible topics at the coffee machine and water cooler. Along with the growing awareness of workplaces that excel in integrating DEI-B practices are outperforming others they are also catering for a more positive employee experience.

The reality is that brands and organizations are crying out for leaders well-versed in understanding what DEI is and how to deliver and maintain it.

While layoffs and hiring freezes feel like barriers to progressing the DEIB agenda, these times can also gift human resources and DEIB teams time to reflect and plan frameworks to support a more represented future. These can be fueled by the guidance of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and appropriate metrics established for a sustainably equitable future.

Key sponsors of this work must be able to take strategy through to meaningful action in the following ways:

  1. identify the challenges and tensions facing employees (and potential employees)

  2. understand the challenges that the brand’s customer-based and community face

  3. foster diversity in the workplace authentically

  4. efficiently and empathetically address equity issues in the workplace

  5. Help create a brand that is welcoming to many types of people.

So what are the skills you’ll need to deliver this? What do you need to have in your leadership locker in order to profile yourself as that DEIB champion that brands are so desperately looking for?

Here is the GOOD SOUL CHECKlist of skills:

C = Curiosity

Great leaders tend to be great learners. Listening more than talking. They ask better questions. They are open to being wrong or at least receptive to different viewpoints. They provide safe spaces for different voices to be heard and enable representative leadership at every level. They act on decisions made by the collective. They trust the diverse voices of their organization will guide them towards a more sustainable, happier and ultimately more profitable outcome.

But this environment doesn’t just happen. It is the result of safe and sustained work, real investment, champions of the culture, a shift in culture from the bottom up (ERG groups) and top down (sponsorship of initiatives) and a decent dose of honest talk and vulnerability to ‘learn as we go.’

H = Humility

What we take for granted – or a freedom we may assume is granted for all – might be frowned upon, or even illegal, in other cultures. Religion, relationships, deep-set values and judgements are often an abyss of misunderstanding.

An excellent DEI leader accepts this with self-awareness and humility. Acknowledging unconscious biases is the first step, being able to humbly respect other viewpoints and research the differences is the second. These two steps create the foundation to meet others where they are and build a collaborative understanding.

E = Empathy

According to the Merriam-Webster definition, empathy – “the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, perspective, and emotions of another person” – is the very essence of any DEI leader. You need to have the desire to understand other points of view and facilitate an environment to happily house the extended awareness in tangible ways.

We are our past. We know what we know. While we can have empathy for others, we haven’t walked their path and experienced their perspective.

C = Courage

Not knowing what to do and being out of your cultural depth, as a DEI leader, can be uncomfortable. You won’t have all the answers and there may be awkward situations – perhaps having to question the existing policies of your brand and the implementing change. Or you could find yourself in a situation where you need to face hostility for those changes.

That is why a good DEI leader must be courageous. It will be your job to initiate uncomfortable conversations in order to instigate positive change.

“Be the change” is an often-cited clarion call. But for you to truly be the change will need courage.

K = Knowledge

To identify issues, devise strategies and implement change, you must know what you’re dealing with.

Research is required! Learning about the history, the background, and the context informs from top-down the need for DEI. You will also need to understand the systemic issues that exist today and the biased norms that went before. Once you’ve done that, you need to dig into your organization’s own data to understand where your brand is in terms of metrics – what are the demographics of the brand? Where are the gaps in representation? What about equity - is it being measured?

What you need is knowledge. The full palette.

Follow the Good Soul CHECKllist, to be a more aware and resourceful leader for all.

Need to find your next chapter? Want to talk about it? Get in touch here



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