What is the function and importance of a DE&I council?

In the wake of the social justice movement and COVID-19, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has never been more important, both as a business driver and a way for organizations to connect with their increasingly diverse workforces.

In 2020, many organizations took action to improve inclusive practices, discuss social issues and support employee activism at work and in the communities they serve. However, DE&I is unique in that it is a business driver and often involves significant culture change. Any program or initiative involving change, while guided by values and principles, must include strong, inclusive governance that sets goals, measures progress and mobilizes resources. Slightly more than half of organizations, according to Brandon Hall Group research, have formal governance for DE&I.

While more than 80% of organizations see DE&I as important business drivers, business impact of DE&I initiatives are generally pedestrian. Only about 35% of organization have a DE&I strategic plan or even a set of short-term and long-term DE&I goals, according to Brandon Hall Group’s latest research.

Perceived Impact of Diversity and Inclusion Programs on Key Performance Indicators

For DE&I to have significant business impact, there must be an organizational-wide mission, vision and strategy with formal governance. Key questions organizations should address include

  • How do we create an organization-wide strategy around DE&I aligned with key business objectives?
  • What role should top leadership play in developing strategy and governance around DE&I?
  • Who should be involved in providing governance for DE&I? Should it be limited to top leadership or be more inclusive?
  • What should DE&I governance look like?
  • How transparent should we be in publishing our DE&I goals and objectives and our results?

A DE&I council is a common form of governance and can be extremely effective if it is well-conceived, organized and executed.

Diversity councils can help create and communicate that bigger picture. They assist the company’s leadership by becoming a trusted advisor and a resource to help accelerate results. Diversity councils provide insight and information that’s reflected in the organization and beyond, and they are a sounding board that managers can engage to accelerate the advancement of inclusion and diversity efforts.

Diversity councils are often chaired by the CEO, jointly by the CEO and CDO, or solely by the CDO or by the CHRO if there is no CDO. In all these cases, the CEO should visibly champion the council’s work. Having the right members is as important as having the active involvement of top leadership. Typically, council members are bullish on the business benefits of DE&I, well-connected, well-respected and highly influential leaders. However, since the leadership in many organizations lacks diversity, councils often lack the insight needed to truly understand varying perspectives and barriers to DE&I and how to address them. Either a council should include diverse representation from many levels of the organizations, or it should have an advisory council, committees or employee resource groups with diverse representation at all levels of the organization that can inform and educate the council.

The key is establishing a purpose for a DE&I council and building a framework for success. Leading practices include:

  • Understand your organization’s historical context around diversity and inclusion. Before launching an effort to create a council, it is important to understand where your organization is in its DE&I evolution, the existing level of executive support for DE&I and what the council needs to accomplish.
  • Find early supporters willing to establish a framework. Find a group of people – ideally including the senior leaders (ideally the CEO or other top executives) – to support the initiative and build a framework. A framework should:
    • Define roles and responsibilities of the council. Ensure you are targeting all areas of diversity, equity and inclusion from recruiting and hiring, to inclusion and retention, measurement and analysis, marketing and communication and community partnerships.
    • Determine the composition of the council and their responsibilities.
      • Will it include only high-level leaders, mid-level leaders with executive oversight, or have representation from all levels of the company?
      • Will it have advisory committees or employee resource groups?
    • Identify potential founding members.
    • Determine expectations of members.
    • Determine meeting frequency.
    • Determine how to track and communicate programs.
    • Determine the level of transparency in sharing results of DE&I initiatives. Remember that inclusion is impossible without sharing information and getting feedback.
    • Determine how to recruit new members onto the council.
      • Appointed?
      • Elected?
      • Leaders only or representation from across the organization?
      • How are openings communicated?

Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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