Marlin Williams

10 skills and/or qualities needed to work in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Marlin Williams • Aug 10, 2022

10 skills or qualities needed to work in the field of DEI

I received many questions about the skills and/or qualities to work in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion?  SO…that is the Ask Me Anything Question selected.

In recent years we have seen an increase in DEI roles across all industries for a myriad of reasons. Some people have been thrust in the role without experience, some have completed a certification and want to know how to apply the education as a way to catapult their career in DEI and some are seasoned professionals who have hit a wall and want to know how to move forward.

Below  are 10 skills/qualities you should consider when starting a career in this field of excelling in your current role.
1. Experience in Human Resources, Employee Relations, or Organizational Psychology:  Although a degree may be preferred, it really depends on the organizational requirements. If you have solid proven experience, it may outweigh a degree.  
2. Be realistic about where you are in your career/experience: Although it may be exciting to accept or apply for a senior career in DEI it takes “real life” experience. This work is a game changer, so you don’t want to take the role and not have the capacity to support the team members or the organization. It’s OK to start in a junior role, learn, and ultimately reach your career goal.
3. Possess Strategic Vision/Planning Skills: An effective DEI strategy should never be a stand-alone initiative, it should be embedded in the corporate structure, and aligned with the organizational goals. Although some executives will tell you that they want to do this because it’s the right thing to do, it will ultimately become convoluted and lost if it’s not a part of the strategic operational conversation. 
4. Be Data Driven: You’ve probably heard me say that DEI is the matter of the head and heart. Well, this is the head piece. DEI is not cookie cutter; therefore, the areas of focus will vary across organizations and from year to year. The data doesn’t lie and will serve as the driver of the decision making. Despite the emotion or denial, the data will help you “keep the main thing the main thing.” Without the data you may find yourself with a “flavor of the month” initiative.
5. The ability to be bold amid fear, denial and/or uncomfortable situations: This work is not for the faint of heart. Yes, there have been many times I was afraid of speaking the, but in this role it’s non-negotiable. The conversations aren’t always a love fest, you will face opposition or straight up denial about the situation (another reason the data is SO important.) You may be uplifted one day and then public enemy number one the next, it’s not personal as these conversations can be very uncomfortable for everyone. If you find that you are consistently quiet or passive, you might want to give up your seat at the table as this work is imperative, and silence is not an option.
6. The ability to be welcoming and non-judgmental: As stated before DEI can be quite intimidating and uncomfortable. When you serve in the role of DEI people should feel comfortable speaking with you without judgement. I remember a male colleague speaking negatively about women, instead of scolding him, I simply asked him to help me understand his perspective. He was then relaxed, and we had a life changing conversation where he began to challenge his perceived truth.
7. Drop the ego and own your biases: We all have biases. Due to our own lived dimensions of diversity, we have experienced this world differently. Just because you have not personally experienced something does not make it untrue. In the work of DEI, you must be willing to challenge your own beliefs and stereotypes. This is the best gift you can give yourself in your professional and personal life.
8. The ability to actively listen: Experience has taught me that when in the role of DEI, team members and other executives will share their experiences within the workplace. Active listening is a skill takes patience, the ability to give up your own inner dialogue, the need to interrupt and explaining away someone’s perspective Active listening can promote a feeling of being valued, supported, and heard. Furthermore, it creates a feeling of trust which strengthens the relationship.
9. Patience: If all organizations were diverse and inclusive, there would be no need for a DEI role. DEI is a journey and not a sprint. The shift will not take place over night. Yes, there may be some low hanging fruit, but a true strategic plan tied to the organizational mission and goals may take longer than you or the organization want. Patience will help you to set expectations and protect your mental health.
10. Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feeling of others is important to be successful in the DEI role (truthfully, any role.). If you have not experienced what others have, their truth should not be discounted. You don’t have to agree with their experience, this is the time to listen. For example: If your team member tells you that they are experiencing microaggressions, that is their truth and not your time to discount it. The power of empathy is imagining what the team member must be feeling and take it from there.
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