Marlin Williams

Four tips for new and seasoned Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Professionals

Marlin Williams • Jul 08, 2022

Four tips for #Dei professionals

In recent years careers in DEI have been created and elevated at a rapid pace. For those who are new or seasoned in this space, here are four tips to get you started or “unstuck.” 

1. Breathe
You walk into your new or elevated DEI role with enthusiasm and the confidence that you can effectuate change. A few weeks in you are pulling back the layers and realize that this work is more than events and holiday observances. You have become the listening ear for team members and the point of DEI education for the entire organization – essentially you instantly become Dr. Phil or Iyanla Vanzant team members have been waiting for (which is an honor and often the most rewarding part of the job!) while your leadership is looking for you to educate and move the needle forward. Lastly, you may have a team or find yourself working as a team of “one.”
Breathe (seriously, do it now.) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a marathon and not a sprint. Yes, there are somethings you can implement with relative ease. However, DEI is a strategic initiative and should be the afforded the time and resources relegated to finance, technology, marketing, etc. If you are expected or if it’s a self-imposed expectation to present a strategy the first week, this is an opportunity to reevaluate. 
So – breathe, you will get there OR not which is not a failure it’s just another piece of data to inform next steps.
2. Listen
Years ago, I served as a Deputy Chief Information Officer for a team of 300+ with the task of coordinating the technology behind Super Bowl XL. Before I set foot into my new office, many people had negative opinions about the team. Experience has taught me that opinions do not equate to reality, and I went in as if I knew nothing about the team and gifted myself with the time to make my own decisions. I opened my calendar to all team members for a 30-minute conversation if they wanted, and that listening tour yielded priceless results of perception vs. reality and as a team we exceeded expectations.
If someone enters an organization with a “DEI Strategic Plan,” without honoring the team members who show up every day to do the work and move the organization’s mission forward, that is a warning sign. DEI is not cookie cutter, therefore a plan that worked somewhere else may not work for your organization or fail to pull forward the dimension of diversity that should be elevated. 
How do you better understand the culture and the team members experience and how it may be different from leaderships perception of DEI and visualize the foundation of a plan? You must listen. During the conversation you may not believe the team member’s sentiment, however, you are not there to be the judge and jury – you are there to listen. Period.
This one tip is one of the most powerful as it garners team member buy-in which is integral to a shift in culture.
3. Analyze and share what you heard
Diversity of thought and experience are often overlooked but are essential to DEI.
Team members will share but will expect acknowledgement and/or action or they will find it a waste of time to share their thoughts in the future and you will lose the gift of their experiences and institutional knowledge.
Analyze the data you received and document the trends. For example, in my experience developmental opportunities or the lack thereof consistently show up as a trend. This is an opportunity to expand your research outside of the conversation and follow the data which allows you to place an DEI overlay as it relates to: Who is tapped for opportunities, If opportunities are tied to performance – are performance reviews equitable and most importantly are the opportunities tied to performance equitable, who shows up on succession plans and is the criteria equitable, what are the results of calibration which ultimately lends itself to who is developed, promoted, etc. You get it: this one step is powerful as it creates the questions that must be answered to move the needle forward and most important it’s now data and now emotion driven. 
You are now on your way to envisioning your DEI strategy and its pillars.
4. Check your ego and get out of your own way 
Whether you are a beginner or seasoned in this work – there is always something new to learn. During the 2020 racial reckoning, pandemic, and most recently supreme court decisions and more we all must pivot and own what we don’t know.
You are in the role, you accepted the charge – it’s no longer about you, the calling is higher. Stop being so hard on yourself and buying into the imposter syndrome. If you don’t know something: Research it, subscribe to pertinent publications, join associations/groups, find your tribe of people who are also engaged in this work, hire a coach, use your professional development dollars to elevate your knowledge, engage in cross-functional activities, etc.
This is also your journey. As you work for the organization you will also learn a lot about yourself and determine (without judgement) if this work is for you or not. Either way, that answer is a gift.
“The ego is the single biggest obstruction to the achievement of anything.” -Richard Rose
After 20+ years in DEI, I have many DEI chronicles and look forward to sharing! Sign-up for my newsletter and/or contact me if you’d like to further inquire about how we can partner as it relates to your DEI journey – you can find my calendar on my website.  You can also find many of the tips I share via my book Hard Reset – Framing DEI as the new normal at: 

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