January 31, 2024

How to Create a DEI Strategy

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways

  • A DEI strategy should incorporate as much quantitative data as possible about key DEI metrics and how they change over time.
  • Your strategic DEI direction should be led by a dedicated individual or team but should also be informed by organization-wide feedback and KPIs.
  • DEI strategic plans should focus on all phases of the employee lifecycle and experience, including recruiting, hiring and onboarding, learning and development, and promotion opportunities.

What is a DEI strategy?

A DEI strategy is a measured plan an organization develops and implements to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion across all stages of the employee life cycle. Creating a comprehensive DEI strategy is all about involving the right stakeholders, collecting relevant data and feedback, and setting goals that are clear, quantifiable, and relevant.

How to create a DEI strategy

Assess current DEI strengths and weaknesses

It’s difficult to create an impactful DEI strategy without first taking a hard look at the organization’s current strengths and weaknesses.

The best way to ensure all voices are heard in your preliminary assessment is to send out an anonymous, detailed survey to all personnel. This type of survey or assessment needs to cover a lot of bases to be effective, but if you’re not careful, you may overwhelm your audience with too many questions that may not be relevant to your process.

To mitigate biases and increase participation, consider outsourcing this process to an expert DEI firm, consulting practice, or software solution that uses proven data collection methods to collect feedback. Third-party organizations can also analyze the results to identify actionable gaps and areas for improvement in hiring, retention, engagement, company culture, training, and other HR fundamentals.

Select DEI leaders for your organization

The results of your assessment may point you toward the right DEI leadership model for your organization. Depending on your organization’s size and composition, it might be best to put your HR team, learning and development team, dedicated DEI staff, and/or company-wide DEI committee in charge of the strategy and planning.

Regardless of who your leader(s) will be, make it clear how they are accountable for DEI initiatives. These leaders should know what projects and initiatives they have control over, what KPIs will be measured, and which stakeholders should be involved in big-picture planning. Consider creating a formalized DEI leadership guide or rubric for clear expectations upfront.

Set SMART short-term and long-term goals

While any sort of quantitative goal-setting approach can be effective for DEI strategic planning, SMART goals are a great place to start. SMART goals are goals that are:

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Achievable or actionable.
  • Relevant.
  • Time-based.

This type of framework is based on realistic and objective points of measurement, which makes it an effective tool for setting DEI goals that actually get across the finish line. 

While setting your SMART goals, be sure to set both short-term and long-term goals that demonstrate DEI progress over time. The first ones you come up with will likely be more focused on creating an immediate impact, but a strong DEI strategy frames these short-term initiatives within the context of a long-term vision.

Setting both short- and long-term goals provides a strategic combination of structure and flexibility that will help you adjust DEI priorities as the organization’s needs evolve.

Ready to set your DEI goals? Read DEI Metrics: The Key to Building an Effective DEI Program.

Identify resource requirements

A resource planning section should be included in your DEI strategy plans and documentation so you can take inventory of the supplies and budget you need, major costs on the horizon, and any partnerships that are established or in the works.

While identifying and recording your DEI resource needs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who needs to be involved in DEI programming and planning that isn’t already?
  • What third-party software, platforms, and/or partners are necessary to achieve DEI goals? 
  • How many of these resources do you already have in place? How many do you need to adopt?
  • How much will new resources cost, and do you have the budget to procure them?

These questions will help you pinpoint your most pressing projects and requirements. When you identify resources that are nice to have but non-essential, be sure to label them as such so you can refer back and reevaluate them down the road. There may be some budget left over for these wishlist items, but you need to know what to prioritize.

Evaluate DEI strategic programs and initiatives

Once your DEI plans are in effect and programming is underway, it’s time to evaluate the programs themselves. These are just a handful of the questions your DEI leadership team should be able to answer at least once per month:

  • What does participation look like in DEI events?
  • How are employees and managers rating DEI programs, resources, and other initiatives?
  • How have hiring, retention, and promotion metrics changed across different demographics due to recruitment strategy shifts?

Your evaluation should consider all of the moving pieces at this stage of strategic DEI development and include a mix of qualitative and quantitative measurements. For example, you should track how your DEI projects are performing against the KPIs you set at the onset of the program, but you should also reach out to employees for input on current and future DEI initiatives.

Update your DEI strategy based on periodic evaluations

Setting your DEI strategy at the beginning and refusing to reassess it is a recipe for disaster: Plans can grow stale or out-of-touch with workplace trends, workforce demographics are likely to change, and new roadblocks may create unanticipated challenges for your long-term goals. It’s important to be open to feedback and results — both positive and negative — so you can apply that data to new and improved strategic DEI initiatives.

DEI strategy examples

Depending on your organization and its strategic DEI goals, the right combination of tools and resources will give you a boost toward your desired results. These are just a few examples of how a thoughtful DEI strategy or resource can make a difference:

  • Mission statement and DEI goals framework: A strategic document or database that clearly delineates DEI goals and an overarching mission statement, holding your team accountable and ensuring plans stay on track with bigger goals.
  • Skills-based hiring and recruiting: Rather than only considering educational background or years of experience, recruiters can use DEI-informed skills assessments to ensure all candidates are given a fair chance.
  • Talent pipeline in-depth analyses: Applying data analytics tools to your talent pipeline — specifically demographics — can illuminate hiring, promotion, and retention disparities across marginalized groups. This type of analysis may give your team the knowledge they need to meet diversity hiring goals and increase workplace satisfaction across groups.
  • DEI-informed employee review templates, skills matrices, and competency frameworks: Skills-based performance assessment documents and frameworks help to protect employees against performance review biases that could unfairly impact their career opportunities when they’re doing excellent work.

Platforms and training programs that support DEI strategies

A well-rounded DEI strategy often uses educational programming to lay the groundwork for future development. If your resource inventory doesn’t include the necessary skills for creating training materials in-house, several third-party platforms offer ways to fill in the gaps.

Udemy is an e-learning company that offers many corporate and DEI-specific training programs. Most helpful to DEI strategy, users can access courses like A Deep-Dive Into Diversity and Inclusion for Leadership, which covers relevant DEI research, trends, and other data that may be helpful to DEI leaders.

Coursera is another e-learning company with different types of DEI courses in its course catalog, including a beginner-level DEI training course from ADP. Many DEI leaders choose to complete Coursera courses for the opportunity to learn from major businesses that have already developed and executed a DEI strategy.

Paradigm Reach combines DEI training and strategic and analytical resources in a single platform. DEI leaders can benefit from DEI maturity model benchmarks, surveys, consulting support, and blueprints for building an effective DEI strategy.

Workhuman is an HR platform that includes AI-powered DEI planning and writing tools through Inclusion Advisor. This could be a particularly effective solution for DEI leaders who want to detect biases and issues in their DEI strategies as they’re being written.

Read more: What Is DEI Training & How to Implement It

The importance of a robust DEI strategy

Simply saying DEI is important to your organization without a strategy in place makes it difficult to measure true progress. Especially for goals like diversifying talent pipelines and improving employee experiences across demographics, a thorough DEI strategy establishes clear criteria for success that are informed by employee feedback and longer-term organizational goals.

If your DEI goals have stalled and programming has fallen flat, start by evaluating your current strategy to find a new path toward success.


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