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In light of the economic downturn, companies are slashing their workforce, and DEI teams are frequently some of the first to go. In addition, we’ve seen reports of how Chief Diversity Officers are being let down by their companies due to a lack of support – funding, staffing and operational. If you’re a CEO, now is the time to check in with your DEI leader and double down on your support for DEI work.  When the budget is lean and workforce reductions abound, DEI leaders need executive partnership and support more than ever. 

Open the line of communication with this meaningful question:

“How Can I Support Our DEI Goals Right Now?”

This question is impactful for a few important reasons:

  1. By simply asking this question, you acknowledge the work of the leader who is tasked with making DEI progress during very challenging economic and organizational times.
  2. You demonstrate your attention to and awareness of DEI goals at a time when it’s tempting to focus only on revenue-generating business functions.  While we know now that diverse companies have better business outcomes, the relationship to revenue is not as clear as the sales function. This question shows that you still understand the tremendous value that DEI provides to the workplace, society, and to consumers.
  3. The “how” shows willingness to take action, as opposed to endless deliberation about possibilities that can result in stagnation.  DEI work is action-oriented, and this question shows that you are prepared to take action.
  4. Your use of “our” signals your willingness to partner and commit to work often put exclusively in the DEI leader’s corner. This small word communicates executive ownership of the issue, goals and programs.
  5. Using “right now” acknowledges the current company’s challenges and limitations while signaling that DEI work must continue.

When you get your answer, it’s important that you provide the support requested so the company can continue the direction of its DEI goals.  This signals to other leaders and the whole organization that you keep your DEI commitments top of mind, even in tumultuous times. Failing to provide support requested of you may noticeably work against you. Employees, the DEI leader, other company leaders, the media and ESG ratings firms are certain to observe the misalignment between your words and action. And with more regulatory pressure mounts with regard to greenwashing, regulators may get in on the action too.

If you are a CEO or corporate executive, management, staff and stakeholders still expect you to care and follow through on your commitments to DEI.  Asking this question is a great start to exhibiting your continued commitment through good times and bad.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile