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We know that company leaders must be engaged in their DEI initiative for it to be successful.  We don’t always know how to help company leaders engage the DEI initiatives while they tackle their priorities in the business.  Building relationships with leaders is an understated but powerful tool to help drive DEI engagement throughout the organization. Relationship-building can be impactful for several reasons.

  • You learn their language – During personal 1-on-1 conversations, you understand what is top of mind for leaders in their business function, which not only helps you learn the businesses but also enables you to understand how to talk about DEI in a way that will resonate with them. You can then connect them to specific DEI programs and goals that align with their interests.
  • You reach employees more efficiently – When company leaders request team members to get involved, share positive sentiments about the company’s DEI programs, or lead by example, team members notice and are more likely to follow suit. This is far more efficient than reaching every employee individually in the organization to drive engagement.
  • You cultivate internal allies – Building relationships with company leaders creates rapport, so when you ask for their support, they are more inclined to act. With this alliance, you can ask them to participate in programs, partner with you on projects, or provide honest feedback, among other requests.
  • You connect with decision-makers – Managers make hiring decisions, determine who gets promoted, and foster inclusion and belonging on their teams. You can make a greater impact when you connect with the company leaders because they make decisions about business areas that drive diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Tips for Driving DEI Engagement

I meet regularly with each Senior Leader at my organization to support them as they increase their engagement with our DEI Initiative. Our leaders already support our DEI initiative but need help understanding how to practically implement our DEI programs and goals. Here are tips for doing this at your company.

  1. Develop a game plan – Start with understanding what engagement with your DEI initiative means, distill it into a menu of options, and share that in advance. To initiate meetings, I create a script customized for each senior leader to share my interest in meeting with them. I request that the leader review the short document with the options for engagement so that we can discuss what resonates most for them in the meeting.
  2. Make initial meetings short and sweet – Shorter meetings are easier for leaders to accept and usually end on a high note. The initial meetings I schedule are always between 20-30 minutes.
  3. Set the tone – DEI topics can often feel intimidating to even the most senior leader, so it is important that leaders know that I want to support their growth, not judge their current level of cultural competence.  Although you start with a game plan, stay flexible about where your discussion goes and prioritize getting to know each other. If you end up sharing personal stories or joking around for most of the meeting, don’t worry! You are laying the ground for successful future partnerships. When you get into the topic of DEI engagement, have them share their previous connection with DEI or their current interest based on the document you sent and encourage them to lean into their interests. Always follow up with a message that recaps your discussion and includes supporting resources or links.
  4. Follow up regularly – As with all other DEI topics, do not take a one-and-done approach. I position my meetings to occur quarterly, allowing me to continue strengthening my relationships with leaders and maintain mutual accountability for following through on takeaways. I end each meeting by getting their consent to place another invitation on their calendar for the following quarter to check in and see what additional steps can be taken together.

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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