• Kimberly Kayler

DEI Beyond Checking Boxes

One of the biggest misconceptions about DEI programs is that it is yet another government program that measures quotas. To that end, I recently read a great article by Emily Herrington on how diversity is more than checking boxes. She noted that your organization might have all the right policies in place, ie., complying with equal employment opportunity measures, the necessary discrimination policies and multiple demographics represented in your staff. However, as many have learned, checking the boxes does not necessarily translate to having a diverse culture. DEI must be integrated into the strategic framework of your organization.


A DEI effort should not be considered solely related to hiring practices, and efforts should expand beyond EEO compliance and affirmative action. Diversity is a more inclusive concept and includes people of various religions, marital status, sexual orientation, economic status and a variety of other states of being. Diversity and affirmative action deal with issues related to discrimination, but in different ways. They are complementary in function, but different in their goals. While affirmative action focuses on taking positive steps to get individuals into the organization, diversity in the workplace strives to change the culture within. DEI is about your employees and vendors feeling included. It is about your culture. It is about growth and movement. Do you have a documented pipeline strategy for hiring? Do you track the demographics of candidates who apply for position? How do you know if you are reaching a diverse population of qualified candidates if you are not tracking these areas in your hiring practice?


Herrington noted that leaders should not only practice diversity, but empower it. What does that mean? Empowering diversity is about more than compliance, representation and recruiting. Associations not only need to have diverse voices as part of the conversation, but they also need to create environments that are open, trusting and empathetic so that community members, staff and other stakeholders are free to bring their authentic selves to the table.


If DEI isn’t about quotas and numbers, what are we measuring? Well, that depends on your DEI plan. It is important to recognize that all organizations are on a DEI journey, and a DEI program helps you determine where you are and where you are headed. A solid DEI program should not be punitive or shaming in terms of where an organization is today. It should outline where the organization wants to head with its DEI efforts.


The purpose of creating a DEI strategy is to define the short-term and long-term goals, priorities, and initiatives for the organization. The process provides direction on how to achieve these objectives. This includes:

· Creating a DEI internal and external statement.

· Continuous DEI educational programs for the team.

· A DEI Communication Plan which communicates the DEI mission/vision and strategy internally and externally; includes the onboarding process; and defines the digital brand to incorporate DEI information on the website and in social media.

· Designing a talent pipeline focused on increasing diversity in the hiring, promotion and succession planning process.

· Listing the initiatives on which the firm decides to focus (based on the survey and data collection).

· Defining metrics and creating a tracking process.


In my DEI certification training, one of the repeated mantras was “diversity is hard.” Empowering diversity in a meaningful way is hard work that takes time and intention. However, chances are there are already some DEI practices in place at your organization and, with the right strategic objectives, diversity can become a sustainable practice. For help getting started with your DEI program, or evaluating your existing efforts, reach out to AOE!