How to Develop a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan

Words and more words: that's how many people often feel about organizational efforts to develop diverse and inclusive (D&I) workplaces where people have equitable opportunities to succeed. Words can have little meaning, and so do statistics, when the best of intentions are not linked to intentional actions. That's the purpose of the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan – to make your efforts intentional and engaging for employees, moving beyond words to make diversity and inclusion a reality for employees. 

The Struggle with the Diversity & Inclusion Effort

Every day, thousands of blogs and articles are written that talk about the slow and unsteady progress organizations are experiencing in the workplace diversity and inclusion effort. On a McKinsey survey involving 329 companies representing 13 million employees, the first question was whether diversity was improving. The answer was: diversity is not really improving.  

In a series McKinsey did on diversity, the research found that most companies have "made little progress, are stalled or even slipping backward." However, the same report also found that organizations making major gains in diversity and inclusion are "adopting systematic, business-led approaches to inclusion and diversity (I&D)." 

In other words, your organization needs a solid Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan that establishes measurable goals and objectives for achievement within a specific timeline. The strategic plan is a path forward for organizational change that identifies your leaders' steps to take to meet the goals. It should be treated like a business plan that is integral to the organization's vision and mission. 

One of the mistakes companies have made in the past when developing a Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Plan is approaching it as a separate initiative that is on the edge of operations. Instead, it is a plan that is central to achieving business success. 

Your organization needs a solid #Diversity & #Inclusion Strategic Plan that establishes measurable goals and objectives for achievement within a specific timeline. This is a path forward for organizational change.

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What Your Strategic Planning Should Include

The process should: 

  • Shift the organization's culture from reactive to proactive 
  • Share the commitment to D&I across the organization and at all levels 
  • Strive to create a psychologically safe workplace where authenticity is the norm 
  • Embed D&I, equity, and belonging in every function, department, and operation 
  • Identify the Diversity & Inclusion stakeholders, which include your leaders, potential job candidates, and employees 

Your managers can approach developing the Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Plan as a step-by-step process. Following is a summary of the major steps. 

1. Gain Top Leadership Support  

The Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan will only materialize and have meaning if top leadership drives the principles as organizational values. There must be executive support because without it, implementing a Diversity & Inclusion strategy usually begins strong but sputters over time. Regular leadership training reinforcing the importance of the strategic plan to positive employee relations, innovation, and talent management can get everyone on board.  

2. Establish a Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council 

The Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council is the group that oversees developing and implementing a Diversity & Inclusion strategy. It ensures the organization's focus is not lost, champions the concept of inclusion, and helps keep the effort on the right path over the long term. Membership should include senior leaders, management representatives from HR and each function, and diverse managers, supervisors, or staff members. This reinforces the principle that D&I is imperative for everyone. 

3. In-depth Data Analysis of the Current Status of D&I 

You won't know which strategic priorities to establish or how to move forward unless you know where you are at now. Data analysis includes identifying the demographic status of each department and not just the organization as a whole. Data for the whole organization can hide a lack of diversity in particular areas of the business. 

For example, your business meets general organizational D&I goals, but several departments or functions lack diversity or experience high rates of grievances. There might be a gender gap at the supervisor level or within a function like financial services, a lack of representation of minority employees at the management level, and/or low participation of women and minorities in employee training opportunities. Some organizations do a SWOT analysis, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. 

diversity and inclusion

4. Establish Strategic Priorities, SMARTER Goals and Objectives  

With the diversity metrics in hand, combined with analytics gathered from other sources - like employee engagement surveys, supervisor input, and past grievances – establish priorities. Strategic priorities are supported by goals and objectives and are based on the organization's experience. They may include things like:

  • Improve the diversity within the organization by addressing diversity within functions or departments identified as lacking diversity 
  • Increase the representation of underrepresented employees in the leadership pipeline 
  • Cultivate an inclusive organizational culture 
  • Enhance training and development opportunities focused on D&I 
  • Identify accountability measures around diversity policies and practices. 
  • Develop leaders with a deep understanding of diversity, inclusion, and belonging 
  • Offer formal bias training to the workforce.  

Once the priorities are established, develop the SMARTER goals and objectives. For example, a goal for cultivating an inclusive organization is enhancing communications about D&I with an objective of offering a new leadership eLearning course by the end of the year on topics like microaggressions, respecting diversity, communicating with a diverse workforce, engaging all employees, and many more.  

The D&I Leadership Council is a high-level group that develops, communicates, and implements the strategic plan. However, you will also identify the leadership roles and responsibilities at lower levels because your managers and frontline supervisors are the people who bring the strategic plan to life and produce desired results.  

5. Develop Data Standards and Benchmarks for Measuring Progress and Holding Leaders Accountable  

While developing a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan, also develop standards for measuring progress. It's important to measure progress on a regular basis. Annual reporting is inadequate. Success indicators along the path to developing a diverse and inclusive organization are factors like increased representation of minorities in leadership roles, increased number of women and minorities participating in mentoring programs for career advancement, and a decreased number of formal grievances.

6. Establish an Implementation Plan to Reach Goals  

The implementation plan could include offering leadership and employee training, deciding who should participate in D&I initiatives focused on specific talent areas like recruitment of diverse employees, and offering opportunities for employees to share their experiences and perspectives. This is the step where you may decide to expand your digital communications to ensure you reach all employees when sharing information or where you develop a leadership dashboard that keeps track of progress for their area of responsibility. The actual process of implementing a Diversity & Inclusion strategy is unique to each organization, with one exception. 

Leadership training is the most important element of an implementation plan for the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and applies to all organizations. All of your leaders must be fully committed to driving success. Your talent recruiters must understand how they influence the ability to attract diverse job candidates. Your department supervisors must understand the language and behaviors of inclusion. All employees must be committed to your organization's core values.  

Success indicators along the path to developing a diverse & #inclusive organization are factors like increased representation of minorities in leadership roles and increased number of women & minorities participating in mentoring programs for career advancement.

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7. Measure Results and Adjust Efforts as Necessary 

Measuring outcomes is crucial to producing desired results. Outcomes inform about things like whether the leadership training is effective, if employees are satisfied with the D&I initiatives and if the organization is improving in the diversity, inclusion, and belonging arena. Measuring outcomes enables keeping the Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan in alignment. Don't treat the D&I plan like a static plan that is developed and shelved, only to be revisited later.  

diversity and inclusion training

Three Basic Priorities when Developing a Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan

When you get right down to it, there are three basic priorities when developing a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan. 

  1. Discover where your organization can support diversity and inclusion in the leader and employee journey – recruitment, training, and development, mentoring, sponsorship, talent identification, promotion, and engagement and communication practices. 
  2. Identify diversity and inclusion leadership training that helps your managers and supervisors understand conscious and unconscious biases and the myriad of ways they are expressed – from silent assumptions about people based on a particular demographic that leads to exclusion to outright harassment and discrimination that leads to legal issues and negatively impacts the organization's reputation in the labor market. 
  3. Identify diversity and inclusion training that helps employees become mindful of their conscious and unconscious biases and how they influence interactions with peers and supervisors. 

Keeping the D&I conversation going is at the heart of implementing the Diversity & Inclusion strategy. Unless your leaders and employees feel comfortable sharing their unique perspectives, talking about their workplace experiences, and expressing their authentic selves, real progress is impossible. 

D&I and a culture of belonging are not "HR issues." They are core organizational values and should be embedded in all operations and interactions. Getting there begins with leadership training, especially communication training, because gaps in knowledge and weak communication skills threaten the success of your Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. 

Developing Your Plan

Developing a Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan is key to developing a diverse and inclusive organizational culture. The plan may not bring results overnight, but it will keep your effort on course for success. We can help you with critical resources and leadership training, including a course on Diversity & Inclusion, that establishes a strong foundation for the effort. We can also provide employee training courses that help you get the entire workforce on board. D&I is too important to leave to just words. It needs an action plan.

Chat with our team of experts today to get started with a plan that's right for you!   

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Projections’ CEO and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.