Leaders are under more and more pressure to speak out and speak up about DEI-related issues, both inside their companies and as spokespeople for their organizations. Many CEOs can feel like DEI is “above their pay grade” in that it is not their area of expertise nor what they were hired for, and is a minefield of risk for saying the wrong thing.
Even though “not going there” can feel like the safest course of action, we know that doing nothing is even worse. So, what’s the answer?
Before speaking out about a commitment to DEI—an area that may feel very risky—leaders should make sure to do these three things:
No. 1: Assemble a team of wise counselors.
You do not have to know it all when it comes to DEI and you will likely never know enough. So how can you circumnavigate your lack of knowledge? By surrounding yourself with a diverse group of people from across demographics, roles, levels, and perspectives who are empowered to speak the truth for the good of you, the company and employees like them. These people are wise counselors in part because you know they will bring divergent viewpoints—trusted advisors fill in your knowledge gaps and see the situation differently than you do.
No. 2: Put actions behind your words.
Over the last several years, out of all the companies or CEOs who spoke about their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, the ones that received the least criticism were the ones who were visibly active. These leaders authentically promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion with employees and in the marketplace, prior to speaking about it. If you have not done anything around DEI, speak honestly about where the company is at, and what you are committed to doing as a next step. Wise leaders know every communication is a commitment and actions always speak louder than words.
No. 3: Plan how you will respond to critique.
Since you know you will not please everyone, plan ahead of time the posture you will take when critical feedback comes. Preemptively commit to considering all critique as a gift and an opportunity to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. Practice genuinely (not nominally) pausing and listening for understanding. Use phrases like, “Tell me more” and “What is most important to you?” that show a willingness to hear things from a different point of view.
Once you do decide to speak, keep acting with consistency, transparency, empathy, and humility. Then do that again and again. For a really long time. It is what you do over the long haul that makes people believe what you say. Ultimately, actions create the impact, not words.
Written by: Dawn Bryan
Want to learn more about speaking with impact on DEI? Contact our team at The Kaleidoscope Group at firstname.lastname@example.org.