A student recently asked me how to successfully transition into the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) space. We had an excellent one-on-one with lots of information exchange. I’m well equipped to share strategies since I stumbled into this space over a decade ago. Back then, I was a full-time Information Technology Professional tapped to participate in a focus group to discuss company culture. After that, I got involved in employee resource groups and decided this was just the breath of fresh air my career needed. I assumed it would be an easy transition to make a full-time career pivot, but it was not. My perceived challenges encompassed not enough Human Resources experience, not enough sponsors vying for my success, and disillusionment over salary that was less than six figures. Hence, my transition was slow and steady and one that I designed carefully. Fast forward to today, where I have the opportunity to consult, facilitate, train, speak, coach, and write about inclusive leadership. With said history, I offer these tips for those feeling called to lead the way for cultural changes.
Commit to the Journey
The learning curve is steep for this journey. Navigating cultural differences is no easy feat. However, some nuances become clearer when experienced. Learn through experiences. We will undoubtedly say the wrong thing and wonder whether we will ever get a grasp on what’s need to succeed in this space. My advice is to make a solid commitment to this work. Double down and take advantage of the learning opportunities and be willing to do heart-centered work to maintain sanity and serve your customers well. When I interviewed for a Facilitator position at eCornell, the interviewer asked me how I took care of myself. It was a great question because taking care of self is a proactive measure for longevity. Be patient and commit to the long haul.
Invest Resources in Building DEI Expertise
When starting, seek out every opportunity to build cultural understanding. LinkedIn Learning is one avenue to explore for free training. While freemium models are attractive, it is essential to also invest in deeper learning. The appetizer is free, but the entree will cost. Organizations like the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), National Diversity Council, and the Forum on Workplace Inclusion offer excellent educational opportunities. Additionally, SDS Global Services offers Mastery Programs for cultivating cultures of inclusion. Take advantage of these knowledge transfer sessions for expertise will grow credibility in this area. Another idea to undertake is working with a research librarian to highlight materials to ingest and inform your work.
Swim With Other DEI Practitioners
Remember the saying “birds of a feather flock together”? Well, it makes sense to flock together with other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practitioners, for there is value in sharing wins, learnings, and challenges. The key is to find the right audience that is welcoming while providing opportunities to stretch and grow. Consider finding and participating in a Mastermind Group. Be on the lookout for facilitated opportunities to network on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity Councils, Chamber of Commerce, Business Alliances, and local Human Resources Organizations are good places to explore. Frankly, opportunities are everywhere. Listen and say yes for leadership opportunities in associations/organizations affiliated with.
Think Like A CEO
There is a huge opportunity to succeed for those wanting to wade into entrepreneurial waters as a DEI Practitioner. Generally speaking, to succeed in business, CEOs must have access to talent (i.e., marketing, sales, finance, operations, human resources, etc.) to execute their vision. This approach applies to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space as well. To survive and thrive:
MORE FOR YOU
- Invest in learning how to be a boss.
- Read the book e-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
- Read every business book you can get your hands on. Do not skip this step.
- Get a Score counselor, and find a local business development center and ask for help.
By now, it should be evident that continuous learning is necessary to transition into DEI.
If pondering a career pivot, move forward. The workplace is in need of more inclusive leaders pushing for cultural changes. I’m rooting for your success.