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In today’s crowded marketplace, authenticity sells. Being honest and communicating candidly with employees, customers, and other stakeholders will help you achieve your performance goals and set you apart from the competition. Whether you’re leading a Fortune 500 company, a nonprofit organization, or a first-year start-up, the demands you face to get results – and be honest about your business – are real. Especially in leadership and in the wake of the COVID pandemic, transparency is crucial, even when it’s uncomfortable. 

Talking about your organization’s imperfect record with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can be difficult, but these conversations are important. Stakeholders need to see not only results but also your intent and your ability to both identify challenges and devise solutions to reach your goals. 

As you face these difficult conversations, whether they happen with employees or your directors, it’s important to remember that DEI is no different than other pillars of your business, like sales, marketing, finance, or operations. We set goals in all these areas that we sometimes achieve and sometimes miss. DEI isn’t a quick fix. It’s a daily practice that should be woven into every department, process, strategy, and level of your organization.

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Keep in mind that DEI is something you build. No organization has ever arrived at its full potential for impact and growth, and they never will, as DEI evolves over time. Below are a couple of ways to communicate these ideas with your organization.

  1. Be transparent about your goals and gaps. Openly communicate your organization’s past successes, mistakes, and failures while reiterating your commitment to progress. In all communications about DEI, focus on the present actions you are taking and the goals you’ve set to gauge success. Following this advice keeps you future-focused, so you are acknowledging the past but not dwelling on it. 
  2. Model a growth mindset by admitting what you don’t know. Communicate honestly with your stakeholders – but with a continued emphasis on your intention for future improvements. You’ll find that this level of openness and vulnerability will galvanize collaboration, rather than criticism. It takes everyone, including your board, clients, employees, and shareholders, to hold the organization accountable for progress over time.

Following these two points of advice in your DEI-related communications will help your stakeholders realize the authenticity of your commitment and help you earn the trust that is necessary to achieve your DEI goals over a reasonable period of time (think 3-5 years, not 3-5 months).

One final note: remember this advice isn’t a license to take your foot off the gas and go easy on DEI goals. It’s about being ambitious, setting high expectations, celebrating your victories, and if there are setbacks, reassuring everyone involved that you remain steadfast and committed. 

Also remember that while leadership in DEI should start at the very top of the organization, at the C-suite and board levels, your ultimate success depends on keeping everyone engaged and continuing forward together. No CEO or executive director can will an organization to succeed in any area of the business on their own, and DEI is certainly no different. The better you communicate along every step of the journey, the more you’ll find your stakeholders are dedicated to your success in DEI too.

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With an academic background in literature and linguistics, Roxanne Bellamy, CDE, loves exploring the intersection between the words we choose and the way we see the world.

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