DEIJ Mini Series Part 2: Leadership Buy-In for Your Organization’s DEIJ Goals

Gaining leadership buy-in for organizational diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) goals is an important step towards organizational change. Active, authentic, empathetic and purposeful support from leadership can be the catalyst for creating sustainable impact. Rallying leaders who champion DEIJ work is imperative for moving efforts forward. While receiving leadership buy-in is helpful, leadership doesn’t always feel ready for organizational change. 

Why your leadership may not feel ready

While a readiness assessment regarding new DEIJ initiatives can be conducted for the organization, it is important to consider the role of a leader’s personal readiness in the ability to move forward. Thus, to do so, leaders within organizations need to anticipate and embrace change. While many organizations advance without a high level of readiness from their leaders, they often experience roadblocks along the way.  

Staff who represent marginalized identities and their allies may want to see action from their leaders on issues that matter most to them—and real, systemic change. It is critical that leaders have a willingness to push beyond their own comfort level to make things happen. Talk is not enough for today’s savvy employee who expects meaningful, timely and relevant action. However, a leader who is ready and truly believes in the work is better equipped to keep things moving forward when the work gets hard, and not be swayed by pushback or obstacles (which are inevitable).

What if there is resistance from leadership?

If you receive pushback from leadership, it is important first to recognize that this type of resistance often manifests as denial, disengagement, derailment, fear, politics and misunderstanding. 

Responding to pushback should include transparent communication about “why” DEIJ is an important focus within your organization. Being open and clear about DEIJ benefits will allow  people to understand its purpose and will invite conversations for continued dialogue. Having a shared understanding that people are different, yet fundamentally similar provides a basis for DEIJ being more than just about race and gender but being about the shared humanity that is necessary in advancing a mission of connectedness. Being intentional about how the staff and organization can improve because of DEIJ is essential to gaining buy-in. It is also critical to meet people where they are when launching any DEIJ initiative. 

Fear is a natural part of this work. However, supporting staff with resources, conversations and a plan can assist in alleviating initial hesitancy. Understand that some leaders and staff may not be personally ready to do the work, and that’s okay. But if this reveals a misalignment in the values of your organization and those of the employee and leads to their unwillingness to contribute to the organization’s vision, then accountability measures must take place.

Be mindful of the business case

Several factors motivate leaders to focus on DEIJ. When it comes to DEIJ, it is always the “right” thing or time to lean in. It is also a smart business decision regarding fiscal performance. When packaging and communicating an effective business case, consider these different motivating factors as it relates to your organization. Ultimately, you want to clearly communicate the need as well as all the benefits and opportunities that come from deepening a commitment to DEIJ. 

What are some actionable steps to gain leadership buy-in?

We suggest using the PATH model to start taking intentional action toward implementing DEIJ initiatives within the organization. PATH stands for Partner with people, Ask questions, Trust lived experiences, Hold leadership accountable. 

What could be at risk by delaying DEIJ initiatives? 

What if you start proposing some of the action steps above and you are still faced with resistance on initiating the DEIJ journey? 

It is important to remember that delaying the process of creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workspace risks the overall stability of your organization. This delay can lead to premature staff resignations, instability, unproductivity, bitterness, distrust, uncertainty and incivility within the work environment. It can also create a rift between staff and leadership. These all can contribute to an impact on the organizational culture and brand, loss of revenue and more.

Why trust our expertise?

Our DEIJ team is composed of organizational psychologists, facilitators, licensed master-level social workers, HR experts, former teachers, and leadership and development experts. We work as a team of diverse facilitators, coaches, analysts and project managers to assess and implement organizational change through DEIJ strategies.

We believe that when DEIJ initiatives are implemented with intention, there is increased work productivity, greater innovation, a positive culture shift, stronger financial performance, stronger employee retention and stronger mission impact. Our team understands that making DEIJ a priority is essential to the overall success of each organization. 

Learn more about this topic! Access the accompanying webinar recording here.

Read Part 1 in the DEIJ Mini Series on Shifting Culture and Systems for Organizational Change.

Contributing Authors

Bryan W. Jackson provides subject matter expert advice, insight and strategic direction to clients. He oversees complex client engagements, manages projects to completion and designs and facilitates DEI training solutions and assessment services to partners and stakeholders. Read full bio.

Steven Krzanowski has developed and executed diversity, equity and inclusion programs and strategies throughout his career in the higher education and nonprofit sectors. In his current role, Steven works with industry leaders as a thought partner to uncover inequities in organizational systems, address gaps in knowledge and skills related to DEI for staff and constituents and develop intentional, data-driven, actionable outcomes to advance DEI initiatives. Read full bio.