CEO Insider

Five Invisible Components of Effective DEI Work That All CEOs Must Consider

You are a top-notch CEO, CFO, COO, Senior Executive and/or all others in leadership roles… and you are frustrated and disappointed that with all the money and time that you have given to DEI, there is still no measurable change- even though your organization managed to make the list Top 100 places to work. So, what is missing? 

There are five key components of effective diversity work that are invisible but essential to success in diversity, equity, and inclusion work.  Without these five components, chances of the DEI work in your organization living up to its espoused values and reaching its goal, are not good.

These five components include:

Time: To understand why DEI needs to become part of every business decision will take time for people to understand and execute. It will, like riding a bike, become easier but not without significant effort and reflection. The time needed to internalize and actualize DEI principles is critical to real behavior change and is certainly more than just time spent in formal training. DEI needs to ultimately become a factor of every business decision but without significant time given to understand and discuss why it becomes yet another good idea on a piece of paper. Leaders need to be role models in creating this cultural norm.

Authenticity: DEI is not one of those topics where managers can be told to “fake it until they can make it”. In fact, without authentic conversations and the “hard conversations” that involve people’s truths, (the good, the bad, and the ugly), your DEI program is going nowhere that is sustainable. You can inform without authenticity, but not transform behavior. Senior leaders need to realize that people in your organization will rarely, if ever, go deeper than you do in the DEI work.  As uncomfortable and challenging as this may feel initially, it is arguably the most  critical  factor impacting the organization’s long term success with DEI. 

Vulnerability: In DEI work, it is much easier to keep a poker face, say all the right things, and smile, than it is to be honest and therefore, vulnerable. However, even if you do not say what you are feeling, it will surface eventually in your behavior. By being vulnerable and exploring what it is true for us, we have a much better chance of understanding ourselves and others to make a better informed choice to move DEI work forward. Vulnerability builds trust and without trust, DEI work is done exclusively on the surface and never rises to make deep progress.

Altering the Status Quo: James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.  I often describe this process as ‘looking into the mirror and not liking what you see”. If DEI is done well, things will change, resources will be more equitably shared, opportunities will be distributed more fairly, and a truer meritocracy will be established. Isn’t that the culture that you were hoping for when you took the job? Do not live in fear or in yesterday’s status quo rather lead the organization to a bolder and greater future. 

Budget: This often comes down to a values conversation, and it is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road”, and it should. Quality DEI training will require a sustainable budget with ongoing resources, just like any other significant business initiative. It always amazes me when certain “traditional” expenses (like driving Porsches around remote racetracks,  and golf outings at Pebble Beach, etc.,) are never questioned but when it comes to something so impactful to the bottom line, such as DEI strategy, there are statements of support but major concerns about the budget. If you believe it is worth it, you will find the money. If you can’t/won’t  find the money, do not make it worse by espousing that you care and are committed to DEI.  Evidently you are not committed – that will not take others more than two seconds to figure that out. 

Be totally aware that whatever steps you take regarding DEI, an informed,  empowered, and educated workforce is watching. Thankfully, gone are the days when organizations could hire one diverse candidate and claim success. Analytics and valid data are on DEI’s side, with years of records to repute false claims of DEI success and or progress. The good news? All positive DEI movement will also be clear.

The value of investing wisely cannot be overstated when selecting how to proceed or recalibrate DEI work in your organization. The success of your business is in its sphere.


Written by Laura L. Kangas.
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Laura L. Kangas
Laura L. Kangas is an international DEI organizational and management development consultant, workshop and program designer, facilitator, speaker, and writer. Through her company, RiverBend Associates, Inc., she has collaboratively developed strategies and leading programs in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and other areas of individual and organizational training and development for over 25 years. Clients include Texas Instruments, Pfizer, Microsoft, Massachusetts General Brigham Hospitals, Georgia Power, Hewlett Packard, Fidelity Investments, the United Nations Credit Union, The Harvard Graduate School of Public Health, Neal & Massy Limited (Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago), The Vernā Myers Company, and many others. Her academic work has included visiting professorships at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Shanghai, China, the Isle of Man International Business School, and the Boston University Graduate School of Public Health. She is the coauthor of the new book, Diversity Training That Generates Real Change: Inclusive Approaches That Benefit Individuals, Business, and Society [Berrett-Koehler, July 26, 2022].


Laura L. Kangas is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.