When we’re talking about DEI, we often hear the word ‘buy-in’ a lot. And while it might sound like business jargon, the simple truth is that without the right support and resources across your entire organisation, your well-intentioned DEI efforts may not come to fruition.
Getting buy-in, and establishing diversity and inclusion as a strategic objective, are essential for making measurable progress.
In this post, Erica D’Eramo, founder and CEO of DEI consultancy Two Piers Consulting, explains why buy-in is so crucial to furthering your diversity and inclusion efforts, and suggests three practical ways DEI leaders can get it.
While the term ‘buy-in’ takes its origins in stock trading, in DEI it’s used to describe an active willingness to participate in and support an effort or plan.
This usually means gaining the support of key stakeholders within your organisation, including senior leaders, board members, members of the HR team, and any other employee groups, such as managers and department leaders.
Getting buy-in means that you have people on side ready to support and participate in your DEI strategy. When your goal is to embed DEI as a long-term strategy, rather than focusing on short-term initiatives like changing quotas, buy-in means your efforts have a greater chance of becoming a part of the fabric of the organisation with meaningful impact.
3 practical strategies for gaining buy-in
When looking for support on your DEI strategy, you need to communicate the compelling case as to why you’re doing this, and why now. Tailoring your message to different stakeholders and demonstrating the connection to their key goals and motivations will be crucial.
“It’s counterintuitive, but when organisations say they are embarking on a DEI journey simply because it is the ‘right’ thing to do, that’s a red flag,” Erica says. “Giving away all your profits might also be an ethical thing to do, but unless you’re a non-profit, that’s not likely on the table.. In reality, it’s about demonstrating how DEI fits into the overall strategy.”
Here are Erica’s 3 strategies to gain buy-in.
1. Don’t shy away from the business case.
While it may feel uncomfortable, Erica says connecting your DEI strategy to the business case is necessary in order to drum up support for sustainable change.
“DEI practitioners often find themselves in a double-bind where it seems taboo to talk about the business side of DEI, because we should be doing it for ethical reasons,” she notes. “It’s almost like talking about the fact that it’s good for business performance cheapens it.
“Let’s take another analogy: When we talk about health and safety, for example, we all agree that not hurting people is good for business, and is indicative of operational discipline. Nobody can argue with that. We really need to shift into that kind of mindset when talking about DEI.”
DEI can be both the right thing to do, and a smart business decision. Communicating how it ties into an organisation’s strategic objectives will ensure DEI leaders get proper support and centre it as a business priority.
“As a business, your goals might be focused on creating a good product, driving revenue, or increasing shareholder value,” Erica says. “When communicating your DEI efforts, they need to be aligned with those goals if they are going to be sustainable. Organisations should communicate what it means to leaders, how it impacts the business, and speak in a language that resonates with decision makers. That drives real results.”
2. Tailor your message for stakeholders to connect to what they care about.
When working to gain buy-in from other internal stakeholders at a department or team level, Erica says success lies in finding common ground. Instead of going with the overall business case, you’re going to want to tailor your message to their key concerns, priorities, and goals, according to your sector.
In the Product department, for example, you could connect DEI’s importance to creating a more inclusive product offering. With your Compliance team, you might want to link it to CSR or ethics objectives.
“DEI will differ in importance for people,” Erica says. “You need to get curious and creative about what resonates most with them. What do they value? What are their goals? What drives their team or department? Finding those touchpoints will help them draw a connection between their role and priorities and your DEI initiatives. Think about the priorities that are embedded in their department culture or goals. That’s where you need to start.”
3. Set metrics and goals that respond to strategic objectives.
Numbers don’t lie. And whether you’re trying to get buy-in from senior leaders or department heads, expressing DEI in terms of goals, KPIs, and metrics that matter to each will be critical for gaining support across the organisation.
“You need to get really clear about your measures of success and how they tie into the business,” Erica says. “That doesn’t mean tracking performative indicators, like increasing your percentage of employees of colour by a certain amount. It means being explicit and specific about which leading and lagging indicators you plan to measure, and why they matter so that you’re incentivising the right behaviours. It’s about building a vision of how your efforts will impact the business.”