Blog Post

Managing DEI as a Business: Inclusive Leadership, DEI Assessment, and Impact at Scale

By Michael Nicholson
January 18, 2024

Driving Inclusive Business Outcomes

Over the past half-decade, the business value of inclusion has been a point of constant discussion in industry research and practice. Despite this continuous conversation, the development of a new organizational structure for DEI has lagged.

Forward-thinking DEI and talent leaders are now proactively engaging with business-facing teams, introducing new management structures and inclusive leadership metrics and creating tailored plans for each function. Running DEI like a business, they’re expanding the reach of their small but mighty teams to drive measurable outcomes in the workplace and marketplace.

Integrating DEI and Business Leadership

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer report finds that business remains the only trusted institution in an increasingly polarized world. This emerging trend presents an unparalleled opportunity for DEI and Talent leaders—who are at the forefront of fostering trust in the workplace—to redefine their roles as business leaders.

To realize this objective, they are joining forces with business executives to showcase the power of DEI to tackle critical business needs and showcase the business benefits of a well-aligned social impact strategy. Now more than ever, making yourself indispensable to inclusive leadership involves creating innovative solutions to business concerns.

Establishing Inclusion Indices

Surveyed organizations consistently aimed to integrate DEI assessment into their management toolkit this year. We saw a uniform rise in the adoption of equity and inclusion indices capturing data from people leaders across key employee experience focus areas. Assessing inclusive experiences within individual business segments offers actionable insights, empowering leaders to proactively address challenges and support equitable outcomes for all.

In today’s increasingly uncertain landscape, measuring workplace inclusion generally, specifically, and swiftly is the key to transforming DEI success into business success. Our research also highlights the growing trend of automated data production facilitating on-demand updates for senior leaders. Another upward trend is the introduction of new metrics focused on neurodiverse, transgender, religious, and caregiver inclusion.

Building Effective BRGs

BRGs (Business Resource Groups) can align existing inclusion initiatives with internal and external business objectives such as increasing promotion rates or improving cultural competence about customers. To maximize performance, Seramount research suggests developing a strategic playbook, engaging industry experts and allies, and implementing performance evaluation metrics for leadership. Equally crucial is the provision of sufficient resources and infrastructure, from survey tools for gathering feedback to design resources for the creation of professional business materials.

Effectively leveraged BRGs are an organization’s secret weapon—its superpower.

– Subha Barry, President, Seramount

Leading with Lean Teams: DEI “Teams of One”

Managing DEI as a business today also requires an innovative approach to a perpetual problem: how to impact inclusion at scale. According to the 2023 Seramount Inclusion Index Survey, 47% of organizations with 500 or more employees had dedicated DEI teams consisting of five or fewer employees (the median surveyed-organization size in this group was 4,752). An average employee headcount of 8,819 at surveyed companies results in a DEI staff-to-employee ratio of between 1:1,764 to 1:8,819, akin to the ratio for a mayor of a small town.

Despite recent headlines about DEI headwinds, the number of large organizations reporting relatively small dedicated DEI teams notably declined 5% this past year, indicating that overall, the size of DEI teams is increasing. Nevertheless, significant work remains to be done when nearly half of surveyed organizations persist in maintaining DEI offices with comparatively few employees, with the average annual DEI expenditure per employee in even the world’s largest organizations at a mere $44.

The data also highlights mounting pressures on the sector, evident in the rise of a “wait and see” attitude. A substantial 40% of studied organizations reported that their DEI team size remained unchanged year over year, an increase of 25% from 2022. Meanwhile, companies reporting an expansion in team size decreased from 72% in 2022 to 51% in 2023. This trend line underscores the critical importance of leading with lean teams.

Employee Headcount and Changes in Size of Dedicated DEI Teams

number of employees size of team

Amplifying Impact with DEI Champions

DEI champion networks can amplify the business impact of small teams by developing systems of shared ownership and accountability. DEI ambassadors provide leaders invaluable cultural intelligence, aiding in the resolution of systemic inclusion concerns such as bias mitigation, root cause analysis, and program engagement.

A strong commitment to DEI knowledge-sharing creates a competitive advantage by fostering cross-functional connections. This bottom-up approach enables DEI “teams of one” to expand their influence, as executives increasingly see them as the connective tissue unifying the entire organization.

Impact at Scale: Best Practices for Equitable Assignments

From EAP ambassadors equipped to recognize the signs of emotional distress to ESG education champions, the opportunities for scaling small DEI and Talent teams are limitless. But today’s CDOs and CHROs face another distinctive challenge: how to build equitable “teams of one.” Regardless of the shape your champions network assumes, its effectiveness depends on the commitment and involvement of its members. Sustainability is achieved through equitable assignments, tapping into individuals with the passion, investment, bandwidth, and training to mentor their peers effectively. 

  • Develop highly engaging onboarding programs, newsletters, webinars, and intranet pages to expand reach.
  • Provide robust support for DEI champions and ERG leaders, including access to research and advisory services.
  • Create a centralized DEI resource hub offering champions access to ready-made content and resources.
  • Establish recognition programs, based on nominations, to acknowledge inclusion champions for their efforts.
  • Support participation in external conferences and networking events providing valuable insights to leaders.
  • Ensure that members have dedicated time, meeting space, and technology to fulfill their responsibilities.

Interested in learning more about how partnering with Seramount can help amplify your impact, cultivate inclusive leadership, and integrate DEI and business outcomes? Contact us.

About the Author

Michael Headshot
Michael Nicholson
Associate Director, Strategic Research and Product Marketing