Blog Post

What Is Transformative DEI Change—and How Can Your Company Achieve It?

By Stefanie McNamara
May 5, 2022

We Talked to 30 Chief Diversity Officers to Find Out.

Most diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders strive for “transformative change” within their organizations, but how will corporations know when they’ve achieved this goal? Last month, we convened 30 Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) from around the globe for our inaugural CDO Collaborative Roundtable to discuss this very question. During our conversation, these CDOs pointed toward three indicators that would signal this transformation.

Indicator One: Every Business Unit Is Held Accountable for DEI

In order to truly embed DEI into an organization’s culture and reach the point of transformative change, companies need meaningful metrics as well as the willingness and courage to use the data to hold themselves and their leaders accountable for their diversity goals and results. But while metrics are important, they are insufficient on their own to promote business unit change. In a DEI-enabled model, where ownership and accountability exist across functions, each division has DEI goals, and business and talent leaders are held accountable by linking compensation and performance evaluations to DEI progress. This connection signals that DEI is imperative to the business and helps cascade accountability throughout the organization.

Indicator Two: Diversity is Represented at Every Level in the Organization

When we talk about diversity in the workplace, many focus on increasing representation at the most senior levels of leadership. But our CDOs agree that transformative change can only be reached when there is diversity at every level of the organization, from entry level to the c-suite and executive boards.

This diversity can only be achieved when there is a diverse pipeline of job candidates to hire from, so a focus needs to be placed on recruiting practices. Hiring managers and HR teams need to fully understand the organization’s DEI strategy and goals, and do the work necessary to mitigate bias in the interview process.

“It means breaking down the hierarchy to be inclusive—it means having diverse voices at every level,” one CDO told us.

Indicator Three: DEI Is No Longer a Stand-Alone Topic

Transformational change is achieved when DEI is so engrained in the culture of an organization that it’s not thought of as a stand-alone topic—it’s a “concept in how we do business.” At this point in the transformative change process, DEI is part of everything from hiring practices and client interactions to communications and learning and development programs. ALL employees at all levels feel a responsibility to help shape the culture of their company and, as a result, are conditioned to notice the inequities that do exist. The CDO is a trusted partner and advisor, not the go-to for every issue. Instead of “helping” the DEI team, employees take it upon themselves to say, “This is what I’m doing to advance DEI.” As one CDO said, organizations will know they’ve reached transformative change when they “no longer have to write a checklist.”

DEI progress has been a slow journey for most organizations around the world, and to lead change, CDOs have to define what that change actually looks like. CDOs continue to express authentic hope for real progress which helps keep the momentum alive. They believe transformative change can happen, and that confidence is half the battle.

To learn more about Seramount’s CDO Collaborative and to understand if your organization’s DEI priorities are a good match, please contact Martha Baum.

About the Author

Stefanie McNamara
Director, Marketing Communications