Best Practices

Diversity & Inclusion Infrastructure Councils—Best Practices at Global Organizations

September 2019

A diversity and inclusion (D&I) council is a group of employees, including senior leaders or executives, that acts on behalf of the company to jumpstart and manage the diversity and inclusion process.

The Council works closely with senior leaders to ensure tight alignment with the organization’s overall business strategy and to help institutionalize human capital practices that support and accelerate D&I goals.

The D&I Council helps create strategic accountability for results, provides governance and oversight on diversity efforts, and promotes company-wide communication on progress. The best councils successfully integrate the D&I program with the company’s mission, operations, strategies, and business objectives.

Diversity councils are a critical driver in fostering real organizational change, establishing a dedicated focus on diversity and inclusion priorities, and managing the D&I program. Moreover, they provide platforms for overseeing and assessing the effectiveness of the D&I function and introducing reform when needed.

This report offers information on the importance of a D&I Council, how to build one and best practices at global organizations.

Building an Effective D&I Council

Support From the Top is Critical

Senior leadership support is vital for diversity council success; without it, councils are unlikely to achieve their goals. While composition of diversity councils can vary from council to council, engagement from senior-level management—ideally the CEO—is necessary if councils are to fulfill their mandate. When CEO leadership is not possible, other senior executives should lead and participate on the team. Because diversity councils are responsible for and accountable to top executive teams, senior leaders play a critical role in providing direction with respect to the council’s mission, strategy, and deliverables.

Link to Business Strategy

Councils must clearly link the organization’s diversity strategy with the overall business strategy to emphasize the importance of diversity in and to the organization. It is not enough for an organization to say, “We should look more diverse because customers like that.” Rather, it’s important to ask, “How can we better reflect our diverse customer base, thus providing them with better service, care, and products?”

Importance of Diverse Representation

Many diversity councils are designed to address gaps in representation or inclusion for specific demographic groups, including women, racially/ethnically diverse individuals, and people with disabilities. Other councils address diversity and inclusion more broadly and consider every member to represent some aspect of diversity: dimensions may include organizational role or level, educational background, communication or management style, geographic location, and demographic group.

A diversity council’s members should mirror the diversity within the organization. Councils should be composed of individuals of different genders, generations, departments, and/or other dimensions of diversity. Leaders of employee resource groups may also be part of the council.

Councils may include individuals with diversity expertise who do not work for the organization; these outsiders can provide expertise or offer a customer’s perspective in council discussions.

Tapping a cross-section of thought leaders who represent the full breadth of functional expertise can help an organization clarify the meaning of D&I and its importance to the organization’s overall culture and business strategy.

Building Your Diversity & Inclusion Council

Diversity councils are often chaired by the CEO, jointly chaired by the CEO and CDO, or solely by the CDO. In all of these cases, the CEO visibly champions the Council’s work.

It is vital to have the right people involved on the D&I Council. The typical council member is a well connected, very well-respected, highly influential leader. He or she has a great deal of knowledge regarding the organization itself, the challenges and issues associated with specific business units, and has intimate knowledge of the concerns associated with how work gets done.

As a group, the D&I Council reflects a balanced representation of the business. The organization’s leaders work side-by-side with council members to ensure that the overall business plan is fully aligned with the diversity and inclusion strategy.

Through the work of the councils, leaders co-create diversity and inclusion goals, monitor outcomes
and strategy execution, and report progress to company leaders and the organization overall.

Sample D&I Council Responsibilities

Responsibilities of the D&I Council should be included in the charter. Responsibilities may include:
• Assist the CEO/CDO in creation of the D&I strategy and key milestones
• Embed the diversity and inclusion function across the enterprise with strong connections to business units and operational divisions
• Clearly delineate diversity roles and responsibilities and provide for ongoing assessment to ensure effectiveness
• Broadly build and share knowledge on D&I successes and impact – build the case for D&I!
• Work with Learning department to identify specific D&I education content to be included in employee training and professional development
• Identify D&I barriers that impact recruitment, retention and advancement, recruitment, training, and key assignments
• Create content and custom D&I messages for the Communications team to deliver to leadership, middle managers, and the general employee population
• Act as change agents for the organization – challenge the status quo – champion D&I and promote the company as an employer of choice

One Size Does Not Fit All

D&I Councils come in many forms and have a variety of structures and names. For the most part, there are two basic types:

Usually led by the chairman, CEO or chief diversity officer, executive diversity councils are made up of senior vice presidents, vice presidents, business-unit heads or other high-level leaders from all of the key company’s business functions or core businesses. In general, this council develops the comprehensive, integrated diversity strategy that drives company best practices, goals and objectives, and monitors the company’s progress against those goals and objectives.

Designed to provide greater representation of the diversity of a company’s workforce, advisory or
regional diversity councils are often larger than executive diversity councils. An organization may create several such councils to represent multiple business units, locations, or operational components. These councils implement the diversity strategy and policies established by the executive council. They are also responsible for advising company leadership on the company’s diversity and inclusion needs and the progress of diversity initiatives throughout the organization.

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