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How to Talk to Leadership about DEI—and Get Them to Listen!

A lot of the clients that we work with often approach us with the same challenge, “We know the value and importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, but how do we convince our leaders?” or, “We have talked about having DEI and bias training in our organization previously, but it is still difficult to get buy-in from leaders!” We tend to tell them the same thing—without convincing reasons that leadership can agree with, it is unlikely that a DEI program will get started in your organization and that doing the same thing and expecting different result is unproductive.

Simply stating the benefits of DEI is not enough to convince leaders to invest time and resources in these initiatives. It is important to use language that resonates with senior management, such as highlighting the financial benefits, expanding into new markets, lowering recruiting and retention costs, and enhancing the company’s reputation. Use language that acknowledges the things that keep them up at night.

Ultimately, the key to getting a DEI program underway is for leadership to see the benefit and make the commitment. It can be the innovation of a cross functional team, the recruiting support offered by an employee resource group (ERG), or the assistance attaining community support. By providing (and getting) concrete examples of how DEI has, and will continue to, benefit the company, you can build a compelling case for investing in a comprehensive DEI training program.

To make a persuasive case for investing in a DEI training program, provide concrete examples of how DEI has already benefited the company and how it will continue to do so. Organizations should approach DEI training in the same way they approach training programs related to security, quality, safety, or customer service—which are essential for bottom-line profits or financial savings. It is not a “nice-to-have” program, but a necessary one.

The same challenge exists with approaching leadership about implementing DEI programs. Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, and former attorney who offers five strategies to convince leadership about new programs or initiatives within an organization—1. Think like a senior leader; 2. Express desires, not demands; 3. Explain the why behind the what; 4. Stay publicly loyal; and 5. Be outstanding at what you do.*

By using these strategies when speaking with leadership, especially the first three with regards to DEI, you are bound to get better results than using language or strategies that force leadership to answer “no” or “not now.”

When talking with leadership it is also important to first listen and understand what they know and more importantly, what they believe about DEI. If they have had bad experiences in the past, or look at it as a very narrowly targeted program without a return on investment (ROI), first, let them know you hear them and then, help them see that just like the early large, heavy cell phone, things have changed for the better since the early days of DEI training.

One approach would be to use specific language and key phrases or buzzwords to help those tasked with creating a DEI program in your organization, convince executives to accept and embrace the programs:

  1. Turnover and retention can be improved with DEI programs—even if organizations are reducing staff, you don’t want to lose your best talent who either “retire at their desks” or walk out the door on Friday and never return.
  2. Employee Creativity—Happier employees make more productive employees. Those organizations that embrace diversity of cultures, races, genders, ethnicities, etc., have greater creativity vis-à-vis their competition who don’t embrace employee differences.
  3. Competitiveness—McKinsey & Co. has proven in several studies that those organizations that embrace and implement DEI programs perform better financially than those that do not.
  4. Gaining New Customers—regardless of your industry or size, customers are certainly looking at your DEI Statement and the DEI representation on your website. Leaders that believe that this is not an issue should review recent U.S. Government Census information and demographic changes occurring in the U.S. And who better to provide insights into the new and evolving customer base than your employees.
  5. Attracting and retaining the next generation of employees—If your organization is struggling to find qualified employees, then it is vitally important that you have a DEI program in place in your organization. Millennials and Gen Z’ers use your DEI information as an important part of their decision to explore your opportunities.

Ultimately, the success of a DEI program depends on the commitment of the entire organization, including senior leadership. By demonstrating why DEI is important in the workforce, workplace, and marketplace, and using language that upper management understands, organizations can increase the likelihood of getting leadership to embrace any proposed DEI program.

Chris Morin, MBA (He/Him/His) is the Senior Director of Operations and a Lead Consultant in the DEI Audits division at Ascension Worldwide ( For more information, contact him at or 202-744-5233.

Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, MSSW (She/Her/Hers) is Owner & Principal of the R. T. O’Neale Group ( For more information, contact her at or (443) 862-2220.