Ask Alto : Is it time for a DE&I Manager?

November 04, 2022
Spread the word!

Ask Alto

According to LinkedIn data in 2020, the number of people globally with the corporate title Head of Diversity more than doubled (107% growth) in the previous five years. The number with the title Director of Diversity grew 75%, while Chief Diversity Officers increased by 68%. How do you know if it’s time for your organisation to appoint one, and what are the factors to consider before creating such a role? Maureen Alphonse-Charles, Senior Vice President of Talent, Diversity, and Equity at Koya Partners, part of the Diversified Search Group / AltoPartners USA, shares insights from her experience of helping organisations create a just and equitable environment for all.

What are the tell-tale signs that an organisation could benefit from having a DE&I manager?

This depends very much on the country you’re in – context is critical. While I address this work from a global, international perspective, context is critical. It often takes a crisis to push people into these spaces. In the United States – where I operate primarily – we had a big moment with George Floyd in 2020. That affected every facet of American business and caused many companies, institutions and endowments, and even NGOs to question and to be intentional about how they recruit, how they manage their staff and what they’re doing to make sure that people are not invisible. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, questions were raised, and many organisations moved from DE&I being an HR imperative to it becoming a strategic imperative and requiring a champion to ensure a comprehensive and consistent approach throughout the organisation. If people are demanding more, and better, action because they do not see any changes to the way you have been operating societally, then a dedicated DE&I role signals intentionality. This is a critical step to moving the needle when it comes to making your organisation more reflective of the community it serves.

Is there a link between DE&I and revenue streams?

Smoother interactions optimise work conditions. Addressing DE&I is about confronting and acknowledging the unconscious biases that we all hold, collectively as organisations and as individuals. If we do the work and learn more about our biases, it creates a smoother working environment. Employees are more engaged, more receptive, and more productive. It creates the space for problems to be looked at from many different perspectives, facilitating better problem-solving and helping to identify new solutions. Employees who are seen and heard are far more likely to freely volunteer solutions and innovations than those who feel marginalised or invisible.

At what level should this appointment be?

Ideally, a DE&I appointment should be a member of the executive committee, reporting directly to the CEO. Optimising your DE&I efforts means thinking about all your partnerships and constituents strategically and in an integrated way. In addition to creating pathways and access for employees, it’s also necessary to be thinking about your clients – do they have a framework to think about this so that it is synonymous with their work? How strategic are you about your vendors? How thoughtful are you about the suppliers you use? Using vendors that are easily accessible and known to the organisation may be OK on one level, but if you are serious about opening the doors and going toward your bias, it makes a lot of sense to have some entities that are not reflective of those companies you have always dealt with but are credible and aligned with the services needed.

And if you don’t have the capacity to appoint at that level?

At a minimum, organisations must make sure they are collaborating through HR as so many facets of the work sit here: recruitment, training, and the development of a glossary of terms (because language matters!). Communications is also a key partner: how do you address employees, what holidays are celebrated, how do you demonstrate your values, are employee resource groups encouraged?

What do you look for in a DE&I manager?

Someone with a track record in the discipline itself, with at least three to five years of inclusion work. Candidates would have to show that they are facilitative, and are able to promote dialogue, and that they can offer unconscious bias training, and understand strategically what needs to be done. Strong diversity leaders are also self-aware. They have done the work, and they have the authority to examine and address policies and procedures designed to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

And qualifications?

Any degree or area of study that acknowledges and respects that people are different and that they approach situations from different viewpoints. My own background is in international relations, but many other degrees promote openness and a sense of being a global citizen, such as race relations, public health/policy, education, history, legal studies, sociology, anthropology, and gender studies. Further specialisation in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and the management of differences is also a recommendation. But primarily, we look at a candidate’s track record: what have they done and is it replicable?

Should the candidate necessarily be a DE&I appointment themselves?

It’s helpful when the person doing the work has experienced the journey and also has a track record of effecting change in organisations. But a superb equity practioner or chief diversity officer, just by virtue of working with boards and NPOs, will be able to demonstrate ways in which to run searches, set up mentorship programmes, create sponsorships, and make voices heard. In this respect, their track record is critical. Have they demonstrated respect for dialogue and a knack for conflict resolution? Is it repeatable? Focusing on the candidate’s track record is a safeguard against tokenism.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give a client looking to hire a DE&I manager?

Please be open to the rising stars. Too often we fight over the same small pool of talent. Being willing to consider characteristics over requirements opens the aperture to a lot of possibilities and builds a pipeline of talent. Being open and creative and not getting caught up in the narratives makes it so much easier to identify new and creative solutions to leadership.

Maureen Alphonse-Charles
Managing Director, Executive Search AltoPartners Boston