8 Risks New DEI Executives Should Watch Out For

As DEI executives managing through transitions think about crafting a vision and delivering on it, they confront a shared set of strategy, planning, and operational risks.

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While new DEI executives are experiencing a broad window of support at their organizations, a higher profile, and more resources, they’re also facing some pretty big complications. The common denominator? Pressure. The same pressure that’s creating the opportunity is causing some companies to act in unconsidered and uncoordinated ways. In some cases, this has meant preventable mistakes and self-inflicted injuries.

Our team has spent quite a bit of time thinking about the major risks new DEI executives face, particularly the controllable ones. Check out our top 8 and how leaders can navigate them.

Mandate mismatch risks result from charter misinterpretation– potentially underestimating or overestimating your scope of action. This can happen for a number of reasons, ranging from general confusion in the executive suite to mixed messages from people in different parts of the company. This is especially true of companies in which lofty organizational DEI commitments don’t match allocated resources. 

Contextual risks occur from overlooking the past or misreading the present social environment– not knowing why your company looks and behaves the way it does. Integrating a new DEI plan into existing organizational culture is a challenge, especially when hired from the outside. The upside of internal lateral appointments is that the executives often already know the organizational culture well. If you’re a new leader, do you understand your company’s history and experience with DEI issues? 

Prioritization and Sequencing risks are basically about doing things out of order. Within newer DEI functions, the early days are for establishing DEI as a business strategy rather than an individual HR program or initiative. But this level of integration requires differentiating between those efforts which require a cumulative build and those which need to be done before others can be started.

Resourcing risks are, well, what they sound like— having too few resources or—more often—the wrong kind of resources (people, money, information, access, relationships, whatever) for the job you’re trying to do. Not anticipating inadequate or poorly allocated resources can leave you frustrated and unable to drive substantial change. 

Messaging risks can cause big problems when there isn’t clear, consistent communication from the DEI leader and any other appropriate executives to the rest of the company about “What we’re really trying to do here, for whom and why.” It’s easy to assume that the right messages have been sent and received by the right people, but early misunderstandings have a way of growing over time.

Integration risks involve missing opportunities to incorporate DEI considerations in appropriate processes and systems across the company. Or about choosing the wrong ones. Or executing badly. The idea is to make targeted changes that have large effects over time, but there are several ways for this idea to go wrong if DEI isn’t working closely with process and system owners to get the results the company wants.

Programming and Execution risks are relatively straightforward. Sometimes these are the result of misreading the intended beneficiaries or audience. Other times they have to do with factors like promotion and outreach, vendor selection, or quality assurance.

There are many types of Distraction, Dilution, and Fragmentation risks for DEI leaders to contend with. These are the mortal enemies of long-haul DEI efforts because they all sap the energy of the DEI organization and can knock you off course. Many times they stem from outside events or internal mini-crises, but they can also result from an inability to prioritize or focus that simply spreads the organization too thin.

So what steps can you take to manage these kinds of risks? DEI executives can use a checklist like this to successfully land a transition:

Ten point checklist for new DEI executives looking to manage the risk that comes with transitions.

As the responsibilities of Chief Diversity Officers expand in the face of increased demand from internal and external stakeholders, it is crucial to mitigate risk early on. Disconnect between DEI mandates, organizational culture and business objectives from the offset risk eroding the long-term sustainability of CDO efforts. In the context of the Great Resignation, shorter tenures and higher employee movement makes for an unstable CDO market. Therefore, understanding a comprehensive risk management framework is necessary to creating success in early days. 

Ideascape’s CDO Onboarding Framework supports you in aligning with the complex matrix of functions (core HR, marketing, comp & ben, etc) within your organization. It’s essentially a “must-do” list for leaders navigating the onboarding process, setting you up for stability and success as you traverse a field with a high degree of turnaround.

With a personalized approach, we ensure that new CDOs can leverage their onboarding to reduce risk and create opportunities from day one.

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