For many organisations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives have transitioned from a novel concept to a strategic imperative. Yet, despite growing awareness, significant progress remains elusive. A 2023 McKinsey report found that while 70% of companies have established DEI programs, only 8% believe they are truly effective. This disconnect begs the question: are we stuck in a leadership paradigm that hinders genuine progress?
Data collected from a recent UWI event suggests a widespread focus on awareness-raising and education within the DEI field, while highlighting a potential gap in competency-based leadership. While current DEI leader archetypes contribute valuable perspectives, they often operate in silos, leading to disjointed efforts and limited impact. Moreover, their focus on individual behaviours or surface-level solutions can neglect the need for systemic change and addressing ingrained organisational structures.
The journey towards true inclusion requires a data-driven and proactive approach. This future-oriented model, the Competency & Compliance DEI leader, emphasises both compliance and competency, creating a holistic and measurable framework for progress.
Beyond the Limitations of Current Archetypes
A recent audience poll during the ‘Are DEI Agendas Dying or Already Dead’ webinar revealed a fascinating distribution of DEI leader archetypes: 66% identified as Ambassadors, 20% as Educators, and 13% as Policymakers. Notably, none chose the Guardian archetype. But, what are these archetypes and what do they mean?
The Guardian: Focused on shielding the organisation from legal challenges or reputational damage, this reactive role prioritises compliance over proactive change. While risk management is essential, solely reacting to external pressures limits strategic DEI initiatives and fails to move the dial on true inclusion.
The Policymaker: This leader crafts well-meaning policies on paper, but often lacks the critical engagement and follow-through necessary for systemic change. Policies without effective implementation become performative gestures, failing to address underlying biases and cultural issues. Policy alone cannot drive lasting change.
The Ambassador: A passionate advocate for diversity, this archetype excels at winning hearts and minds, raising awareness and promoting inclusivity initiatives. However, without robust data and metrics to guide their efforts, excluding compliance overlooks the importance of reinforcement and accountability.
The Educator: Focused on training and workshops, this leader seeks to fill knowledge gaps they perceive as the sole barrier to progress. While education is invaluable, it forms only part of a culture change agenda. Education without action is incomplete. Just because someone is educated does not mean they will act. We cannot simply bring horses to water and expect them to drink.
So, we asked the panellists of the same event what DEI leaders needed to do differently. Here’s what they said:
Founder & CEO of Competence Centre for Workplace Equity (formerly Good Soil Leaders)
“…it’s fair to say that companies that are sustainable do grow, have people who know what they’re doing at the table. Okay. Even if visually, demographically, they look a certain way. And so it’s really about making sure that we’re a competency based one. And two, we are really taking a non-political ideologically neutral approach to this work. And I know that can also be confronting because historically the idea has been that you need to be an activist and advocate, all of those things. But what organisations really need is somebody who is competent and has a strong steer on business transformations and how we achieve them.”
“…most importantly for me is the fact that we are uniquely competitive, competitively advantageous as human beings… But what we have lost in the past 250 years and 100 years of business theory, is that group and group dynamic matters. That transparent truth needs to be held by a team and not by a person… Because there’s one particular measure, as we do in evolutionary theory, we look at in any competitive system, which is does data, information, knowledge, skills, tools or competency move to the point of maximum competitive advantage as fast as possible? If it doesn’t, you’re not. And I believe the underlying challenge for DEI could be to deliver that. Because if you do, you will own competitive advantage for your business.”
“…we don’t need an activist. We don’t need somebody who’s like raising the fight. We need somebody that deeply understands how to drive transformation, how to get arm in arm with their colleagues and the executives and their teams and have everybody see that beautiful story that we’re trying to create, right. For the long term and get people hooked on that and understanding why it’s good and why it’s good for everybody, for you. For everybody.”
The New Paradigm: The Competency & Compliance Leader
What is clear is the need for a new approach to DEI leadership that prioritises:
- Building DEI competency: Developing a profound understanding of business transformations and driving sustainable change.
- Data-driven decision making: Utilising data to identify DEI gaps, inform strategies, and measure progress towards clear objectives.
- Focus on organisational change: Recognising and dismantling systemic barriers within the organisation’s culture, policies, and practices.
- Integration with business objectives: Aligning DEI goals with overall business strategies for lasting impact and stakeholder buy-in.
- Building organisational accountability: Fostering a culture of accountability at all levels, driving ownership and action beyond leadership teams.
By embracing a competency and compliance-driven leadership model, organisations can move beyond archetypes and towards tangible progress on their DEI journey. This holistic approach, grounded in data, accountability, and organisational change, holds the key to unlocking the full potential of a diverse workforce and creating a truly inclusive workplace for all.
Did you miss the webinar? Watch the full recording here.