Factors in Designing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program

Organizations continue to recognize the benefits of a diverse team: broader talent pools, deeper dialogue, more holistic views of the customer perspective, and more complete decision-making. To better define and implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, organizations are conducting assessments, bringing in training and implementing changes on both systemic and personal levels.

In this article, we focus on organizational factors that managers should consider when examining their approach to DEI initiatives.

Knowing Where to Act

When implementing DEI initiatives, it is important to acknowledge the complex interplay between social systems and individual people. Systemic racism and structures that continue to marginalize underserved populations absolutely need to be confronted and changed – and recognizing how those systems and structures emerged – the history, and the history before the history – can help highlight future points of responsibility.


Systemic and structural inequities have been created over time, and require fundamental changes in governance, investment and decision-rights at organizational levels.  Inequities also need to be addressed at the team and personal level.

However, conflating social responsibility and personal responsibility into one category can cause problems for those implementing DEI programs, because individuals may feel overwhelmed and defensive about being responsible for correcting decade old harms – leading them to shut down and stop listening.

Given this, when designing a DEI program, it is important to clearly define goals, where those goals live, and who owns those goals. Here are some examples of goals that would be owned at a management level, or by an internal advisory or governance service team:

  • If the organization wants to change its recruiting program, it should consider introducing system-wide changes in how it recruits, such as establishing relationships with diversity-focused associations, posting jobs in new forums, launching new internship programs and changing interview procedures to fight unintended bias (e.g., such as diverse panels and different interviewing techniques).  It is not fair to blame individual supervisors when candidate pools are not diverse if the organization is not helping to break down the barriers that discourages that diversity.
  • Updating recruiting approaches might also include rethinking job descriptions to create new roles that emphasize transferrable skills, supported by career path planning that integrates specialized technical training to facilitate advancement. This might broaden the pool of candidates that may be a fit for new jobs, but often requires institutional work, not individual supervisory action.
  • If the organization is concerned about salary inequities, it should invest in reviewing its compensation program and not hold individual managers accountable if a diverse candidate does not accept a position.

These types of activities relate to governance, policies and organizational procedures, and while they would be carried out by individuals across the organization, they are distinct from goals that would be owned at a supervisory or staff level. Bridging the differences between systems and people could include:

  • Providing training on interviewing skills, emotional intelligence and active listening
  • Providing checklists and resource lists on how to advertise specific positions when available to reach a broader pool
  • Making it easy to offer reasonable accommodations for interviews, so setting them up doesn’t represent a hurdle in hiring
  • Ensuring implementation of policies and procedures set by governance teams
  • Centrally establishing and advertising internship programs to bring in new talent to place where it is needed across the organization, without further burdening supervisors with doing the legwork to find these temporary hire

The distinction here is that it is not fair to hold individual supervisors responsible for taking policy actions that really need to be addressed at a broader organizational level. Yes, we must all be responsible for taking the actions we can to shape change – but goals and actions should be established in a way that actually matches the level of power and responsibility in the organization.

Designing Training To Build Skills

When designing DEI training – which is often a part of organizational DEI efforts – it is important to recognize that good intentions can have negative effects. Unfortunately, the positioning of some DEI training can lead people to become defensive before the training even starts. Consider the following unintended consequences, which many have seen in their own organizations:

  • Opening a DEI training by talking about systemic oppression and decades of structural inequality may lead supervisors to feel blamed for a situation they don’t feel they caused. This can lead to resentment about being there, which does not support openness and learning.
  • Telling people that they have “unconscious bias” may lead to a sense of disempowerment, as people feel they can’t really make the unconscious more visible. Also, communicating to people right at the start of a training that they are clearly biased and just don’t know it, is not a way to create an environment and spirit that encourages the personal changes that best come when people feel safe and self-confident.
  • Talking about the need for more diversity at the higher levels of the organization may lead people with visible sources of diversity to worry about whether they are getting promoted because of their talent, or to “check a box.”

One way to mitigate these challenges is to focus on skills, and how they support both professional growth and the organization’s mission. Focusing people on a shared future can help avoid imposing or projecting fault or guilt. This means it is important for organization leaders to think carefully about the positioning and messaging associated with DEI programs – and to make sure that any external trainers understand how the DEI work fits within the broader culture and DEI skills development journey. Trainers themselves must be sensitive to possible sources of resistance, and understand how well-intended content may be negatively perceived by the very people they want to support and impact.

Organization Projects to Enhance DEI Awareness and Application

For organizations starting up, assessing, or recalibrating a DEI program, here are some points to consider.

  • A strategic planning approach can be applied to assess the current environment and design a formal organization Diversity and Inclusion initiative. This could start with better understanding perceptions and current activities that support diversity and inclusion, and identifying champions to advance the work.
  • If you have a Diversity and Inclusion program, use a strategic assessment and planning process to see how it is going. Where is your focus and where could you expand?  How have key measures of progress changed over time? If you do not have measures, how could you create them?

Pryor Learning’s seminars on Strategic Thinking and Planning and Strategic Goal-Setting can be applied in your planning work to integrate Diversity and Inclusion within the broader organizational context, helping to make both the business case and personal case for change.

If your interest is in recruiting a more diverse team, which is often a goal, here are some ideas:

  • Set up a job fair or seminar in a community that is new to your organization and that may hold new forms of talent.
  • Invite a local group or local leaders in for a round table on community engagement and diversity awareness.
  • Consider how you might redefine roles in the organization, or where you could consolidate administrative, data entry, quality assurance and other tasks into more entry level jobs that do not require specific forms of technical expertise to start. This can be a great way to bring in new talent.

For example, one organization we worked with established an internship program with a local university for the deaf – this was a dedicated program with the supporting infrastructure put in place to easily accommodate those students for part-time work while in the school.  This provided a natural pipeline of talent for the organizations, and gave the students a chance they might not have otherwise had.

Some interns end up developing additional skills and become permanent employees, while others use the experience to find work elsewhere in a different field of interest. The organization has also started teaching sign language classes in-house to help build inclusiveness, so the interns feel more involved, and supervisors can communicate more effectively.

Next Steps: Pryor Resources

Pryor Learning offers more than 30 learning modules on Diversity and Inclusion topics, with real-time practical tips.  Examples of public or on-site workshops include Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace; the training Understanding and Developing Cultural Diversity; and the seminar How to Manage Diversity in the Workplace.

These courses can help your organizations invite multiple perspectives; engage people from different backgrounds; and identify ways to avoid judging people based on their characteristics. Awareness goes a long way toward change.  Courses can also help you understand the legal dynamics involved when discrimination occurs, and how to avoid it. Diversity and Inclusion topics highlight organizational and institutional opportunities, and heighten personal self-awareness and engagement – critical skills for today’s leaders.