How To Form a Diversity Committee for Your Business

Create a Place to Focus on Your D&I Efforts

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A diverse workplace can attract and retain talented employees, be more productive, foster innovation, and improve financial performance. The term diversity not only refers to gender and race, but age, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion, and political views. Taking a strategic approach to improving your business’s diversity begins when you move it from “nice to have” to “essential.” Here is how devoting time and resources to the establishment of a diversity committee or council can pay big dividends for your business’s profits and productivity. 

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of a diversity committee is to provide an advisory role, integrate initiatives, and ensure accountability on diversity and inclusion (D&I). 
  • A diversity committee should include senior management and employees at all levels and have adequate representation of underrepresented groups. 
  • To form a successful diversity committee, you need self-evaluation, support from leadership, allocation of resources, goal-setting, effective communication, and the ability to track and evaluate progress.

The Purpose of a Diversity Committee

Why a diversity committee? Katie Oertli Mooney, vice president and head of diversity best practices at professional services firm Seramount, told The Balance via email that the three most critical functions of a diversity and inclusion (D&I) committee are to:

  • Provide an advisory role on D&I efforts to ensure alignment to a broader, business-driven, results-oriented strategy.
  • Integrate the D&I initiatives across the entire business.
  • Ensure accountability for results while assessing its effectiveness and providing advice and resources when needed.

By forming a diversity committee, a business can establish the level of commitment it places on fostering a more diverse, inclusive atmosphere and can become a vehicle for catalyzing organizational change. 

In order to be effective and ensure adequate representation of all stakeholders, a diversity committee should include senior managers as well as employees at all levels of the organization.

To achieve long-term success, the goals of the committee must align with the business's overall mission, strategy, operations, and objectives. The council works to not only establish D&I goals but to assure they are applied by communicating them to all stakeholders. The employees who choose to serve on the committee can become “ambassadors” and share the work of the council with their colleagues. Most importantly, the council needs to manage and measure the initiatives and evaluate their effectiveness over time, making adjustments as needed. A business’s commitment to diversity should be a long-term commitment and not simply an effort to keep up with what is perceived as a current trend.  

When establishing the council, take time to clearly outline its responsibilities. This may entail creating a mission and vision statement, assigning leadership roles, putting in place criteria for membership, and making practical decisions on operational procedures such as how often the group will meet and where. More difficult decisions, like establishing ways to assess effectiveness, can evolve with the workload of the committee. 

How To Form a Diversity Committee

The guidelines to form a diversity committee are general in nature and should be adjusted as needed to fit your circumstances and resources. Even if you are unable to immediately put some of these recommendations into practice, you can still begin moving your business in the right direction. 

Evaluate Your Current State

Taking the time to investigate how things are done and how they may be helping or hurting your business’s ability to become more diverse is the first step in being able to make changes. It may be necessary to hire a consultant who is experienced in processing the data to identify the barriers to D&I unique to your business. Mooney offers these tips: 

  • Start with assessing your organization by getting an accurate understanding of your current state. 
  • Analyze your demographics by representations of gender, race/ethnicity, and other dimensions of diversity at each job level and include a review of your advisory boards, company growth, and job promotions. 
  • Ensure your assessment includes the voices of anonymous employees, perspectives from your leadership team, individual contributors, and new hires.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers a free diversity survey so you can see how you measure up.

Secure the Support of Leadership

When trying to make any institutional change, having the full support of the most powerful people in the organization is paramount. Board members, CEOs, CFOs, and senior managers are ultimately the ones who can enforce changes in operations, and having these leaders as members of the committee can also help expand its knowledge base and visibility. 

Furnish Resources

If fostering D&I is truly a company-wide effort, the initiative should have the necessary resources (and the budget for them) to succeed, including hiring consultants, providing training, allocating meeting spaces, and covering the costs of overtime hours for employees.

Identify and Appoint Members

In addition to having leadership on the committee, it’s important to populate the committee with employees who provide adequate representation of underrepresented groups. The committee should have a membership that is diverse in age, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, political beliefs, and sexual orientation. “It is important for committee members to understand from the beginning their roles and responsibilities and that much of the work that needs to be done is often between the times when the committee meets,” said Mooney. “Establishing clear expectations can further promote greater accountability and ensure the committee is advancing forward.”

Set D&I Goals That Align With Business Goals

The committee needs to create a strategic plan to address the D&I barriers that have been identified. However, this plan should mirror the tenets expressed in your mission and objectives. How can D&I initiatives help meet those objectives? If the business sells widgets, for example, the committee may set a goal of working with human resources to develop ways to attract diverse salespeople. It may also be necessary to create subcommittees that focus on certain specific goals such as hiring. 

Keep Communication Clear

Communication about the committee and its activities should be abundant. Internally, the committee should provide a safe space for its members and other employees to speak freely about their experiences. Committee meetings and initiatives should be communicated to employees on an ongoing basis. The committee may consider developing a D&I statement and annual reports of D&I efforts, which should be shared publicly on external communications. According to Mooney, employees will be looking for transparency and communications from committee members, so it is important that each person feels equipped to be able to provide those updates. “This often requires additional skill-building, especially for those who are new to D&I, and/or are in more junior level roles, so ensuring the committee engages in some form of learning and development is critical,” she said. 

Track and Evaluate D&I Progress

The committee should keep track of the success or failure of its various projects. It's important to make evaluation a part of the equation. Questions to ask include: 

  • How many employees attended D&I committee events? 
  • Did hiring managers make sure new employees took the required D&I training? 
  • Were new hires more diverse? 

Having this information can inform the committee on what is working and what needs to be improved or changed. As with all efforts, mistakes will be made. Learn from the losses as well as the wins

Mooney also advised committees to do intermittent evaluations. “Integrate resources and opportunities to reassess your goals on an ongoing basis, get updates from your original baseline through the development of a D&I committee scorecard, and validate it with the perspectives and insights of employees on at least an annual basis,” she said. 

Be careful to not overpromise on D&I initiatives. If your business’s structure does not have a clear track to advancement for anyone, making D&I promises won’t fix the problem. 

The Bottom Line

Creating a diversity and inclusion committee can help small businesses as they seek to become more inclusive. The committee provides a place to examine business policies and culture and it can work to address issues that are negatively affecting the attraction and retention of diverse employees.

However, the committee must have buy-in from senior leadership, freedom to implement new policies, and the budget and resources it needs to accomplish its goals. A diversity committee is only one aspect of what should be a larger, all-encompassing effort. When it comes to establishing a more diverse and inclusive workplace, mistakes will be made, but make sure your business’s efforts are focused on making real change and not simply based on the perception of doing so.