Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) may well be a stated goal of your organization – but what can you as an individual employee contribute to help make everyone feel valued, seen and appreciated for who they are?
This book summary “How to Be a Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador” recommendation offers a practical guide for becoming a “diversity ambassador.” Author Celeste R. Warren covers topics such as developing your DEI skills and capabilities, adopting behaviors that support DEI, and practicing advocacy and allyship.
Anyone can play a role in promoting workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), according to thought leader Celeste R. Warren. She provides employees at all levels with a concise, workable guide to becoming a “diversity ambassador.” While you might find some chapters repetitive, Warren offers something for everyone, outlining tailored action plans for individual contributors, frontline managers, senior executives, chief DEI officers and HR professionals. She argues convincingly that any successful diversity ambassador must be self-aware and emotionally intelligent.
- Everyone in an organization has a role to play in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
- The concept of DEI has now expanded beyond its traditional core dimensions.
- DEI ambassadors need a range of skills and capabilities, including emotional intelligence.
- Whatever your organizational role, the path to becoming a diversity ambassador begins with self-awareness.
- Diversity ambassadorship requires you to take action.
- Individual contributors can make substantive and systemic DEI contributions.
- Chief DEI officers must bring deep personal, organizational and strategic awareness to their work.
- Executives must create the conditions for DEI efforts to succeed.
- Frontline leaders have a critical role to play in promoting DEI within their teams.
- HR practitioners should embed DEI in all people systems and practices.
Everyone in an organization has a role to play in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
When it comes to workplace DEI, many people feel unable to lead change. Those who don’t occupy positions of authority might feel powerless or constrained by leaders. Colleagues might not want to talk about DEI, considering the topic too fraught with personal risk or inappropriate for conversation in a professional setting.
But DEI is here to stay. Around the world, workforces are becoming more diverse with each generation as people become more interconnected, workers migrate across borders and cultures blend. And two trends in business also mean DEI will remain a focal point. First, economic inclusion – the idea that all people should be able to access financial products and services – is becoming more widely accepted, and that means all companies will need to know how they can contribute toward reducing financial inequality. Second, corporate social activism continues to grow in importance, as consumers and employees increasingly insist that companies align with their values.
“Whether one is a senior leader, a middle manager or an employee who does not manage people, all of us are important in developing an equitable and inclusive culture.” (Merck executive chairman Kenneth C. Frazier)
Despite perceived barriers, any employee, no matter their role or level, can become a diversity ambassador – someone who represents and promotes diversity – and help create an environment in which all employees feel valued and included. For real DEI change to take place, individual contributors, frontline managers, senior executives and HR professionals must become fully involved.
The concept of DEI has now expanded beyond its traditional core dimensions.
When you think about diversity, consider it in the broadest sense, to include not only age, ethnic heritage, race, gender, sexual orientation, and mental and physical abilities, but also differences in socioeconomic status, religious views, political beliefs, national origin, moral values, and more. Now DEI is also considered to have an organizational dimension, including, for example, how long diverse employees have had tenure in the organization and whether they have managerial status. DEI also includes a cultural dimension, featuring aspects such as body language, ways of managing conflict and views on authority. And awareness of intersectionality is increasing – the recognition that many people possess several attributes that make them diverse, such as being both Black and female, and that these intersections affect people in different ways than the individual forms of diversity alone.
“Intersectionality has come to the forefront in the last few years and is a critical aspect of diversity and inclusion strategies.”
DEI today emphasizes inclusion: equal access and treatment, including accommodations, for people who’ve historically suffered exclusion. It entails, among other things, fair access to the benefits and resources of work, such as training and flexible work options relative to each person’s needs. Equality is understood to mean the provision of opportunities on an equal basis, along with valuing people’s diverse skills, interests and perspectives equally. Equality of opportunity, however, often requires treating people differently – the principle of equity.
DEI ambassadors need a range of skills and capabilities, including emotional intelligence.
DEI ambassadors should develop the ability to steer difficult conversations toward healthy exchanges over destructive conflict. They should exhibit honesty and unwavering integrity while encouraging the same in others. It takes courage and fortitude to speak up when another person says something inappropriate, but DEI ambassadors must do so consistently.
“Without integrity, the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, a diversity ambassador cannot exist.”
DEI ambassadors earn credibility and can ground their decisions in reality by developing hard business and financial knowledge. They should nurture their own curiosity, continuous learning, collaboration and agility; they must find meaning and passion in their work to keep them committed through ups and downs. By exercising good judgment and demonstrating respect and impartiality, DEI ambassadors can make a difference in their organizations no matter their role or status.
Whatever your organizational role, the path to becoming a diversity ambassador begins with self-awareness.
To begin your journey to becoming a diversity and inclusion ambassador, you’ll need to know a lot about yourself. Start by conducting a thorough self-assessment of your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to DEI, including your knowledge in the area and the skills you either possess or need to develop in order to serve as an ambassador and drive change. Take an inventory of your relevant personal qualities as well, such as your willingness to confront situations and people through difficult conversations.
“Diversity skills are those necessary to be flexible and accommodating of multiple lifestyles and needs, and to accept the viewpoints and expertise that different people bring to the work environment.”
Becoming aware of your own assumptions or biases that could derail your diversity efforts must take priority. Every human has biases, both conscious and unconscious. These include assumptions or prejudices you might hold regarding people of certain races, backgrounds, genders or ages. These biases might have taken root because you’ve had little or no exposure to some groups, or they might have formed due to the way you were raised. You might assume, for example, women will want to stay home with a newborn, but men would prefer to work. Explore your memories of childhood and your experiences, and challenge your own assumptions. Make noticing and removing your biases an ongoing, lifelong process.
Diversity ambassadorship requires you to take action.
An ambassador is a person who represents and promotes something. A DEI ambassador makes a difference by promoting DEI principles and working to see them implemented. All the assessments and deep thinking in the world amount to nothing without action. The action necessary includes working to address what you discovered during the self-awareness stage of your journey: rooting out your conscious and unconscious biases and building the skills and capabilities you’ll need.
“You can’t simply say words of solidarity, you have to demonstrate it through your everyday actions.”
Talk to people in DEI roles to get a deeper sense of what will be required, and devise a plan to close the gaps over time. This might mean attending training, conferences or an employee resource group, networking, volunteering, getting a coach or other activities. Break your plan down into stages, and set SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Move in steps, keeping your eye on the long term. Measure your progress. You’ll never be able to master every aspect of DEI – no one can – but you can learn continuously.
This doesn’t mean giving up your day job. You should weave your efforts to further the cause of diversity and inclusion into your everyday work. This might mean speaking up when you see inequities or microaggressions, or seeking out more diverse candidates if you have hiring responsibilities. For a chief diversity and inclusion officer (CDO), it will mean developing a strategy and vision for the organization and working with others in the executive suite to implement them. Supervisors and managers should create safe environments for people to talk about DEI and show up authentically at work.
Individual contributors can make substantive and systemic DEI contributions.
If you’re an individual contributor, without a position of formal authority, you should assess your strengths, skills and gaps related to DEI advocacy, that is, your ability to support and promote diverse people. How willing are you to speak up when you witness a microaggression, for example? Do you share your thoughts in meetings and encourage others to do the same? Inventory your biases, both conscious and unconscious. Ask colleagues and your manager to help you understand the biases and blind spots you might have trouble recognizing. Ask them whether they think you show courage in supporting inclusion in meetings or elsewhere.
Next, look around you, starting with your team, then your division, and finally throughout your organization to determine whether the culture supports DEI. Who speaks the most? Do all workers’ opinions count, and do people feel a sense of belonging? Do DEI training programs exist, and if so, who attends them? Look at your organization’s website to see whether DEI appears in the values statement and in job postings. Does the organization’s leadership merely talk about DEI, or does it follow through?
“In today’s world…all of us have to be an ally in order for us to make true progress in creating an inclusive culture.”
Finally, take action. This should include closing gaps in your DEI skills and capabilities as well as adopting behaviors that support and promote DEI. Practice advocacy and allyship – supporting groups other than your own – by speaking up when you see bad behavior, celebrating positive behavior and DEI-related successes, and making sure other people have a voice.
Chief DEI officers must bring deep personal, organizational and strategic awareness to their work.
CDOs will need to conduct a self-assessment, too, to discover their strengths, gaps and biases. After all, no one can know everything about DEI, and no one’s free from biases. CDOs, in particular, need to become aware of their blind spots. Look at your resources, too. Do you have an external network of CDOs and DEI experts to tap for learning? Do you have the business and financial acumen to make the case for DEI initiatives? Create a personal learning plan to close any gaps.
Next, extend your investigation to DEI barriers that may exist throughout the organization. Compared to people in other roles, you’ll perform a deeper and broader assessment of the organization’s DEI readiness. Look at processes, practices and culture. Learn about the social, political and environmental issues the organization faces.
“Diversity and inclusion cannot be viewed as an entity that sits outside of the business, without creating value to the business and helping to drive shareholder returns.”
Now construct a DEI strategy in alignment with the organization’s overall strategy and goals, and build your team. You’ll need to collaborate with HR about compensation, benefits and recruitment; you’ll also benefit from engaging the learning and development teams. Create a DEI statement of purpose and goals. Articulate what you’ll do to achieve these goals, and identify the measures and metrics you’ll use to gauge progress.
Executives must create the conditions for DEI efforts to succeed.
If you hold a senior executive position, your role in DEI includes setting clear and measurable goals, enforcing them and visibly involving yourself in supporting the organization’s initiatives. You should be leading by example, speaking out and allocating resources for DEI coaching, mentorship and training. Like anyone else who aims to advocate for DEI, you must first conduct a self-assessment to identify your skills, capabilities, biases, blind spots and behaviors – especially your willingness to champion DEI authentically and vocally.
Senior executives should identify and remove barriers throughout the organization. This includes assessing the attitudes of other senior and frontline managers toward DEI. You must ensure frontline leaders have the training, support, resources and tools they need, and that managers advocate for DEI.
Frontline leaders have a critical role to play in promoting DEI within their teams.
When middle managers and supervisors fail to operationalize visions and plans from higher up, the frustrated executives often refer to those managers and supervisors as the “frozen middle.” Managers either help turn executives’ strategy into reality or they form a barrier. If you’re a manager or supervisor, evaluate your DEI skills, capabilities and biases, and then assess the environment by listening to employees and learning about individual team members. Scan your teams and department to determine whether processes and practices – including hiring and onboarding – support or hinder DEI. Notice your team members’ level of candor and openness to get a sense of whether they feel psychologically safe enough to speak up about DEI.
“How we act towards others is as important as the messages we are delivering, the plans and initiatives we are implementing and the changes we are putting in place.”
Devise an action plan that includes your personal goals as well as DEI initiatives within your teams and department. Offer coaching and advice to your reports, grant workers the autonomy they need to embrace DEI, and advocate for it among your peers.
HR practitioners should embed DEI in all people systems and practices.
Like all others, HR professionals interested in DEI advocacy should start with a self-assessment to find their skills gaps and biases. Their assessment of the environment, however, should include a deep investigation of all elements that HR touches, particularly hiring processes, selection of employees for learning and development opportunities, succession planning, compensation practices and performance management systems.
Take action by addressing your biases and blind spots and by further developing your DEI skills and capabilities. Take the lead to ensure processes across the entire talent lifecycle contribute to DEI goals. Establish targets and metrics to monitor progress.
About the author
Celeste R. Warren is vice president of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence at Merck. For her leadership in global diversity and inclusion, she’s earned recognition as one of Black Enterprise’s “Top Executives in Global Diversity and Inclusion,” Savoy’s “Most Influential Women in Corporate America” and DiversityGlobal’s “Influential Women in Global Diversity.”
Celeste Warren is vice president of the Global Diversity and Inclusion Center of Excellence at Merck. Prior to joining Merck in 1997, Warren worked for nine years in human resources at Kraft Foods and General Foods. She has been honored with many awards, including Black Enterprise’s Top Executives in Global Diversity and Inclusion, Savoy magazine’s Most Influential Women in Corporate America, Women’s eNews’s 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, and Diversity Woman magazine’s Elite100 List. She is also a member of CNBC’s Workforce Executive Council and World 50’s Inclusion and Diversity Impact Community.
Business Culture, Workplace Culture, Human Resources and Personnel Management
Table of Contents
Foreword Kenneth C. Frazier, Executive Chairman, Merck & Co., Inc. ix
Introduction Why Diversity and Inclusion Will Continue to Grow in Importance 1
Chapter 1 What Is the Role of a Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador? 13
Chapter 2 What Skills, Capabilities, and Behaviors Are Needed to Be a Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador? 29
Chapter 3 The Role of Individual Contributors 45
Chapter 4 The Role of the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer 59
Chapter 5 The Role of C-Suite Leaders 73
Chapter 6 The Role of Middle and First-Line Managers 87
Chapter 7 The Role of HR Practitioners 101
Conclusion Where Do I Start? 117
Discussion Guide 129
About the Author 141
Using a proven three-part framework, this book shows how anyone—from a CEO to frontline employee—can play a pivotal role in creating a diverse and welcoming workplace.
Creating a diverse workplace needs to be an ongoing effort, not just the subject of occasional training. As Celeste Warren says, needed change won’t take place unless all employees feel that they have a role to play in creating the culture they would like to see in their organization.
Regardless of what position you hold, you have the ability to impact change and create a more inclusive environment. Anyone can commit to becoming an unofficial Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador in his or her organization. Warren offers a straightforward three-stage model:
- Become aware of your strengths, weaknesses, and conscious and unconscious biases.
- Take an inventory of your surroundings: what is getting in the way of there being an inclusive environment in your organization?
- Develop a personal action plan.
Depending on your position, the actions you take can be as simple as consistently raising DEI-related issues in staff meetings or as far-reaching as leading an Employee Resource Group or developing a new hiring policy. In separate chapters, Warren offers specific advice for chief diversity and inclusion officers, C-suite leaders, first-line managers, human resources practitioners, and individual contributors. This book features examples, exercises, and practical tools that show you how to assess where your organization is at and develop a purpose and strategy that can make diversity a workplace reality.
“Celeste Warren knows that when it comes to advancing DEI, we all must collaborate. She captures the essence of what it means to be a DEI ambassador and gives everyone who reads her book the tools necessary to promote inclusion.” —Subha Barry, CEO, Seramount (formerly Working Mother Media)
“Celeste Warren’s approach to diversity and inclusion blends warmth and understanding with bold ideas that are good for business. How to Be a Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador is accessible and relatable to people at all levels of organizations and brimming with simple yet profound ideas to create a more inclusive culture throughout an entire ecosystem of an organization.” —Jen Geller, Director of Programming, CNBC Events and Councils, and Senior Editor, CNBC Workforce Executive Council
“Few leaders in business today have led more boldly and consistently on advancing diversity and inclusion than Celeste Warren. Her vision and passion for a more just, inclusive, equitable world where all people can succeed and thrive at work and beyond has helped advance the cause in powerful ways. Hers is an essential voice at a critical time.” —Lauren Leader, cofounder and CEO, All In Together