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A Key Insight for Successful DEI Strategies

Dear CEOs and Managers responsible for hiring Heads of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI),

I hope this letter finds you in good health and high spirits. I am writing to you today to share a critical insight that I believe can significantly impact the success of DEI strategies in any organization, large or small.

Recently, I was invited to a meeting at a prominent international company to pitch my services and introduce myself. The organization in question has almost 5,000 employees in Austria alone and many more spread across the globe. My task was to develop a DEI strategy, with a particular emphasis on enabling women to ascend to upper management roles. The first meeting, with the middle management, went exceedingly well; there was a palpable enthusiasm in the air, and the team was eager to push the initiative forward.

However, the second meeting with the decision-maker (notably, not a board member or the CEO) took an unexpected turn. I was posed with a curious question: “We already have a strategy, procedures, and learning courses designed to help women grow into higher positions, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Can you develop a new strategy?” To which I responded, “Absolutely, I can. Do we know why the current strategy is not effective?” The answer was a simple “No.” I then asked, “Have we sought feedback from the women in the organization about what they feel is lacking, what they need, or why they think the current strategy is ineffective?” The response was a dismissive, “No, why should we? We need a strategy, not a survey.”

At this point, I felt compelled to explain that effective strategies, much like scientific theories, are grounded in facts, research, and surveys. I emphasized that these elements are crucial as they allow strategies to be tailored to the unique needs and challenges faced by each company. I also pointed out that if a one-size-fits-all solution existed, the need for DEI consultants or managers would be rendered obsolete.

Unfortunately, my approach was deemed too “hands-on,” and the organization decided to pursue a consultant with a more theoretical approach. This experience left me momentarily speechless but also reinforced a fundamental belief: if we genuinely want to improve people's lives, we must first ask them about their needs, challenges, and desires. Only then can an experienced DEI manager or consultant develop or modify strategies to effect meaningful change.

I share this story with you not as a critique of the organization in question, but as a valuable lesson for all of us who are committed to making a difference in the world of DEI. If you are in a position of authority and are responsible for preparing your organization for change or hiring the right person to lead DEI initiatives, I hope this letter serves as a helpful guide.

In closing, I urge you to embrace a hands-on approach and to actively seek feedback from your employees before developing or modifying your DEI strategies. Only by understanding the unique needs and challenges faced by your workforce can you create an environment in which every individual can thrive.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

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