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April 1, 2024 Focus | DEI

Moving the needle with a DEI strategic plan

Alfredo Fernández

Recent trends in the U.S. suggest a downturn in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Across industries, hiring for DEI positions has slowed faster than non-DEI positions, and in some cases DEI departments and programs have been abruptly eliminated altogether.

Additionally, recent court decisions at various levels across the country have chilled DEI efforts for many organizations.

Despite the headwinds, 70% of U.S. workers believe it is important for their workplace to make meaningful progress on DEI, according to recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Many organizations have their heart in the right place, but get frustrated that their time, talents and treasure don’t necessarily “move the needle” when it comes to DEI goals. This recalls a quote from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

The lack of a bespoke DEI strategy is often the critical gap many organizations face after years of applying tactics without a guiding framework, resulting in underwhelming progress toward their goals.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

Research conducted by SHRM found that half of employers blamed a “lack of prioritization” by senior leaders as a reason behind the insufficient investment in DEI efforts. Lack of prioritization simply means that there was no actionable plan.

To be useful, a DEI strategic plan needs to be simple enough for people to understand and remember.

Here’s an example of a three-year DEI strategic plan summary that focuses on three pillars: workforce, workplace and external partnerships.

The plan includes specific actionable projects under each pillar, with progress tracked year-round and reported to various stakeholder groups.

Workforce: Increase recruitment, mentorship, retention and promotion of a diverse team of professionals, including C-suite leaders, management and staff.

Focus on developing internal and external pipelines of diverse talent through internship programs and shared-value strategic partnerships to find and support those individuals who value your DEI commitments.

Ensure any search firm you engage aligns with your priorities, culture and DEI strategic plan.

Workplace: Effective DEI integration requires more than just a plan; it demands action.

This can be accomplished through larger policy goals, such as quality professional development and special projects, but also in important, smaller actions.

Look for opportunities to celebrate DEI successes and internal champions.

External partnerships: Enhance strategic external partnerships to make a positive impact on the community, an increasingly important factor for younger workers.

The secondary value of meaningful external partnerships includes elevation of your organization’s profile and supporting your talent pipeline internally and externally.

Whether it is building relationships with educational organizations, nonprofits or corporate allies, these steps send a message to your workforce, future hires and clients that DEI is an important element of your business.


A common challenge with any strategic plan is the tendency to let it fall by the wayside. To mitigate that risk, create small subgroups to “own” the work for their respective DEI goal under the strategic plan, and implement a schedule by which each subgroup reports out to the broader DEI committee.

Progress has been made, but we know there is still much to accomplish. In an era of remote work, fostering a culture of respect, inclusion and opportunity is crucial.

It’s never been more important to establish and maintain a culture in which all people are respected and welcomed, differences are valued, and the opportunities for sustainable success are accessible to all.

Alfredo Fernández is chair of the manufacturing industry team and diversity, equity and inclusion committee at law firm Shipman & Goodwin LLP.

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