ASA 015: 7 Steps to Creating Successful DEI Change

How to create a sustainable DEI change in a company? 7 steps to success!

Monika Chutnik
7 Steps to Creating Successful DEI Change

We all have recognised that diversity and inclusion is a crucial area in companies. I have seen many companies, really taking many attempts to address this area in the relevant way. However, sometimes, it seems that what we do is we try to do all at once. Or maybe we don’t know which area to focus on. Let’s put a little bit of a structured approach to creating a DEI change.

In this episode I’m having a special guest, who can tell us a bit more about how we can really put a little bit of brain into all our hard attempts and how to apply a structured approach to creating DEI change. Kasper Jelsbech has dedicated a big part of his professional life to diversity, equity, and inclusion topics. He works as partner and chief consultant at a company called Living Institute.


In this episode you will learn:

  • What does a systemic approach to DEI start from?
  • Should you rather focus on diversity or inclusion?
  • What are the 7 steps that an organization needs to take before it starts adjusting its processes?
  • What’s the right sequence of actions?
  • What is a nonpromotable task?
  • How much time does it take to create a sustainable culture change in a company?


When you listen to this conversation, please think about any leader, HR, DEI expert that can benefit from it and share with this person later on. I really care to be reaching the right people with my content, so thank you very much for this in advance.

I wish you fun and discovery!


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If you need to educate leaders in how to create psychological safety in your remote teams, or if you would like to increase  inclusive leadership practices, or resilience of your employees – please contact us at ETTA


Additional materials:

  • Kasper Jelsbech – Living Institute profile
  • Living Institute – consulting company which Kasper represents today
  • Diversity Intelligence: How to Create a Culture of Inclusion for your Business – book by Heidi R. Andersen
  • Podcast ASA 003: Psychological Safety in a Virtual Team – 4 Steps to Mastery
  • Podcast ASA 006: How to craft a DEI strategy that makes sense
  • Podcast ASA 013: Tech Smame Gen Z



Systemic approach to DEI

I would say that there are a couple of things, that would require of an increased focus on the systemic approach.

First of all, we’ve talked about changing hearts and minds for many years. Yet I would argue that we still have to find sustainable, meaningful, long lasting results in terms of securing more equity, equality and fairness simply, in different aspects of diversity around the world. Part of that is precisely because we have focused almost exclusively on the individual. A person’s heart and their mind, their sentiments, their motivation, their awareness of their own biases and why they should do this and so forth.

We need more systemic factors

Systemic factors mean that as people, in corporations for instance, we operate in these condensed microcosms of society in different ways. We have structures that guides us. There are certain ways that we recruit people, certain ways that we promote people to develop their competences. We give certain people advantages that we don’t necessarily give to others.  It’s something that’s built into the structures around us. Just as we have laws and regulations that govern our society. So our behavior is also guided by these processes, that we structure in our corporations and our organizations. One thing is changing our individual mindset, but oftentimes, people who do that, find that they sort of hit their head against the wall continuously because they might want to change, they might want things to be different. Yet they can’t because there’re some forces around them that really limit the capability of change in their setting.

Part of the answer for why do we need to take a systemic focus is that we haven’t seen the results that we want regardless of whether or not we’ve talked about this, and we’ve talked about it quite a lot.

But I think another more pressing aspect is that during last year we’ve really seen movements, being sparked around the world. They showed that injustice is built into the very fabric of society. So in order to create meaningful change, we have to rethink the way we structure our interactions as people, given the cultural context we are in, given the laws, and the regulations and how we operate, how we do business in different markets.

To sum up, these two aspects are important while talking about reasons for choosing systemic approach:

  1. we haven’t seen progress or at least meaningful long lasting progress
  2. we are now living in a time where social change and the movement for social change is increasingly pronounced around the world.


What organizations need to know to make sense with DEI

In order to find the starting point, we have to agree on valid, factual, good quality data, about how our employees feel, what they say, what they experience. And these, of course, will be subjective. You need to have statistically valid, quantitative data coupled with qualitative data that really allows us to get a shared understanding, a shared perspective, and a shared viewpoint of where we need to go from here. So it starts with that.

Reality is that people in the company will have different personal opinions about the subject.

DEI Ambassadors

20% of them will be highly in favor of this. They will be motivated. They might even be a bit impatient about it. “Come on! Let’s do this! We’ve talked about this for so long. Now let’s get moving.” These would typically be people who have experienced discrimination themselves. Or other  people who somehow have a personal understanding of the fact that we don’t necessarily treat everyone the same.

DEI Opponents

Then we have 20% in the other end who will be active opponents to this agenda. These will be people who don’t understand why we need to spend time on this. They will usually use terms such as weakness and things like that as a problem, that this is something that will derange or demotivate our work ambitions and really just makes us perform worse overall and limit our creativity and free thinking. So they will actively oppose it for different reasons.

Zero sum game

Some see it as a zero sum game. Typically, male managers. Whenever they hear the word diversity, they think “okay, so that means I won’t get promoted until 10 years when we finish this whole diversity thing”. In order to elevate some people, women or people of other minority backgrounds or representation in companies, it means that I won’t get as much of a chance. Whatever the case is, they might oppose this.

On the fence

And then we have a roughly 60% in the middle who are sort of on the fence. They they don’t necessarily know what DEI is. They’ve heard something about it. They’re a bit unsure, perhaps a bit fearful, a bit afraid. They can be persuaded either way. They can fall to the opponent side or the ambassador side, depending on how you frame the message. So they’re really the key. They’re the ones who, in my opinion, are really interesting to get on board. Because if you get those 60% on board, then you have a good foundation for creating change.

I think it’s really about understanding that you have different people who are opposing or forward, and you will always have that.


Data vs people

The 1st place to start is data, which I stand by for sure. But data is not enough. The next step is that you present this data. You show findings to the company and they say that you clearly have an issue here. And then what happens? Well, people get defensive. They start blaming the data. They start blaming the methodology.

If you wanna work with data, you have to be really careful. You have to make sure that you don’t just stick with quantitative data, because people will always attack that. So couple it with qualitative data. What do people actually say? What are their actual live experiences? Because you can’t argue with that.

Once you have the data, you need to have commitment. Data is just data. It doesn’t create change. It doesn’t tell us anything meaningful. It’s just numbers and statements and sentences. So the question is, what do you do with that data?


C level

Make sure that the C suite leaders, the CEO, the directors, whoever’s in charge, take accountability with the data. The CEO preferably needs to be very vocal about the need of change because if that person doesn’t commit to this, if they don’t understand their role in this, chances are you won’t get very far. It’ll just be another data collecting dust in the corner somewhere.

The commitment is the absolute crucial second step, once you have that good data, in order to secure that this becomes meaningful.

And the very important thing here is that if you do decide to use data, if you do decide to ask your employees for their experiences, you have to commit to follow-up on it. Unfortunately, a lot of times, we don’t really see that.


Best DEI practices from companies

I think the companies that succeed understand that this requires a holistic approach. So what do I mean by that? It means that one initiative will not create the necessary change. Because it’s complex. It’s so multifaceted. There’s so many different ways you have to approach this in order to create systemic change.

And I would say the one thing that some of the companies that succeed on this do is that they understand foundational business critical aspects of not doing anything. And what I mean by that is they look at themselves, and they don’t ask: what will we get out of this?

They ask themselves: what will happen to us if we don’t do anything?

Where will we be in this landscape, in this changing, ambiguous, complex, volatile market that we’re in right now in 5 years’ times if we don’t do anything? This is really at the top, at the forefront of their minds, at least in the leadership group. They ask themselves, what is the cost of inaction?

I think that’s the first thing they do. It’s about having a holistic approach that is not done away within just a 3 hour session. It’s about understanding what the cost of inaction is, what happens if we don’t do anything. And it’s about really being clear on how this helps us with our most pressing strategic priorities that we have to do as a company.


DEI Roadmap by Living Institute

Basing on many years of practice and experience as a company, Kasper created a road map, which might serve as a recommended sequence of actions in the area of diversity.

DEI Roadmap by Living Institute


We created a road map, consisting basically of 13 initiatives, that are highly effective if implemented in the right order, and not necessarily that difficult to implement. And then we also compiled some of the key initiatives that we often find are being and have been implemented historically, but have no effect or a counterproductive effect in terms of creating more diverse representation of different people throughout companies.

The core point is that it’s not about doing one thing that will change everything. It’s about thinking holistically. Like a journey. We start at one place, and then we go through different aspects, different initiatives to cover the different dimensions of this cultural transformation, and then we avoid the pitfalls along the way.

Step 1: Data

At the very top and the very sort of early stages of this, in order to get it right, you have to have data. You have to get good quality data. You do have to have good inclusion surveys. And you have to follow-up on them to track progress.

Step 2: C level

And once you have that data, as I mentioned before, you need to have buying from your executive leadership group, your CEO, your director, because at the end of the day, who owns this agenda? I know that the practice is that oftentimes it’s HR or a DEI lead that owns this, but that’s not right. That’s a misunderstanding.

The ones who own this agenda is the C suite leadership. It’s the CEO. It’s their agenda.

Step 3: Delegating tasks

Then you can start getting your management team on board. Because the CEO is the final owner of this, but the topic has to be delegated and distributed throughout the organization. Otherwise, it won’t live. So delegating that responsibility is the 3rd key important step in this process so that each leader knows their responsibilities in terms of elevating DEI initiatives in day to day practices with their teams.

Don’t focus on diversity. Create a culture of inclusion

And then a really crucial point of any cultural transformation that has to do with DEI is:

don’t start focusing on diversity as the first thing.

And what I mean by that is people are so busy trying to debias their recruitment or make sure that they appeal to more diverse segments of workers or clients or whatever it might be, because they want diversity. But that’s actually a pretty bad strategy. And why do I say that?

Well, let’s imagine that you have the most fantastic and unbiased recruitment process, and you get all kinds of different people in the door. You have a lot of diversity. They go in and they realize: we have a lot of diversity, but we don’t necessarily have inclusion. So maybe that’s not really the place where I can unfold my potential in whatever quirky way I do that. So it becomes a revolving door.

People go in, they look around and then they leave because you don’t have the foundation in place. And what is the foundation? It’s inclusion.

Step 4: Find allies

Before you even start attracting a lot of diverse profiles in the door, make sure you have an inclusive culture.

How do you do that? You make sure that we focus on those 60%. You need to mobilize allies. Before you start recruiting women, make sure that the men are on board with this, that they support it, that they can be mentors and advocates and allies in day to day work. You need that support from the organization.

Step 5: Inclusive leaders

Then you need to have inclusive leaders. Leaders who actually know what it means to run a team with diverse profiles in an inclusive way. You can, of course, also do unconscious bias training. But the problem is a lot of those trainings are really poorly designed. And that’s why a lot of studies have come out showing that there’s at best a debatable outcome of these trainings and at worst of a very negative outcome of these trainings because they’re poorly designed. It doesn’t mean that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. It just means that you have to design it well.

You have to give people not just the awareness and the knowledge about what it is. You also have to give them tools and strategies for how they can actually disrupt their own biases. Make it simple, break it down, make it easy for them. Then you can have effective bias training.

So those will be some of the core aspects of creating a culture of inclusion:

  1. Make sure that you have the tools to disrupt biases.
  2. Make sure that you have leaders who can actually manage inclusivity.
  3. Make sure you have overall buying from everyone in the organization.

Step 6: Improve processes

Then and only then, if we take to the next step in the road map, then you can start to look at how we improve our recruitment process, remove biases, how we make sure that we appeal to more diverse candidates and talents. How do we become more relevant to a more diverse market out there? How do we ensure that our promotion and career planning processes are fair and equitable for all? That type of things.

Now we can start to look at how we actually ensure that there’s a broad representation of different people throughout the entire employee life cycle and in the organization.

Inclusion first, then diversity.

Step 7: Implement a DEI change

Solutions like employee resource groups or women’s network are not always the best solution but can be effective and can certainly create a sense of belonging. But if you do use these types of networks and groups, make sure that you have accountability, that whatever they come up with in these groups, it is channeled back into the key decision makers who can then take that knowledge and that understanding, that feedback from the group and implement it, utilize it to create change.

Make sure what initiatives are effective, in what order they should be implemented, and what are some of the initiatives we need to be careful about if we wanna implement it. And implement them.


How much time lasts DEI change

Company can effectively create a culture change within 9 to 18 months. We’ve seen this happen, of course depending on the size of the organization that needs to be taken into account.

It does not have to take a long time, but you have to make sure you create that necessary sense of momentum. You have to make sure that there’s commitment from the top. And you have to make sure that people understand that this is your ability to work with people who are different from you in an inclusive way and it benefits all of us. It’s not separate from my most pressing tasks or goals that I need to succeed with.

Think of DEI as a tool to accelerate your most important business objective, whether you are an employee, a manager, a top manager.

This is oftentimes how you can think about it or you need to think about it. Then you can speed up the process because people are now motivated. They understand the value for it, and they are much more eager to learn and to question if given the right tools. So you don’t have to spend years doing this.

Just create a strategy based on your data. Stick to that strategy. Update it, of course. Nuance it, and learn from it, but keep going.


Thank you!


Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

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