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How to Set a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Meeting Agenda

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How do you start a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion meeting? This one’s easy: the first step on your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion meeting agenda should be to welcome everyone. Greet each participant by name. Make sure to use inclusive language. Inclusive language means, for example, saying “Welcome everyone” instead of “Ladies and gentlemen,” which assumes that everyone present identifies as either a man or a woman. Making sure everyone feels welcomed and included can go a long way in making sure everyone feels comfortable participating in the discussion.

Then, offer introductions for new members and guests. After a brief introduction and short bios of new members and guests, the next step on your Diversity Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be the introduction of the discussion. First, introduce the topic at hand: why diversity and inclusion are important for your organization. After introducing the topic, lay the ground rules for the discussion. 

The ground rules for your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion meeting should have the ultimate goal of making the discussion a safe space. Any information that is shared should be confidential. Also, establish a ground rule that everyone will actively participate in the conversation. Every person’s contribution is important. Establish a rule that everyone should listen without judgment. Also let people know that they can offer their opinion without fear of retribution. This will encourage a safe environment for discussion and learning. Remember, the goal is for everyone to acquire knowledge and set in motion positive changes as a team.

As the leader of the discussion, you should pay attention to both interrupters and people who try to dominate the discussion. If one person tries to dominate the narrative, redirect the conversation back to the group. Do not let anyone derail the discussion.

What do you talk about in diversity, equity, and inclusion meetings?

The majority of your DEI meeting agenda should be dedicated to guided discussion points. We have put together nine discussion points that will help your group organically develop a set of DEI priorities. As a leader, you should remain engaged throughout all the discussion points. 

1.) How do we define diversity, equity, and inclusion? 

Diversity refers to differences in people that account for disparities in personal experience and worldview. These differences include: age, disability status, race, gender identity, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, socioeconomic status, neurodivergence and others

Equity refers to actively dismantling barriers to entry for historically underrepresented groups. Equity as a concept is distinguished from equality, which means providing the same thing to all. Equity means acknowledging that we come from different, unequal places and we must make adjustments to these imbalances, including barriers to entry that arise from unconscious bias or systemic injustice.

Inclusion refers to actively creating an environment that is welcoming and supportive to diverse individuals and groups. At the C-suite and board level, this means the degree to which diverse individuals are able to fully participate in the decision-making process of the organization.

According to professor and Social Justice expert Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart, “Diversity asks ‘who’s in the room?’

Equity responds, ‘Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Has everyone’s ideas been heard?’

Justice responds, ‘Whose ideas won’t be taken as seriously because they aren’t in the majority?’

Diversity asks, ‘How many more of [pick any minoritized identity] group do we have this year than last?’

Equity responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’

Inclusion asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?’

Justice challenges, ‘Whose safety is being sacrificed and minimized to allow others to be comfortable maintaining dehumanizing views?’”

After defining the words and reading the D-L Stewart quote, lead the group in a discussion about what it means to them. You could even discuss point-by-point the D-L Stewart quote and how it applies to your organization. Make sure everyone contributes. 

2.) Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion important?

When a workplace culture is better, performance is better. DEI initiatives are integral to creating a healthy culture that aligns with the values of the organization. You could steer the discussion toward defining your values as an organization and how they relate to DEI.

3.) How will diversity, equity, and inclusion help us to accomplish our goals?

In addition to making the world a better place, DEI is tied to business outcomes. Research shows that companies that value DEI outperform their competition by 400 percent. What’s more, these companies thrive even during a recession.

You might cite studies that show that DEI grows market share. You could also point out that DEI initiatives lead to better retention and recruitment, which will save money.

You could cite this poll from May 2022, in which 78 percent of respondents reported that diversity was an important factor when choosing to work for a company. Thirty-six percent of the executives polled reported they walked away from an offer because the organization lacked diversity in leadership, with 55 percent reporting it would be very unlikely for them to work for a company that had no women in a Vice President role or above. Forty-one percent of respondents said it would be very unlikely for them to work for a company with no historically marginalized people in a VP role or above.

Of course, you do not have to include all of these statistics, but maybe pull one or two to reinforce the idea that investment in DEI pays dividends. It will even help recession-proof your business.

diversity equity and inclusion meeting agenda

4.) What do we need to change in order to become more diverse and inclusive?

Have the team brainstorm ways your organization can achieve diversity and inclusivity. Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompsons suggests reaching out to colleges that usually have a more diverse student population, e.g. HBCUs and community colleges. Mentoring and training, he suggests, create an expanded personal network, which will lead to a more diverse talent pipeline in the future. Switching to skills-based hiring practices is a great way to be more inclusive at the entry level.

5.) Do we welcome people of diverse backgrounds?

If your team is homogenous, meaning everyone is from the same demographic, remember that there are elements of diversity beyond race, gender and sexual orientation. Diversity can also mean disability status, cognitive style, socioeconomic background, veteran status, education level, and more. What different geographic locations are people from? How does the team show diversity of thought? These questions will open up the discussion to have a broader definition of diversity. 

What’s more, it is better to weave DEI education into workplace culture now than to wait until the staff becomes more diverse. DEI proficiency is an integral part of workplace competency. 

6.) How do we, as a board, define our culture?

It is important to know the current culture before you can change the culture. Is there an in-group of homogenous employees or employees who share certain commonalities? Does this in-group dominate discussions? 

7.) Can our culture be seen as biased or exclusive?

Does the hiring process rely on recruiting people who are similar to us? Do certain groups feel shut out in meetings? It is especially important to hear the perspective of women, minority, LGBTQIA+ and other diverse staff on this last question. If someone is interrupted, step in and ask to hear more from the person who was interrupted. (This also applies to the meeting as a whole.)

8.) Is the board committed to DEI? Is our CEO committed to DEI? If so, how are we acting on and signaling that commitment?

Employees and stakeholders value empathy from the CEO. As a leader, the CEO should establish a precedent of meetings where diverse employees have an equal voice. 

Other things to consider: does your company have a chief diversity officer (CDO)? If not, how might you go about hiring one? Once hired, how might the rest of the board aid them by being engaged with DEI initiatives? Will the CDO have a team around them, or will they be a department of one? How will progress on diversity initiatives be assessed?

9.) What are the potential challenges that may arise on our mission to become more inclusive?

Work-from-home may be a challenge for your organization when it comes to changing or establishing a workplace culture. It may be awkward for employees to discuss sensitive issues over Zoom or Slack. 

The next step on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting agenda should be to appoint a committee dedicated to DEI matters. Be clear about the purpose of the committee. Also, be aware of the skillset of committee members. If diversity, equity and inclusion are outside the purview of some committee members, consider cultural competency education from online resources like LinkedIn Learning via Rutgers University. If you do hire a Chief Diversity Officer, their success is dependent on whether you also change the workplace culture by having the entire C-suite and board participate in DEI training.

DEI should be woven into workplace culture. To learn more, read Donald Thompson’s article “Inclusive leadership in action: how to lead meetings, give feedback, and more.”

The final step on your workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion meeting agenda is to follow up with the participants. Thank them for joining the meeting and ask for their feedback. 

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Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com