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DEI Diversity: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Should Not Be Under HR

November 3, 2021
3 min read
For companies to reach their full potential, DEI must be its own business function.

We see it all the time: a company wants to get started with DEI, and immediately places the work on the shoulders of its human resources department. It makes sense; if you know that diversity lacking at your company, your first thought is to go out and try to find more diverse talent.

However, there are a few problems with this approach.

1. It signals to your non-HR people that DEI isn’t their job.

It is the responsibility of everyone at the company to promote inclusion. Your leadership needs to be aware of how the experiences of the people they are managing may differ from that of others. Your hiring managers that must make sure that they create inclusive job postings that don’t discriminate against diverse talent. If DEI is placed under HR, employees that don’t work in that department may get the idea that they either can’t do anything to foster inclusion, or that they don’t need to.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is everyone’s job. It starts with company leadership and works its way down to your interns. Everyone has a part to play in making a work environment more inclusive.

2. It implies that there is nothing that other business functions (e.g. engineering, product, or marketing) can do to promote DEI inclusion.

DEI must be its own business function because it touches every piece of a company’s operations. While it’s true that a big part of DEI work is centered around HR-related functions (recruiting, training, compensation, etc.) so much of the work falls outside of DEI.

Here are some examples of company DEI work that would not fall under human resources:

  • A wearables company does some testing to make sure that the product works the same way on people with darker skin.
  • A clothing company designs a new marketing campaign that reflects the diversity of the customers they are trying to sell to.
  • A software company based in Oakland might allocates funds to community-service initiatives to benefit the area.
DEI Graphic

3. It de-prioritizes DEI metrics, goals, and progress.

“What gets measured gets managed.”

When a company’s leadership team asks for updates from each business unit, they’ll learn about new product features, recruiting numbers, sales targets, etc. If DEI is tucked away as part of HR, it doesn’t get the same attention as it would if it is its own function. DEI shouldn’t be a 2-minute update for leadership. It should be measured, tracked, and reported on the same way that every other business function is.

If you’re struggling to think of some metrics to use for DEI that go past recruiting, consider these:

  • Engagement and satisfaction scores from your latest survey
  • Salary, broken down by demographics
  • Attrition rates, broken down by demographics
  • Promotion rates, broken down by demographics
  • ERG engagement
  • Brand sentiment

While it’s true that a big part of DEI work is centered around HR-related functions (recruiting, training, compensation, etc.) so much of the work falls outside of your human resources department. DEI must be its own business function because it should interact with every piece of a company’s operations.

Would you ever ask someone from sales to lead a new product initiative? Would you ask someone from engineering to come up with a new marketing campaign? Probably not.

When companies make their human resources departments solely responsible for diversity, equity, and inclusion, they are missing opportunities to reach their full potential. If your company is truly striving to be the most inclusive company possible, you’ll prioritize DEI by dedicating resources to it and tracking it the way you do the rest of your business.

If your team isn’t willing to do that, then maybe you aren’t the company that you think you are.






One caveat: for smaller companies, it might be difficult to hire a DEI manager or create a separate department for the work, and that’s fine! In this case, we suggest creating a task force that reports directly to your CEO on all of the work your company is doing around DEI. Provide that task force with the resources that it needs – dedicated time, a spending budget, access to leadership, etc. Lastly, be sure to reward your task force for the important work they are doing either monetarily or with recognition.

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