DEI professionals across the country are struggling. A recent report has shown that the attrition rate for DEI roles was 33%, compared to 21% for non-DEI roles. Further, the churn rate for DEI roles was 40% at companies doing layoffs, as compared to 24% for non-DEI roles. And for those who remain, they are constantly under-resourced or their work is routinely dismissed by senior leaders as not being important to the business or mission of the organization.
It is evident that the pledges made in 2020, when DEI roles increased by 55%, are not being fully honored. And yet amid all their challenges, DEI professionals are rarely offered coaching to support their work and their professional development.
Rather, they are usually marginalized or provided little to no resources, while being tasked with compliance and programmatic responsibilities. Chief Diversity Officers are usually one of the few members of the C-suite to not have consistent coaching offered to them. There needs to be a change in how DEI professionals are treated and supported, including providing access to culturally competent coaching to enable them to thrive in their roles. As an executive coach, a former Chief Diversity Officer, and a DEI consultant for over 15 years, I made coaching DEI professionals a specialty in my practice, because I recognized it as a gap in the field and understood its transformative power. As I noted, it is not just coaching, but culturally competent coaching, which will honor the experiences of DEI professionals, and not just dismiss their concerns & challenges, especially if they are dealing with racism, micro-aggressions, misogyny, or other forms of discrimination.
The benefits of coaching for DEI professionals are:
- Dealing with the emotional toll of the work – one of the reasons that the average tenure of a Chief Diversity Officer is less than 2 years is because of the stress and emotional toll of the work. Oftentimes, as DEI professionals, we must manage the trauma of other people, who convey painful situations related to racism, misogyny, sexual harassment, or other discriminatory experiences, with no place to process our feelings about it. We may also experience some of these forms of discrimination directly, as colleagues and leaders express their open hostility to our work. Coaching provides an outlet for DEI professionals to explore the range of feelings, which come with doing this work, including anger, anxiety, and frustration, which can be overwhelming.
- Getting leadership buy-in – one of the biggest challenges for DEI professionals is to gain buy-in from leadership when attempting to facilitate transformative change within an organization. In many situations, even though they were brought in to manage a difficult culture change process, DEI professionals either experience major pushback from senior leaders or are ignored when they try to engage with key decision-makers. Working with a coach helps DEI professionals to develop strategies to get leadership buy-in, so they can be effective and visible as they achieve their goals, while also securing more resources for their work.
- Thought partnership – whether you are working internally as a DEI professional, or brought into the organization as a DEI consultant, each particular concern or engagement is unique, and brings some complex issues with which to deal. If you are the only DEI professional within your company, you oftentimes do not have the advantage of engaging with a thought partner, who has experience in and knowledge of the field. Coaching from an individual who has had exposure to DEI work can provide much needed thought partnership to explore how to find winning solutions or to resolve challenging issues.
- Defining the role – for some DEI professionals, especially ones working internally, it can be difficult for them to clearly define their role. Is it simply a compliance, “check boxes” type of role to protect the company? Is it to actually work to facilitate more diversity, equity, and inclusion in the company by examining policies and practices to make substantive changes? Is it to develop programs which will increase cultural competence and make the workplace safer for all? A coach can support you in clearly defining the role, as you might wish it to be, or to gain clarity about role expectations and desired outcomes from senior leadership. Coaching can also help in identifying professional development opportunities to increase skills or knowledge in areas which may benefit your organization.
- Improving your own self-care – as mentioned earlier, the emotional toll of the work can have both physical and mental health consequences. In addition to processing these issues with a coach, it will be important to ensure that you are addressing your own self-care needs. DEI professionals are helping professionals, even if you may not always view yourself as such. Helping professionals can suffer from caregiver fatigue, where they feel burned out, distanced from their jobs, and exhausted from assisting others in distress. And many DEI professionals can also neglect their own self-care as a result. A coach can provide a reminder and a level of accountability to increase the probability that you are creating and meeting your self-care goals, so that you can maintain the energy and enthusiasm to do this work.
Although coaching for leaders has proven time and again to be both a benefit to the organization and to the individual, DEI professionals rarely have the opportunity to obtain such support. However, by providing such a resource, companies can increase the retention of DEI professionals, demonstrate their belief in these roles through robust resource allocation, and enable DEI professionals to thrive in these roles. And for DEI professionals who seek such services on their own, it will allow them to receive the type of assistance, which can be transformative for their career and for their lives.