4 ways black diversity leaders succeed, and how executives can ensure they do

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In a previous article, I explored several reasons why black diversity officers struggle and how their CEOs can help. That opens the door to more candid conversations about how the leaders themselves can step into their success and how their executive colleagues can be part of that success story.

I’m focusing on diversity leaders who identify as black for three reasons: the majority of diversity leaders in America are black, their blackness matters, and the opportunities they have are known to every diversity leader. At this point in history, inclusive leaders are learning to focus on race while keeping an eye on other aspects of identity.

Let’s look at four ways you, as a diversity leader — or as one of your senior colleagues — can thrive in this critical role.

1. Ensure that the diversity leader’s role is broad and has adequate resources to perform

The ‘DEI Why’ must be clear and achievable. Yes, it is crucial to have an ambitious vision for the job, but the successful DEI leader empowers other leaders to build their stance around DEI and lead more inclusively. If you’re a high-performing Chief Diversity Officer, you’ll lead a center of excellence that improves business results with talent and customers by reducing bias and creating opportunity.

So your success as a DEI leader is at serious risk as the sky-high expectations for what you will achieve languish on a ridiculously small budget and inadequate sponsorship.

The CEO and CHRO come in here and make sure that the diversity leader’s agenda, goals, resources, and metrics are reasonable, impactful, and communicated. As with any investment, the right team and a realistic budget will pay off.

Every executive colleague to a diversity leader should ask a behavior question: How do I substantively support the success of our CDO??

Related: These Are the Biggest Blind Spots in Diversity Initiatives, According to 8 Female Experts

2. The organization invests in the development of the Diversity Leader

Diversity leaders can improve like any employee. The right commitment to growing a Black CDO involves two investments:

  • Business smart — Integrate the CDO into the company’s objectives, challenges and core budgeting, especially in policy development, key customer relationships and strategy formation with the board of directors. Center DEI in the company by putting the senior diversity leader at the center of how decisions are made and resources are allocated.
  • Competency building — Every manager has room to grow. CDOs need active, personalized guidance to establish their brand, maximize their strengths, and minimize their shortcomings. Black diversity leaders in particular need empathetic and honest feedback, as white colleagues in particular may have been afraid to give them the right mix of praise and coaching for improvement. If you’re a white executive like me, commit to caring and fairness to build a relationship of trust with your CDO.

3. The Diversity Leader relies on influence partners

The critical context for executive success is the quality of relationships with colleagues, especially for Black DEI leaders. If trust is “making and keeping promises over time and across differences,” and accountability is “behaving in a way that fosters trust,” then it comes as no surprise that diversity leaders of any identity thrive when they are surrounded by strong relationships of trust with their peers in senior leadership.

You know you are one influence partner for your CDO if you ask yourself two questions: how can I follow their expertise and leadership to become a more effective and inclusive leader myself? In what other ways do I support her success?

One of my favorite stats, especially if you’re a black CDO, is the number of executives you like.

Related: 7 ways leaders can improve their DEI workplace strategy

4. The diversity leader is disciplined about self-care and leads with an authentic voice

I’m speaking directly to diversity leaders here: You know you’re doing well when you’re not struggling to take care of yourself and people are listening to you. You succeed when the work isn’t overwhelming, your voice and agency grow, and your self-doubt gets little traction. Personal renewal is a challenge for any senior leader—for any adult human being, for that matter—and the amount of energy you expend remembering to take care of yourself and then doing so is an excellent indicator of your effectiveness as a DEI leader.

To those who serve in particular as an influence partner to a black CDO, I offer this: look after their well-being as friends and colleagues. Are they going on vacation? Do they work 60 hours or more per week? Do you hear them laughing regularly? Do their teams meet deadlines and come up with good ideas? The pandemic teaches us to lead with genuine empathy, and diversity leaders in your organization deserve as much honest care as possible.

Related: Self-Care for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs

Your company’s senior diversity leader, and their team, embody and lead the organization’s commitment to DEI as a strategy to dramatically grow the company’s performance and character. If you’re in such a role, look at your success factors and prioritize everything else. To focus in this way, secure the support of those above you and a growing circle of your influence partners. And if you’re a colleague of a Chief Diversity Officer, you can play a key role in her success.

When diversity executives thrive, the DEI initiative delivers results for the company. So we need our CDOs to succeed. Each of us can help with that.

Related: 5 examples of unconscious biases at work and how to fix them