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09 Oct. 2013 | Comments (2)

Watch Rebekah Steele, along with TCB D&I Boot Camp faculty and graduates, including Chief Diversity Officers from Chubb and Alcoa, and our own TCB Senior Researcher, discuss development opportunities to prepare 21st Century Diversity and Inclusion Leaders on our October 2013 Human Capital Watch web cast, exclusively available to TCB members.

The views expressed by this author are solely his/her own.

In 2008, The Conference Board published a landmark paper identifying 7 essential competencies for global Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) professionals. (Lahiri, Indra. 2008. Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Professionals. New York, NY:  The Conference Board.) Based on input from leading practitioners on The Conference Board’s Diversity and Inclusion councils, the competencies range from strategic leadership and business knowledge to integrity. This competency model has become a key reference point for

• recruitment and selection, as well as composition of job specifications,
• assessment and evaluation, and
• design of learning and development experiences.

The model has also increased recognition of the inherent complexity of the contemporary D&I role. Increasingly, organizations understand that having the experience of being a member of a marginalized group, simply having a passion and interest in D&I, or being generally “high potential” is not enough to be an effective D&I professional. 

Five years later, these competencies are still highly regarded and continue to work well. At the same time, the role of strategic D&I professionals and the macro trends affecting the context in which they work have continued to evolve. Meanwhile, D&I thought leaders and their stakeholders increasingly describe the D&I practice as stuck as it fails to fulfill both business and social potential. 

In my D&I work partnering with and developing corporate, academic, and NGO D&I leaders around the globe, I see the critical importance of 3 additional competencies:  Design, Systems Thinking, and Execution.


Current “best practices” are delivering positive but limited results.  To move forward, we need to break free of conventional approaches to D&I and break through to D&I innovations.  Design competencies can lead to the groundbreaking methods we need in order to achieve better outcomes.  Being skillful with design for innovation is based on 3 key elements:
• Insight based on D&I expertise and empathy along with adjacent areas of research frame contemporary challenges and build a foundation for design.
• Ideation generates innovative ideas, models, and prototypes that can be evaluated, tested, and developed.
• Iterative implementation creates progressively refined versions of new ways of working in D&I that deliver better and better outcomes. 

Systems Thinking

Stand alone D&I initiatives almost always disappoint.  In large part, that is because they are not coordinated with key elements of the organizational framework informing how things get done.  Similarly, behaviour changes that rely solely on individuals having the right awareness, motivation, and skill to be consistently inclusive in any context have not proven effective.  This is often because unintentional bias in key elements of the organization framework is inadvertently working against individual efforts. 

An organization’s system, or framework for how work gets done, goes beyond isolated initiatives and individual behaviours.  It includes the interconnected elements in the system, such as the organizational strategy, organizational architecture, people, processes, and rewards. (Gailbraith, Jay R. 1995. Designing Organizations. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers.) These elements operate together to form a system that informs how things work in an organization.  When misaligned, any one component can be significantly impacted by another component pulling in a different direction.  When cohesively coordinated, the components work together in a mutually reinforcing and self-sustaining way.  This systems lens is useful in identifying all the components that need to be simultaneously realigned to improve D&I outcomes for a broader, more sustainable impact. 


Another reason that D&I is stuck is that the best strategies based on the best business cases are essentially worthless if they are not executed to deliver intended results.  Execution starts with strategy and rigorous action planning.

• The strategy clarifies the direction and priorities to get there. 
• Action planning identifies and clarifies what needs to be done, who needs to do it, what resources are required, and when the action needs to be completed. 

But planning action is different from taking action. Implementation of a plan requires conscientious follow through by focused, determined, and committed individuals who know what to do and how to do it.  It also helps if we clear that path by making it as easy as possible to get started and to complete the task. Implementation also requires accountability for making progress and achieving key milestones throughout the implementation.  These steps are deceptively simple in their description, but a high degree of experience and competence in implementation is necessary to get results.

As the constellation of sophisticated D&I competencies continue to evolve, what competencies are proving critical for your D&I success?


View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author:Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director, providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. Rebekah supports a broad spectrum of D&I …

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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  1. Marjorie Derven 0 people like this 02 Jul. 2014 04:31 PM

    Great insights. I would add a few practical issues that have held D&I initiatives back from being fully realized:1) lack of sufficient funding to have traction, and 2) appropriate, meaningful measures that go beyond representation to capture organizational impact.

  2. Rebekah Steele 0 people like this 07 Jul. 2014 07:27 AM

    Great point, Marjorie. Competencies alone will not enable greater opportunities to make the most of D&I. Sufficient resources and meaningful metrics are also part of the whole system that needs to be addressed. Thank you for adding these practical and important insights into the conversation.

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