Lessons Learned in Starting a Diversity and Inclusion Committee

Lessons Learned in Starting a Diversity and Inclusion Committee


By The CNUC D+I Committee

Diversity and inclusion (D+I) can be intimidating topics for people and organizations. Nobody wants to misstep or offend, which can lead to avoiding the topics all together, but avoidance can do more harm than good. Lack of diversity and inclusion harms organizations and the workforce, and we won’t be able to improve if we don’t address the topic with honest and open communication. Together we can gain comfort in the discourse around D+I. This is  our main reason for forming the CNUC D+I Committee. We’d like to start by making it clear we are not experts on D+I. CNUC is in the process of figuring it out like everyone else. However, we feel that sharing our journey of focusing on our D+I might help others who are earlier on the path.

First, let’s talk definitions so we know we are speaking the same language. At CNUC, diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate people from one another its about counting and empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different. Inclusion is organizational effort and practices in which groups or individuals with different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted, welcomed and equally treated. For us, inclusion is about a sense of belonging. The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feel valued as essential to the success of our organization because of and not despite the diversity they bring to the table.

Looking within

To start a D+I committee, you must first have a desire to focus on your organization’s D+I. For CNUC, like many organizations, 2020 provided a moment for introspection. Admittedly, it can be hard to look at yourself and your company and say, “we could and should do better.” For CNUC, 2020 gave us an opportunity to look at our core values and examine if we were living them out as strongly as we could. Two of our core values stood out in relation to D+I: family– it’s our foundation and it creates our intense employee focus; and integrity– it’s about doing the right thing and we abide by the highest ethical standards. For your organization, other core values or principles may apply.

It is important to note that examining and improving D+I culture is not just the right thing to do, it benefits your workforce and your organization. D+I is about bringing the best talent into your organization and not excluding people, even if unintendedly, from the opportunity to contribute. Studies show that having diverse ideas and perspectives in your organization can pay off.

Impact on organizations

A 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,700 companies in eight countries, across a variety of industries and company sizes, and looked at perception of diversity at the management level. As a part of that study they zoomed in on innovation, looking at the percentage of total revenue from new products and services launched in the past three years and found a strong statistically significant correlation between the diversity of management team and overall innovation. In the study companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue 19% higher than companies with below-average diversity in leadership (Lorenzo, et. al, 2020).

The World Economic Forum has reported that by the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials (Eswaran, 2019). Millennials highly value diversity, particularly in the workplace. In the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, they found that millennials working for employers perceived to have a more diverse senior management team were 16% more likely to stay with the organization five or more years. This is even more pronounced when looking at the diversity of the workforce, those working for organizations with a higher perceived workforce diversity were 42% more likely to stay with that organization for five or more years compared to companies that were not diverse (Deloitte, 2018).

Trying is important – we’re still figuring this out. What has worked for us may not fit within your organization but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. What’s important is that your organization finds what works for you and stick to it.

Commitment from leadership

To find success in D+I, you need to get buy-in from leadership to ensure there is a long-term commitment to change. The studies above and others like them can help to build a strong business case. In addition, you may consider polling your own employees or examining trends within your organization. Do you have higher turnover in female or minority groups? If so, you may have an inclusion issue. Don’t have many female or minority employees to turn over? Start with diversity.

Leadership’s role is to set the tone. Start by setting a foundation – this is the unglamorous part. If you want to start a D+I committee you need to define the committee’s purpose, structure, make-up and objectives. What is your organization’s definition of D+I? As an example, here are the objectives of CNUC’s D+I Committee.

  • To examine programs, activities, policies, procedures, communications and practices to determine intentional or unintentional exclusiveness or inequity.
  • To make recommendations regarding inclusive and diverse approaches.
  • To engage employees in dialogues regarding D+I.

Recruiting membership

After the foundation is set and you have some formalization established, you need a committee. Do you have employees interested in participating? Ensure you are engaging employees at all levels, not just management. You do, however, want to show that management is supportive and receptive to ideas so make sure there is some level of engagement with management. A single member of our management team chairs our committee, HR and marketing are represented and the remaining members are field employees. To engage management further we have established management sponsorship for initiatives. This not only keeps our management team engaged but builds support and accountability for the committee.

One key takeaway for us in establishing our initial committee is the importance of accepting different levels of commitment since participants will have varying levels of time to contribute, after all most of our committee is formed with time and material (T&M) employees. We also found that our committee naturally formed with diversity. We do feel it important to make attempts to ensure your committee is representative of the diversity of your organization. Look beyond obvious diversity like gender and race and consider age, location, education, experience, etc.

Charting the course

Where the rubber meets the road. We hit a few interesting challenges in determining what initiatives our committee would work on. First, we found that our group had a lot of ideas. This was exciting, it built up a lot of momentum and we had amazing brainstorming sessions. Then it became overwhelming. Yes, we had a lot of great ideas, but none of our committee are dedicated D+I staff. We had to find a way to balance our purpose of fostering realistic, lasting change, which is often slow and methodical, with a desire to keep momentum and make sweeping changes to show progress. How could we ensure we maintained the energy, continuously produce positive steps and avoid backlash and backward moves by overwhelming the organization? Our solution is to focus on small wins.

We took our ideas and identified themes. This developed into five priority areas: recruiting, hiring, equity, communication and culture. Within each priority area we then prioritized each initiative. We then assigned each item to a quarter of the year based on priority. Even so, we found we still had too many tasks to maintain focus and forward movement.

Our committee meets monthly, so we made a shift to focus in on one item from each priority area for each month. We wanted to focus on small wins, so each goal is set to be achievable in a month or two. We worked to build support, accountability and transparency into our process. For each goal, we document why it’s important, how it will be tracked, who on the committee will “own” that item and a sponsor within the company to assist and add accountability. Since we only work on five items at a time, we can build teams to work on each task so that the workload is distributed. Finally, we built in additional accountability and transparency because we report our progress to the CNUC management team quarterly and to the entire company as a part of our State of the Company calls.

Trying is important – we’re still figuring this out. What has worked for us may not fit within your organization but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. What’s important is that your organization finds what works for you and stick to it. D+I, like so many aspects of our work, requires a continual improvement process. Regardless of the approach you take; ensure you communicate within your organization. Employees may be looking for rapid, sweeping changes. In our experience, the navy seal expression, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” is a good description. In other words, don’t rush. Take the time to check for consistency, think things through, notice and listen. The result of your seeming slowness will provide improved overall performance and changes that will stick.


Deloitte. (2018). 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey: Millennials disappointed by business, unprepared for Industry 4.0. (Rep.). Deloitte.

Eswaran, V. (2019, April 29). The business case for diversity is now overwhelming. Here’s why. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/

Lorenzo, R., Voigt, N., Tsusaka, M., Krentz, M., & Abouzahr, K. (2020, November 18). How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation. Retrieved December, 2020, from https://www.bcg.com/en-us/publications/2018/how-diverse-leadership-teams-boost-innovation

University of Massachusetts Amherst- Center for Employment Equity (Ed.). (2018). What Works: Evidence-Based Ideas to Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace (Rep.). Center for Employment Equity.

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