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Diversity and Inclusion

How to build a business case for D&I at your company

Buying a branded ping-pong table or getting 15 types of bagels for breakfast can hardly feel comparative to a diversity and inclusion (D&I) program. It may not be fair but that’s the reality of budgets and competing priorities when asking for money, resources, or even just executives’ time and support for your D&I strategy.

While organizations know they need to prioritize “diversity and inclusion” and it’s easy to see why (see our previous Inclusion Work article on Business case for D&I), facts don’t always translate to action – even though executives appreciate best practices.

So, let’s crack now on to the hard part – building a business case that executives will actually listen to.

Make broad facts applicable to your organization. Facts don’t always change people’s minds and executives are paid to care about their organization, not every organization.

Connect them to what employees are saying and to data surrounding key organizational pain points with a positioning that makes it relevant to them.

For example, if turnover is an issue, position D&I initially as a talent retention program. If you’re trying to double headcount in a year, then D&I is a great way to deepen talent pools.

Surveys and interviews will provide you with the quantitative and qualitative data to get a pulse on employee sentiment – how employees understand diversity and inclusion, issues they feel exist in the organization, and solutions they would like to see.

📍Position questions using desired outcomes

For example, “What do you think would make this company more innovative?”,
“On a scale of 1-5, do you feel you are heard and respected at work?”

📍Add open-ended questions

This allows for people to offer ideas and free-form comments.

📍Think of potential success metrics

Write survey/interview questions in a way that provides a baseline. Some sample metrics you can pick are:

Demographic changes in employee base, hiring, turnover, and promotions
Questions around feeling welcome, being able to share personal stories at work, feeling heard, or feeling supported
Revenue by team or project correlated to team diversity
Remember that surveys and interviews should, however, always be optional – force is not likely to work in your favor. Also, keep in mind that employees are not D&I experts. Their suggestions should be checked against best practice research to side-step any unintended consequences.

Once you know your angle, gather relevant facts to strengthen your pitch and show how research supports your claims. Below are some examples:

📍Recruiting

📍Retention

  • 84% of executives believe a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion increases employee turnover

📍Sales

📍Brand

  • 69% of executives rank diversity and inclusion as important, up 32% since 2014, according to SHRM

📍Innovation

  • Diverse companies are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders, according to Bersin by Deloitte

Offer the “executive summary” and delve into details as you go through your presentation, meeting, or conversation.

📍Vision alignment

This serves two ends: it keeps the focus on the organization and it shows executives you aren’t attacking them or claiming they caused all the problems, but instead are showing them how it’s in their best interest to listen further to your plan.

📍Mission connection
Tying D&I into the company’s mission shows your project is tied into business challenges and actions, adding legitimacy to the proposal. This is also a time to tie into near-term pain points and bring your “angle” back into the conversation.

📍Goals of the program

Be clear about what you are trying to achieve with the requested resources. If you have long-term goals in your strategy, break them down into milestones and short term progress goals so executives can more easily see the pathway.

📍Planned initiatives

When explaining initiatives and tactics to build inclusion, keep in mind:

“nudges” small actions: intended for quick impact,
such as making bathrooms either gender-neutral and,
“big splashes”: large initiatives designed for maximum change, such as, adding a parental leave policy or updating maternity leave to be for all parents.
Importantly, while dissent and tough questions happen for any initiative, it can be particularly intense for something personal like diversity and inclusion. So, be prepared for pushback.

📍“Diversity and inclusion programs make people uncomfortable.”
The blunt answer here is: yes, they do. Diverse teams process data differently, so there will be disagreements that cause discomfort, but this is the foundation of genuine innovation.

📍 “Diversity and inclusion program force people to do things they don’t want to or aren’t ready for.”
With this one, executives aren’t in the right mindset. Forced action on diversity initiatives does not work. If this comes up, remind executives that all D&I actions are optional.

📍 “Isn’t diversity and inclusion just ‘reverse discrimination’ against straight people, white people, and men?”
No. While some programs have gone that way, you are not advocating for this kind of program. Your program is about making the work environment optimized so everyone can do their best work and gets the support they need.

Adding an inclusion measure for someone in the transgender community, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, does not, for example, take away from a straight, or even gay/lesbian, person’s ability to use the bathroom they choose.

Similarly, adding a ramp for accessibility or offering someone a flexible desk or ergonomic chair does not take away from an able-bodied person’s ability to take the stairs, have a desk, or sit in a chair.

📍“What if you can’t please everyone?”
D&I, like any initiative, is not about pleasing everyone. It’s about making the organization better.

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The bottom line?

The reality of budgets means that even though there is strong evidence for having and implementing a D&I strategy, getting executives to listen is harder than building a business case for D&I. But the identification of your organisation’s unique needs, proper positioning along with careful handling of pushbacks can set you on the right path.

State of DEI 2020-2021

How has 2020 changed the way we work? Hive Learning reports on the State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2021.

Read the report

Fiona Young (she/her)

Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.