Strengthening DEI at work

A new diversity, equity and inclusion framework aims to take the politics out of DEI with a focus on competency and standards.



Employers are struggling with measuring the effectiveness of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, leading to pushback from senior leadership teams amid what is likely to be a growing political focus on ‘culture wars’ in the lead-up to the general election. 

They need a new non-political approach, according to the Competence Centre for Workplace Equality [CCEW]. It claims to be the first organisation in the world to come up with a complete framework that gives employers everything they need to understand and implement effective DEI solutions so they are embedded in their fabric.

Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, founder of the CCEW, has been working with corporate DEI for at least eight years. She saw the influx of consultants and coaches and providers of DEI services after the murder of George Floyd and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter marches. She later found that she was being approached by organisations who had worked with a DEI provider who didn’t meet their expectations in terms of the quality of their offering. She did some research into what is an unregulated marketplace where a lot of people are self taught – she reckons over 90% are self-taught. “There is no one formal pathway for DEI professionals and for DEI qualifications that can indicate their credibility and the legitimacy of the advice they are giving,” she says. 

Ashanti started looking for funding into research around competency and standards for DEI and that has now resulted in the development of a DEI framework. One of the key issues for her is depoliticising DEI. “The problem is that this work is regarded as a social justice project and being about political action and identity rather than about business transformation,” she says. “But there is a difference between an influencer or activist and a practitioner who can create an overall strategy.” For her this lack of focus on competency is why DEI is not making the progress it should be and has encountered backlash.

Ashanti thinks it is legitimate for ministers to ask what DEI consultants do given the lack of regulation and the amount of money employers are spending. “Organisations are not getting competent support and HR directors are often dissatisfied with the providers they are using, but have nowhere to go,” she says. 

Another issue is that the parameters of DEI are constantly widening, most recently to embrace menopause, fertility and mental health. Ashanti says this is often based on individuals setting up shop based on their own lived experiences and providing advisory services at cost when they are not qualified to do so. On the other hand, employer procurement teams often don’t know what questions to ask.

The framework

The CCEW’s open-source DEI framework can be used in three ways. There are 13 core competencies that the framework covers and these have been stress tested around the world and peer reviewed. Managers hiring DEI professionals can use these to create a job description and shortlist candidates as well as to devise a performance management process. Ashanti says currently DEI professionals come up with their own objectives because the sector is so new and that makes it hard to measure performance and can lead to a high turnover of staff. The framework can also be used for training and upskilling existing HR and DEI professionals and to build a company’s internal capacity. Thirdly, it can be used for procurement purposes, such as for tools that purport to reduce bias.

Ashanti says the response to the new framework has been “astounding”. The framework has been shown at major HR conferences and people are signing up – in one day at a recent conference 73 people signed up. “There’s a real palpable need for this,” she states, adding that companies are frustrated that they are signing up to charters and spending a lot of money but with little return. They need objective measures to help them navigate what works for their organisation. What’s more, Ashanti believes regulation is coming and the DEI sector needs to be ahead of the game when it comes to accountability. 

There is also a duty of care issue associated with the framework. Ashanti says many employers are acting on DEI based on moral and emotional reasons. The emphasis on people with lived experience can lead to burnout, she says, because of the lack of parameters on the DEI role and the blurring of lines. A competence approach is therefore also about safeguarding. Ashanti says some people are plucked from other departments and put in DEI roles which can be triggering for them and is therefore unethical. “My identity does not qualify me to do this work ethically,” she says. “It’s not a personal crusade. That leads to burnout. It’s about business transformation.” The same goes for SMEs, she says, who have even fewer resources and need to take a strategic approach that is based around measurable goals.

The framework has been around for some time, but it is only since January that it has been actively promoted. The CCEW is also producing a hiring handbook which works alongside the framework. 

“We need a more strategic approach rather than a feather approach of scattering resources. Currently DEI is all over the place,” says Ashanti.

*To find out more about the framework, click here.

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