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Why executive sponsorship is critical for achieving D&I goals

DEI success requires everyone's involvement, and if you're an executive or CEO, that includes you, too. Learn how from the latest data on diversity hiring.

4 min read


Why executive sponsorship is critical for achieving D&I goals

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Business initiatives fail if they don’t have sponsorship and accountability from company leaders — and that includes D&I initiatives. 

Executive sponsorship communicates a program’s importance and urgency. If you don’t have executives backing and funding your diversity and inclusion efforts, driving real results is nearly impossible. 

And this isn’t an area where you can afford to fail. A diverse workforce drives innovation and adapts to changing market needs better than a homogeneous one. Not to mention it’s hard to appeal to an ever-diversifying market when your own business has failed to demonstrate inclusion.

Quite simply, diversity is a business imperative. To be successful, it needs to be treated like one. Here’s why leaders in the C-suite must take accountability for diversity and inclusion initiatives.

It takes a team effort to move the needle

Truly improving diversity and inclusion requires everyone’s participation. A chief diversity officer can architect vision and strategy, but to really create change, everyone at the company needs to take ownership of the cause. D&I has to become both a cultural and strategic imperative.

That starts at the top. When leaders prioritize D&I by setting specific goals in the boardroom, they signal the program’s importance to everyone across the company. From there, specific goals can be aligned across the organization, from the top to the front lines.

All too often, D&I efforts are either reactive or only taken to maintain compliance. D&I briefly draws some attention when an incident reveals a department’s biases, for example. Or a company channels their D&I budget into funding unconscious bias training, which allows managers to check the box for compliance reasons but rarely produces real outcomes or improvements.

In order to drive results, D&I initiatives must be proactive and holistic — and that requires executive sponsorship. Strategic oversight from the C-suite inspires more targeted actions and results in processes that have a lasting impact.

A business imperative requires strategic support

As noted, businesses need diversity. When workforce experiences and perspectives are limited, blind spots develop. Those invariably lead to lost market share and revenue. Since achieving a more diverse and inclusive culture is a strategic priority, clearly it deserves a concerted, strategic effort. 

D&I initiatives require a complete plan, from setting specific, realistic goals, to measuring and assessing progress toward those goals, to developing mechanisms for governing D&I programs. Additionally, the C-suite has to authorize sufficient funding and resources to carry out the strategy and revamp the infrastructure needed to achieve D&I goals.

According to the 2021 SmartRecruiters State of Diversity Hiring Report, however, most companies are falling short. They haven’t set strategic targets or developed plans for measuring and governing D&I activities. Only 21% of companies, for example, have defined strategies and processes for setting and calibrating diversity hiring goals.

Similarly, only 26% of companies report having a way to measure or assess activities and progress as they relate to diversity hiring goals. Only 24% report having a way to govern them. All too often, the controlled strategy and infrastructure essential to progress simply aren’t in place.

The C-suite sets the tone

Here are some more eye-opening statistics from the State of Diversity Hiring Report:

  • A mere 22% of senior leaders and executives have specific goals for interviewing and hiring diverse talent
  • And just 15% of hiring managers have strategically set diversity hiring goals tied to their compensation.

Only when responsibility is clearly delineated can a company produce lasting D&I outcomes. That accountability must originate in the C-suite. From there, accountability should cascade down to those responsible for recruiting and hiring across the organization. 

To drive home the importance of improving D&I, company leaders should develop rewards for progress toward related goals. When goals are tied to bonuses or other incentives, managers are more likely to take the actions needed to produce results. By rewarding managers and employees for D&I, your company elevates diversity and inclusion initiatives to the level they fully warrant.

So, if you’re a C-suite leader looking to embed D&I into your organizational culture and make measurable progress, then start by assigning your senior leaders specific goals for building a pipeline of diverse talent. Monitoring your company’s diversity hiring goals at the executive level makes it clear that D&I is a strategic imperative.


Jerome Ternynck is founder and CEO of SmartRecruiters.

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