Jul 14, 2023

Read Time 4 min

Five ways to make DEI initiatives stick in customer success


A major challenge with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, is that despite high enthusiasm, there isn’t a lot of observable progress. That was one of the takeaways from a recent panel discussion on the topic hosted by ChurnZero.

“Most organizations are in a space where they know that it’s important, but they lack the experience to get started,” said one panelist, Rochelle Shearlds. She’s the head of partnerships at SUCCESS IN BLACK, an organization that provides career support and programming to Black professionals working in customer success.

Ejieme Eromosele, another panelist, and founder of SUCCESS IN BLACK, agreed. She believes the root cause is that many organizations haven’t defined what it is they are trying to achieve with DEI. Without clear goals, any business program, let alone DEI, is likely to underperform even with broad executive support.

Both women have seen this first-hand in their leadership positions in technology businesses—which they hold in addition to their roles at SUCCESS IN BLACK. Ejieme is the general manager for EMEA at Quiq and Rochelle is a senior director of global customer success at Medrio.

They were joined on the panel discussion by Elizabeth Hope, a marketing project manager at the Leaderspromos Marketing Agency—and Kaylin Law, who is the manager of professional services at ChurnZero. In an effort to bring awareness to this issue, ChurnZero partnered with SUCCESS IN BLACK to host this RYG event.

Here are five takeaways from the session that stood out to us.

1. DEI programs need a defined goal

Like any program in business, DEI should have a defined goal. A program without a goal is simply going through the motions.

Rochelle recommends organizations review what they look like today and identify gaps. Those gaps can go a long way toward helping define goals. For example, striving to ensure that staffing is more representative of the general population.

Ejieme pointed out that many DEI programs focus on diversity alone, but equity and inclusion are just as important.

The organization size is a key consideration too. A business with 50 or fewer employees will have different DEI needs—and resources to match—than a global organization with thousands of employees.

2. Treat DEI like any other program in business

One of the common themes among the panelists was the notion that DEI should be treated like any other program in business.

Looking to sure up executive support for DEI?

Rochelle suggests implementing a pilot program first to demonstrate results.

Lobbying leaders for a budget?

“Write a proposal,” said Ejieme. That proposal, she continued, needs to “have clear, tangible outcomes telling them what the project is that you are trying to fund and have a reason for the money that you’re asking for.”

“The biggest opportunities are around employee talent acquisition, engagement and talent retention,” she said, noting this will help produce tangible and quantifiable benefits that appeal to business leaders. “It costs a lot of money to hire amazing talent and keep them happy.”

Change management needs to be addressed similarly too, according to Kaylin.

“Whenever we want to do anything with our businesses, whether we’re vetting a new tool, adding new role, or getting a new team, we’re making an organizational change.” That change needs to be communicated, prioritized and funded, she added.

3. Add cultural education to the mix

Many associate DEI with hiring, pay and promotions, noted Kaylin, but cultural education can go a long way to building a sense of inclusiveness.

There’s a social element that builds community too. Several panelists pointed out easy activities businesses can do to get their teams active and engaged in DEI through cultural exchanges. For example, sharing different foods around holidays or giving “short Ted Talks” on various cultural traditions.

This will also help you to find allies and common ground from within the organization for building a DEI program.

4. Small steps go a long way

Too many DEI programs try to accomplish too much at once, according to the panelists. The key, like many programs in business, is to start small and build on success.

This means bringing DEI concepts to existing activities:

  • Is there an employee book club? Propose a DEI-related book to an existing book club, rather than creating a new book club solely dedicated to DEI.
  • Do groups of employees eat out for lunch once a month? Suggest incorporating different cultural restaurants. This is a fun and social way to break down barriers.
  • Do leaders do off-site events? Research and recommend a visit to a local cultural museum as an option.

“You can do these small bite-sized pieces that really have transformational energy,” noted Kaylin.

5. Create a safe environment for DEI to thrive

The panelists agreed that emotional safety is one of the biggest blockers to success in DEI.

For example, an employee who is feeling marginalized might be fearful of speaking up. Therefore, businesses have to work hard to create safe environments where their employees are free to share without retribution.

Yet this also cuts another way: people are inherently worried about “saying something wrong.” DEI programs help to reduce this issue by giving people the structure for difficult conversations. This is because employees that are active and involved in DEI are demonstrating good intentions, which in turn, creates a shared understanding and builds trust.

Signs of DEI success

One of the questions posed to the panelists was this:

How do you know if your DEI program is on its way to success?

“Success varies from case to case, but there are ways that you can tell that your efforts aren’t in vain,” said Ejieme. She suggests successful DEI programs have three broad signals.

First, successful DEI programs have a budget. Second, they have an active employee resource group (ERG) or affinity group. Third, the DEI efforts are led by an executive sponsor that both steers the program—and is also measured by the program’s success.

To continue the conversation, you can watch the full session: DEI in Customer Success: True change requires a collective effort.


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