Sarah Cordivano
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Sarah Cordivano

How to set up a D&I Council or Working Group

This blog takes you through a lightweight and efficient process to set up a governance Structure for a D&I Working Group or Council.

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash.

I recently published a blog about creating a first D&I strategy for your organization. Within that post is a recommendation to create a D&I council. This blog explores how to develop the governance structure for such a group. This approach can also be relevant if you have a working group for a specific purpose such as “Accessibility in Technology.”

Before you start, a bit of advice.

  • Make sure you have the mandate top down to do this work, that makes sure your time and energy won’t be wasted.
  • Make sure you have identified a champion (this blog properly explores the role of a champion and why it’s needed in your work).
  • I’d recommend to start with a lightweight governance document (1–2 pages max). If you spend too much time on defining the governance, it cuts into the time you can actually do the work, it may be wasted effort if the governance needs changing and it also leaves less flexibility to adapt it over time.
  • Having a first draft of the governance document before the group starts and while you are inviting members to join helps set transparent expectations of them and help them make informed decisions about whether they are able to participate and commit.

Creating your governance document

This list explains main elements of a governance structure and defines each element.

Purpose

What is the purpose of the group? What is the group meant to do? Is the group meant to provide guidance or also take ownership of work?

Eligibility and commitment

What makes a candidate for the working group eligible to participate? Is there a seniority requirement or an expertise requirement? What is the commitment required (for example: time, effort, availability, attitude, etc.) What qualities should they have? Is there a rotation of members? Is there a process in which new members are added (for example: if new Employee Networks/ERGs are formed, can they nominate a representative to the group?)

Quoted from my previous blog: My recommendation for such a group: they should be willing to make time to prioritize D&I work, be knowledgeable and open to feedback, be willing to give visibility to D&I in their part of the business or geographic location. D&I council members do not need to be at the very top of the organization. I actually found it’s more useful to prioritize expertise and passion over seniority when searching for council members.

Duration

Is this group meant to last indefinitely or is there a clear finish line (for example: once a strategy or roadmap is defined, is the group then dissolved?) Defining this also sets expectations among your members so they know what they are committing to.

Meeting frequency and structure

Propose an initial meeting structure: I’d likely recommend monthly meetings of 1.5–2 hours but with commitment to communicate between meetings. For a structure, consider carefully how to make the meeting accessible in its timing and structure. If you are working across timezones or locations, be sure to find a time that works for everyone, or if that’s not possible consider alternating times. I currently work with a council that has a time difference among participation of 12 hours — we’ve settled with a 7am / 7pm scheduling. Be sure to consider other accessibility accommodations to make sure the meetings are accessible to all participants and all members have an equal ability to participate.

Decision making process

Decide how decisions are made within the group. This is a really important step. Does everyone have equal voting rights? Do some members have more heavily weighted decisions rights due to how the decisions affect their work and responsibilities? Is there a process to revisit or appeal decisions? (I don’t think this needs to be too formal at the beginning, but it helps to consider and discuss these questions in advance even if you don’t have a final proposal in mind).

What happens before and between meetings & who does the work?

It’s important to identify who are the drivers of the meeting, meaning who prepares the pre-read before the meetings, who moderates the meeting and takes minutes, who actually sends out the invites? Does this rotate or is it a fixed person or persons? And most importantly, once a decision is agreed on within the meeting, who takes ownership of the next steps to do the work? Is this a voluntary basis or is there a sub-group of members who are accountable to make progress between meetings?

Stakeholders

Create an initial list of stakeholders that are critical to your success or will be effected by decisions. It’s important to keep them informed. Also allow this to evolve over time as the scope of work requires it. For a general D&I working group, an initial list I’d suggest would include: Employee Resource Groups, HR teams including recruiting, Employer Branding. Communications, Corporate Responsibility, Legal and potentially others depending on your business structure.

Where are you starting from

Before you begin the work, try to document your starting point including the following:

  • Has any work already been done related to the purpose of your group and who has done this work? (Talk to them, make sure you are not repeating work!)
  • Has any D&I related data already been collected that would be helpful to review ahead of time?
  • What other D&I groups or networks already exist in your organization, for example: working groups, advisory groups, Employee Resource Groups, etc? Be sure to talk to them first.
  • Are there any other structural barriers that would make the work of the group difficult or impossible?

Getting Started

Once you have this first draft, get feedback from a trusted sparring partner, and ideally your champion. Then send the governance document along as you invite people to join your group (or solicit volunteers). Use the first meeting you schedule to review the governance document, make any changes and get agreement to the governance for everyone before moving ahead.

Advice going forward

  • Think about membership of your group, make sure its representative, diverse, reflects your organization geographically and across the business. Make sure your members know what the commitment entails so they are able to make an informed decision to participate.
  • Think carefully about accessibility of your group and the best way for people to meet (perhaps virtually or across timezones). For members who are deaf, for instance, you should consider doing a meeting via Slack (or other chat platform) to allow equal participation by all.
  • Before each meeting, make sure you prepare an agenda and pre-read that has the context of all the relevant topics that will be discussed. This will make the discussion much more efficient.
  • Document the decisions and progress of your group going forward in a transparent way. Make sure all members of your group have access to this. Also report to your champion and stakeholders.
  • Report your success broadly internally. It’s a good reminder that if you don’t talk about what you are working on, people won’t know. This is a huge lesson, you could be doing great work behind closed doors but if your employees don’t know its happening, you’ve lost a huge opportunity to build trust and show progress.
  • Be flexible to expand or change the structure if it’s not working out. This also is relevant for your members, if it’s too limited or you are missing perspectives or insight form different parts of the business, have the flexibility to change this. If some members are unable to contribute the time and effort required, also maintain the flexibility to change your members as needed.

I hope this is helpful. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. But I think the best approach is to start with something simple, relatively lean and flexible going ahead. Hopefully this will help you create a council or working group that is organized, productive and sets clear expectations.

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This publication explores practical diversity, equity and inclusion guidance for driving change in a global working environment. Header photo credit: @aznbokchoy on Unsplash.

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Sarah Cordivano

Sarah Cordivano

Community Building, Equity, Inclusion and Maps. Former Philadelphian, Current Berliner. Twitter @mapadelphia & LinkedIn.

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Well Hello There :)

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