04 May 2021

Insights on DEIB and Skills

Priyanka Mehrotra
Research Lead


  • This readout presents the highlights from our roundtable on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) and skills, including an explorable mindmap and key points from the discussion
  • There are some skills that are crucial for DEIB at all levels within an organization, however, the role that individuals have to play in enabling these skills and driving them might differ.
  • Skills should be pragmatic and teachable and need to be consistently practiced throughout the organization to have a meaningful impact and bring about change.
  • Leaders need to make DEIB an organizational priority and embed it in their culture to enable people to drive DEIB

In March 2021, we launched a new study on DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) and skills. As part of our ongoing research, we recently gathered leaders for a research roundtable focused on this topic.

The focus of the discussion was to understand the skills critical for fostering DEIB and how orgs can effectively develop them.

Some of the specific questions we discussed include:

  • What are the skills crucial for DEIB?
  • How might we scientifically identify those critical skills?
  • How can learning leaders make sure DEIB-critical skills are being developed?
  • How can DEIB leaders make sure skills is a focus of their DEIB efforts?

Mindmap of DEIB & Skills Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations that transpired as part of this roundtable.

Note: This is a live document. Click the window and use your cursor to explore.

Key Takeaways

Our extremely engaging conversation helped us understand how leaders are thinking about and approaching skills identification and development for the purpose of fostering DEIB. While several interesting insights were shared, we identified these 5 key takeaways:

  1. Certain skills are crucial for DEIB at all levels
  2. Skills need to be pragmatic and teachable
  3. Employees can help determine which skills are important for DEIB
  4. DEIB should be an organizational priority
  5. Consistency is key to skills development

The following sections offer an overview of the major points for each key takeaway.

Certain skills are crucial for DEIB at all levels

General consensus among our leaders: Certain skills are needed by individuals irrespective of the levels they might be at within their org.

Skills—such as listening, empathy, and self-awareness—are consistently seen as foundational for building inclusive and equitable orgs. Such skills can be instrumental in enabling people to develop other skills as well. As 1 leader pointed out:

“People need comfort with differences. People cannot approach intermediate and advanced concepts if they cannot get past the innate challenge of difference (those who don't look, sound, or act like me). That applies to people of all levels.”

Because these skills are foundational, they should be embedded in all aspects of the talent lifecycle and the org’s culture, instead of creating separate trainings for them. This can help individuals apply those skills in the right context, when they need them.

While all agreed that certain skills are important for all individuals, participants also shared about the role of different levels in enabling these skills.

People leaders must play the role of cultivator for DEIB skills within their teams, while senior leaders need to create the conditions to enable skills development.

Leaders also need to create a vision and shared purpose, and manage their team’s energy and mental health. Managers, for their part, should create a psychologically safe environment for all.

Skills need to be pragmatic & teachable

Leaders agree that DEIB initiatives can’t be tokenistic: DEIB initiatives should focus on skills that are teachable and practical, and can be applied in the workplace. As such, leaders should be able to help managers understand, for instance, how they can:

  • Create psychologically safe environments
  • Bring in different perspectives

Some of the ways leaders can do this are by:

  • Making skills into real actions, behaviors, and rituals by thinking about the everyday practices of inclusion that can be incorporated in meetings, for example, always reading the room during meetings (to gage attendees’ actions and reactions), and asking questions such as who’s in the room, who should be there, and who’s at the decision table; as 1 leader noted:

“That’s where inclusion is first experienced and where those practices can be embedded.”

  • Developing exercises that can help create awareness, such as writing down any time someone says a questionable word and noting how often they use it

Employees can help determine which skills are important for DEIB

When it comes to identifying skills that are important for fostering DEIB, leaders were clear: Ask the employees.

In order to determine DEIB skills, orgs should have employees identify instances in which they felt included and what actions enabled them to experience it.

Some of the ways orgs can do that include:

  • Surveys to ask employees about their perceptions
  • 360 assessments for employee feedback
  • Talking to employees (i.e., interviews, focus groups)
  • Leveraging employee resource groups (ERGs)

Beside engaging the employees, another helpful way to identify DEIB skills is to leverage external perspective by, for example, having leaders talk with clients and customers. External thought leadership can also be a great source for clarity and knowledge around such skills.

Tech and data can help in identifying opportunities that drive these skills. For example, organizational network analysis (ONA) can be used to identify:

  • People who might have DEIB skills
  • Who they’re connected to
  • Their areas of influence

Leaders also suggested using platforms like Glassdoor to understand why people leave the org and to look at data from exit interviews.

DEIB should be an organizational priority

When asked about how orgs can make sure that DEIB skills are included in employee development efforts, leaders believed that DEIB should be an organizational priority. Everybody needs to be responsible for driving it and be given the means to make it happen. As stated by 1 leader:

“Give individuals and teams the autonomy to DO DEIB, not just learn or talk about it.”

Which is why, as leaders shared, all skills learning should incorporate a DEIB lens. A shared example from the leaders: When orgs create learning to help people managers deliver better feedback, they should ensure that they talk about delivering feedback to different personas, age groups, races, etc.

Some of the ways orgs can ensure that skills learning as part of employee development is impactful include:

  • Encouraging interaction and interpersonal dialogue to give feedback on skills learned (as opposed to it being a siloed experience)
  • Creating conversations, sharing each other’s stories, and learning from one another across different levels (i.e., national vs local settings, manager to employee, peer to peer) instead of an “instructor” teaching the concepts.

Consistency is key to skills development

An essential part of the successful application of DEIB skills is consistency in practicing and making them an integral part of daily activities, rather than something to learn about once in a while. For example, constant driving of DEIB vocabulary into the org can help develop those skills as it promotes and encourages inclusive practices.

An essential part of the successful application of DEIB skills is consistency in practicing and making them an integral part of daily activities.

One leader shared this: Too often, development programs provide information with little / no follow-up and evaluation—or opportunities to practice and apply the lessons / new ways of thinking, doing, and being. Change in behavior and mindset requires continuous practice.

This consistent approach and practice can also help overcome one of the biggest challenges to the application of DEIB skills: It’s ultimately up to each individual to apply them. As 1 leader put it:

"The individual practice and application is where the change really takes place. Ultimately, this is very individualistic and how we shift culture.”


We're extremely grateful to the attendees who enriched the conversation by sharing their thoughtful ideas and experiences. And, as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].

Written by

Priyanka Mehrotra
Priyanka Mehrotra

Priyanka Mehrotra is a Research Lead at RedThread Research. Before joining the company in 2018, she was part of the research team at Bersin by Deloitte where she worked on talent management, D&I, and people analytics as well as conducted research and contributed content for Bersin’s Mid-market study. Prior to Bersin by Deloitte, Priyanka worked at several non-profits, think-tanks, and international organizations where she published and co-authored several articles.

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