Being a successful I&D Programme Manager in 2023

I&D initiatives are making waves in business, with the development of more roles

As inclusion & diversity (I&D) has risen to the forefront of global corporate agendas, we are seeing an increasing trend to hire Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officers (CIDOs). In fact, Glassdoor reveals that D&I executive and leadership roles have increased 2.6 times over the levels recorded in June 2020.

LinkedIn data also shows that there has been a 71% increase worldwide in all I&D roles over the last five years. One such role, the I&D programme manager, is ranked third on the 2023 LinkedIn Jobs on the Rise list. For professionals looking to become a CIDO one day, the I&D Programme Manager is the perfect stepping stone to placing executives on that path.

Key attributes for an I&D role

Although it’s great to be able to analyse the data of your employee population, it’s soft skills that can make or break someone in this role. This includes emotional intelligence, empathy, and the humbleness to check your biases and recognise when you make mistakes.

The role is ideally suited to someone who is personable and can actively engage with people across various cultures while considering the vast nuances across peoples’ different lived experiences. An active listener who believes the people’s experiences and understands their personal view is not always correct will create the most impact and change within the work.

Having resilience is also helpful, as there will be colleagues who push back, such as the person who says, “There are no problems here. There’s nothing we need to do”. But these are the very people that I&D programme managers need to engage with the most because they need to understand that this work benefits everyone, no matter your individual experience.

Being a relatively new role for organisations looking to deepen their I&D efforts, here are some considerations for professionals interested in taking on the role:

1. Create an inclusive working environment

Employees come from different cultures and have unique lived experiences that have shaped who they are today. It’s impossible to understand thousands of people deeply, but it’s possible to recognise those nuances and provide a supportive space for them to be themselves.

Creating an inclusive working environment involves a range of tactics, including training and listening days, but it’s also about being available for ad hoc private conversations and recognising the right time for the people team to get involved.

2. Connect. Connect. Connect.

The I&D programme manager’s role is to connect with as many different types of people as possible and engage in those supportive spaces, primarily because programme managers have their individual lived experiences with unique biases and assumptions.

Proactively connecting with people you usually wouldn’t can build more understanding of how people from different social groups and cultures think, what’s important to them, and what you should do to support them in the workplace. For example, at Progress, we use Microsoft Teams and, within that, have private channels for our employee resource group communities. We’re building these spaces where employees know it’s safe to commune on different topics and make mistakes without fear of retribution.

3. Engage the C-suite

A lot of I&D work comes from the grassroots level: The people leading the communities do most of the heavy lifting. But without buy-in from the CEO down, a programme won’t be successful.

Setting an expectation of the C-suite is critical to support the I&D work in a structured way – whether they become a part of the CSR Group or I&D committee or act as sponsors for employee resource groups. Strong leadership that works closely with leaders of employee resource groups and I&D committees will help them move forward and make decisions that impact the way we exist daily – whether on accessibility, veterans, gender, race, or other I&D areas.

4. Reflect on your own biases

Staying on the right learning curve involves checking yourself consistently and having someone you can count on for a second opinion. Although we’re I&D professionals, we still exist within our own lived experiences and personal beliefs. It’s important to constantly learn and grow; dig deep into your own biases, outlooks and opinions, ask questions and have an accountability partner.

Working consistently to connect to people you wouldn’t normally builds an understanding of how different cultures think so that we can support them in those spaces. Create opportunities for folks within their communities to lead and have the power to make decisions as you cannot be an expert for all communities, so let those who are, guide you.

5. Take time to pause

An important way to grow and break down those biases is by checking if you feel a certain emotion towards someone when they say something. It’s as simple as pausing before you speak and thinking if you’re feeling this because of something specific or if their identity is affecting your perception. Thinking of the ‘why’ is critical.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and emotions can run high in this work. Pausing before giving an opinion and considering all perspectives allows the I&D programme manager to have that all-important second thought.

6. Remember the reason for doing all this work

It’s easy to feel under pressure, and we often deal with heavy subjects, so it’s important to regularly return to the ‘why?’ For me, it’s the joy of working with people and doing the right thing. It’s the right thing to ensure that we are a community society, and the more diverse and inclusive your communities are, the more success you’ll have. So, it really just comes down to doing the right thing.

Knowledge is power

It’s the I&D programme manager’s job to become the pedestal to empower community leaders and educators and lift up their voices, help facilitate their ability to make real decisions in the workplace and create an environment for true authenticity. With the strongest starting point of skills – listening – it’s an incredible experience that unites the people within the organisation, builds stronger teams and makes the organisation a beacon for talent. Recognising the long-term success of doing all the hard work is important.

While dealing with heavy subjects, we’re also learning about people and different cultures, celebrating what makes us “us”, and using that to make a better working environment for employees. We must focus on all the amazing things each community contributes and how they change us for the better. Celebrating and honouring our vast communities and their joyful experiences is an important reminder of the beauty of diversity and what makes humanity so amazing.

Courtney Gagné is the Global DEI Programme Manager at Progress.

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