Core competencies in DEI – Be strategic (Part 1 of 5)



a white hand holds up a small round mirror that shows the clear refleciton of the mountains, the background is blurred

Photo by Ethan Sees

In 2017 I changed careers from being an academic librarian who did diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work in the library technology community to a full time job as a DEI professional in the tech sector. Many people have reached out to see if I’d be willing to have a coffee and chat about DEI work and what the work actually looks like. I hope this series of five posts answers many of those questions.

I was one of the panelists for Andrea Tatum’s DEI career panel conversations. If you’re thinking about DEI as a career, check out her series. 


For me, the combination of head and heart make this work deeply satisfying and challenging. I think the five key competencies for DEI professionals are:

  1. be strategic
  2. translate academic research into action and measure the impact of initiatives
  3. meet people where they are at and help them move to be more inclusive 
  4. influence others
  5. get cross functional projects done. 

Over the coming week I’ll get into more detail on each of these competencies.

Be strategic

DEI means different things to different people and most people have an opinion on what the priorities should be. A clear strategy is important to focus on what you’re going to do, and more importantly, what you’re not going to do. 

While I’d facilitated and written strategic and operational plans for academic and library organizations, I really levelled up through conversations and a planning session with technology strategist John Jensen. My mentor Candice Morgan also shared her strategy and the thinking behind it. Seeing how others approach this was really useful. 

At the start of 2020 I adapted our existing strategy at Mozilla to connect the work we’d been doing on diversity and inclusion to the goals of the business. We had just gone through a layoff and some of the key business goals were focused on product innovation. Experimenting on how to build psychological safety was a key part of the strategy. Psychological safety is the belief that it’s safe to speak up with great new ideas and to raise the alarm when things are going off the rails. Looking at this through a DEI lens meant asking questions like:

  • Who speaks up?
  • Which voices are valued?
  • What kind of training and coaching can help teams and managers do this better?

DEI is a lens to look at HR policies and processes across the entire employee lifecycle and goes beyond to look at the entire business.

Over the last few months I’ve talked to over 30 companies about where they’re at in their DEI journey. In 2020 we saw many companies take a reactive approach to DEI, quickly rolling out one off workshops on unconscious bias or anti-racism. Without a broader strategy, these types of trainings won’t make a lasting impact.

When many people think DEI they quickly jump to thinking about hiring process. Increasing representation is impacted by who joins the company and who chooses to leave. Hiring is important but maybe your bigger problem is attrition. Looking at your attrition rates and exit survey data is a good place to look to start to understand who is leaving and why they’re leaving. To make the biggest impact these programs need to connect to an overall strategy. 

This is the first in a series of five posts. Tomorrow I’ll share some examples of translating academic research to action and talk about measuring impact of initiatives.