Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Jobs Explained

The DEI industry is a growing field in need of various skills and career experience.
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  • Workplace fairness is now a focal point at many companies.
  • An increase in DEI jobs is helping address social injustices.
  • DEI jobs often require a variety of skills and career experiences.
  • This is an overview of the DEI industry and the many careers available.

Up until a few years ago, workplace fairness wasn't a priority for the people who needed it most: people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community, to name a few. Not everyone was as equal as they should be.

Fast forward to today, and it's a much different world. Social justice movements such as the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter have raised awareness of key issues long swept under the rug in the U.S.

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Many companies are now addressing injustices that impact workers of differing demographics in and outside the workplace. The effort is known as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Companies hire employees who can specialize in one or more of these focus areas, who then help retool and refit organizations to increase DEI and improve employee well-being. And there's no shortage of work to be done.

“Indeed reports DEI job postings rose by 123% between May and September 2020.”

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Indeed reports DEI job postings rose by 123% between May and September 2020.

Companies are actively searching for more people interested in work that makes a social impact, from entry-level assistants to executives.

Gena Cox, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and author of the DEI-focused book "Leading Inclusion," said the DEI sector will be crucial in the workplace moving forward.

"Most Americans live segregated lives, and the workplace is where we are most likely to interact with people who do not look like us," Cox said. "This can be challenging when these different groups do not understand or appreciate one another…DEI work can help address both the interpersonal challenges and the disparate outcomes."

The rest of this article explains more about DEI, common jobs in the sector, relevant skills and qualities, transferable career experience, and relatable college degrees.

What Is DEI?

Each term in DEI has a significant meaning (explained below). But what is DEI in a nutshell?

Essentially, DEI is about making the world more fair, balanced, and welcoming for all people. It's part of a growing movement that's driving social justice at the individual and systemic levels.

What Does DEI Mean?

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    Diversity recognizes the collective differences of people — including age, race, ethnicity, abilities and disabilities, genders, religions, cultures, and sexual orientation — and ensures they coexist.
  • Check Circle
    Equity upholds the right to equal treatment, opportunities, and advancement for all people and dismantles barriers that get in the way.
  • Check Circle
    Inclusion cultivates an environment where people from all social and economic backgrounds feel welcomed, supported, and valued.

In the workplace, DEI policies and programs uproot racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. DEI also has the power to change companies from the inside out, addressing key issues such as hiring practices, business principles, and power dynamics.

"When done correctly, it helps organizations create structural changes that mitigate future bias and correct past wrongs," said Todd Corley, senior vice president, inclusion, sustainability, and community at Carhartt.

The following initiatives are examples of what companies hope to accomplish with DEI:

  • Remove bias and barriers in application processes to increase the representation of women and people of color
  • Ensure a company's policies promote diversity and equality, such as including pictures of underrepresented employees in visible locations
  • Use inclusive language in hiring and training materials to support employees of different demographics (e.g., race, gender, age, disability, religion, etc.)

What Jobs Are in DEI?

Many companies are hiring employees who can specialize in diversity, equity, or inclusion, making DEI a vast field with a need for many different skills and backgrounds.

According to Cox, the most common roles usually fall into one of the following categories:

Most Common DEI Roles
Category Focus Example Role Bottom Line
Administrative Data Administrative assistant Must be comfortable with details, numbers, and data-focused work
Education Training and development DEI facilitator Must be a skilled moderator who can create or present training materials
Leadership Coaching and advisory DEI program manager Must be able to coordinate projects and lead workshops
Executive Communication and influence Chief diversity officer Must be able to handle all inclusion strategies within a company

Which Skills or Qualities Are Most Useful?

As the DEI field grows, the workforce will continue to have diverse skills. But which of these skills or qualities are most useful?

Cox believes that every DEI role requires three key skills:

  • 1. Confidence
  • 2. Optimism
  • 3. Resilience

Cox explains: "I value these characteristics as highly, if not more than the other skills like problem-solving, communication, influence, and data analysis…these jobs are best for people who say, 'I will find another angle and try again tomorrow.' Nothing about this work goes in a straight line."

Similar soft skills are crucial for higher-level leadership roles. Shelli Green, executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Vectrus, said DEI leaders need empathy, a willingness to learn, open-mindedness, and effective communication to succeed.

"I have most benefited from being a good listener and allowing those I interact with to be vulnerable and express their lived experiences," Green said. "It's also important to understand team dynamics. That way, you can leverage any experience you have in developing successful teams as you journey from inclusion to equity."

Which Careers Transition Well to DEI?

Since DEI is still relatively new, career changers who switched to DEI roles compose most of the workforce. From public relations to marketing, many career paths can lead to DEI.

However, some careers can make the transition easier. According to Green, experience in the following areas provides "great foundational knowledge" for the field:

Which Degrees Are Most Relatable?

Many colleges and universities have recently offered education on DEI in continuing education or certification programs. But no specific DEI degrees are available — yet.

According to experts, the following degrees (and their related skill sets) can help prepare you for success in DEI roles:


Feature Image: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

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