What It’s Like to Work in DEI
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
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- DEI workers join the workforce to make a difference.
- The DEI workforce is reshaping how companies do business.
- But the work itself comes with both rewards and challenges.
- Five DEI workers talk about what it's like to work in the field.
When Khalan Boyer quit her job to volunteer with the Peace Corps in 2016, it was a chance to live out a dream of making a difference in people's lives.
It's also what set her on the path to a career in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
Boyer spent two years in Nicaragua, where she educated local entrepreneurs and advised small business owners. She also served on the Peace Corps' diversity and inclusion committee.
Her experiences in Central America reinforced her outlook on life.
"I knew that I wanted to do meaningful work where I could make a positive impact," Boyer said.
Boyer, now director of DEI at tech-media company Red Ventures, is part of a growing DEI industry. Companies are stepping up DEI efforts, largely in response to social movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
Studies show that DEI initiatives such as anti-discrimination policies and workplace belonging lead to a positive work environment and make companies smarter, stronger, and more capable.
"It not only impacts the overall performance of a company but, more importantly, creates an environment where employees truly feel included and can thrive as their authentic selves," Boyer said.
What's it like to work in DEI? For Boyer, it's a matter of leveraging her background and experience, including:
- Being a woman of color
- Building relationships with senior leadership
- Approaching new situations with curiosity and non-judgment
But what's the experience of working in DEI like for others? We spoke with DEI workers to learn more about what makes the field fulfilling and challenging.
Shelli Green is the Executive Director of DEI at Vectrus, a government service provider. Being in charge of DEI means everyone listens to her voice — she has the ear of the company's board of directors and CEO, who rely on her to guide Vectrus to a more diverse place. She's also a founding member of the DEI executive board of Washington Exec, a network for executives in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
"It's a very fulfilling career. I get to interact with people across our business in very vulnerable and intimate ways. I create and foster a sense of trust and understanding — that's powerful. Being in a DEI leadership role, you feel very connected to the company and colleagues. While the number of DEI jobs has increased, they're still very unique positions that you get to play a role in crafting and designing. It's still growing, and that's an exciting path."
Tiarra Chambliss, DEI program manager at Red Ventures, knows how important it is to lead with authenticity and empathy. Before joining RV in 2020, she helped create safe spaces for diverse students at Virginia Tech University, a predominantly white institution. At RV, her mission is to build a more inclusive culture. She creates learning recommendations, researches DEI strategies, and updates stakeholders on the latest progress.
"The most challenging part is the emotional labor that comes with working in DEI. On the weeks when it feels like the world is bananas, it is challenging to keep showing up even if you are directly impacted by the news as a person, rather than a practitioner. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing small changes that build up over time."
Gena Cox, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist, executive coach, and author who focuses on two things: helping corporate leaders understand new expectations for DEI and building workplaces where people from underrepresented groups can thrive. Her book, "Leading Inclusion," draws from this knowledge and is a resource for seeking solutions to racial-based issues that trouble many workplaces.
"DEI is a career path that can be highly rewarding for someone who has a passion for driving social transformation and a desire to be in a spot that is currently getting a lot of attention. However, while more DEI jobs are being created and there is demand for employees who have this expertise, these jobs have traditionally been (and still are) under-resourced, under-appreciated, and under-powered...DEI work can be like pushing a boulder up a hill and it will continue to be that way until the larger societal changes. At least nowadays DEI professionals are getting paid salaries that seem fairer, relative to the contributions they are asked to make."
Todd Corley lives by a code: cura personalis, a Latin tenet meaning "care of the whole person." Corley's job as a senior vice president of inclusion, sustainability, and community allows him to do just that at Carhartt, a workwear brand. He oversees the company's DEI strategies, sustainability initiatives, community partnerships, and corporate giving programs. Corley is also the recipient of a Claes Nobel World Betterment Award, recognizing his contributions to promoting global unity and understanding.
"Building out a DEI strategy is among the most rewarding and meaningful purpose-driven work streams that a person can pursue. The leaders of the future — CEOs, university presidents, government officials — need to know how to create dialogue and common ground among a diversity of stakeholders, employees, students, constituents, and others. A person who dedicates themself to a role like chief diversity officer will be a sought-after leader who has proven that they can respond to people's diverse needs. In the end, we all want the same basic things: safety, health, well-being, respect, and opportunity."
Feature Image: FG Trade / E+ / Getty Images