How to Prepare for a DEI Career

Apr 5, 2022

DEI jobs can be taxing, but these tips will help make sure you’re ready.

Every once in a while, a calling comes to do something that will make a bona fide difference. Working in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) might just be that next thing.

The need for companies to embrace DEI is clear. Violence, injustice, and hate crimes against underrepresented groups of people are taking a toll on employees’ lives, increasing the demand for businesses to step up DEI efforts.

A Glassdoor survey found that 76% of employees and job seekers want to work for a company with a diverse workforce. And to their credit, companies are taking action.

DEI jobs are on the rise, which will go a long way in addressing the most pressing issues. According to the Washington Post, these issues include:

  • Hiring a more diverse workforce
  • Helping employees of color advance through the ranks
  • Giving underrepresented workers more decision-making power
  • Facilitating uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism

But as rewarding as these outcomes can be, the work is also taxing. People in DEI have to navigate complexities and take on challenges that are not easily fixable.

“DEI work can be like pushing a boulder up a hill, and it will continue to be that way until the larger societal changes,” said Gena Cox, Ph.D., a DEI expert.

So, how can you be sure you’re ready? We spoke with DEI experts on how to prepare for a DEI career.

Mentally Prepare for Your Role

Working in DEI often means being challenged to help your organization grow in the right direction. You might…

Plan initiatives to assemble a more diverse workforce

Lead tough conversations about discrimination that directly affect your coworkers

Help build trust and ease concerns wherever they might exist

Experts say that you should mentally prepare for what’s ahead to navigate these intense and changing demands and responsibilities.

Shelli Green, executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for Vectrus, explains:

“To be in a role like this, you have to be self-aware and willing to evaluate your approach and change quickly. In order to prepare for that, you have to have a strong sense of self. You will not be able to survive in a role like this without the mental fortitude to get through the topics that come up. You can’t shy away from them.”

Can You Be a Change Agent?

While it’s important to have the right skills and qualities for a DEI job, people from various backgrounds and careers can fit in. Social workers, policymakers, human resource managers, recruiters — all have carved out jobs in the sector.

Perhaps the bigger question is whether you can be a change agent for DEI, which requires constant learning, adapting, and persisting in pushing your organization’s DEI mission forward.

To figure this out, ask yourself questions like:

Am I committed to fostering and facilitating change?

Am I comfortable with conflict and challenging the status quo?

Am I able to move people from “where they are” to “where I need them to be”?

Todd Corley, senior vice president, inclusion, sustainability, and community at Carhartt, explains:

“I actually think that people from a variety of different majors/careers can make a transition into DEI roles. It really depends on who the person is and how curious they are as a learner…the DEI professional of the future is not limited to the career that they are already in. It’s a matter of walking toward the culture you want to create for all people.”

Network To Avoid Feeling Isolated

Despite an increase in DEI jobs over the past few years, the sector is still relatively new. Unlike other industries, DEI doesn’t have decades of knowledge, resources, and experience to rely on.

Instead, DEI professionals like Green are moving the industry forward by learning from each other. They discuss things like best practices, workable strategies, and realistic benchmarks.

A similar approach applies to people thinking about starting a DEI career. Experts agree that you should network to avoid feeling isolated. Seek out DEI professionals, ask questions, and learn from them.

Green explains:

“Networking has been very beneficial when the job feels isolating. Even though I have the support, and so many people are involved in wanting to see change in an organization, it is a lonely space for a DEI professional. Because there are times when no one wants to talk about a difficult topic, challenges with recruiting, and obtaining diverse talent.”