Building DEI Programs: From Good Intentions to Great Impact

By Kasper Jelsbech, Partner & Chief Consultant 

As Partner and chief DEI consultant at the Living Institute, I’ve wrestled with diversity, equity, and inclusion from a myriad of angles in many different countries. A typical struggle for many organizations is where to start or work with their DEI Programs. Here are some best practices to get you off to a good start and avoid investing in ineffective initiatives.

Due Diligence through strategic DEI initiatives

What is often misconstrued is the idea of a DEI program — it’s not a one-off, feel-good corporate fairytale. It’s a composite of strategic initiatives, a blend of why, what, and how—why are we doing this, what is our ultimate goal, and how does this transform our business, organization, culture, workforce, and bottom line? This is the secret sauce—strategic considerations infused with actionable items that morph thoughts into behavioral transformation like training, leadership development, or whatever is needed to ensure that the strategic thoughts that are built into this program, are also translated into action and behavioral change.

Avoid the quick fixes

So, why revisit DEI programs? We’ve talked about it for decades now, and we still see more or less the same figures across the board. The world hasn’t been resting, and neither should our DEI efforts. With static figures and unmet diversity benchmarks, it’s clear: what we’ve done historically hasn’t cut the mustard. And why? Because we’ve been dazzled by quick fixes, adopting what sounds alluring without a robust, methodical selection of initiatives. We’ve anchored our strategies on anecdotal desires instead of hard data. And that’s like shooting in the dark and hoping to hit the bullseye.

You might know someone in a different company, a different context that has done something – and they have good experiences with it. You copy that and find that it does not do very much because your challenges are different, and it is the wrong cure.

The key is in the data

Many organizations approach diversity, equity, and inclusion with the idea that all that is needed is unconscious bias training. “Our competitors are doing it, and once we’ve done that, then problem solved.” That’s an easy fix we see a lot, but is a very limited approach. Unconscious bias training can be effective if done and designed well and coupled or combined with other initiatives. As a standalone program, it won’t do much. You need data to understand what the culture looks like and learn what issues might be different from the competitors or peers in the sector and industry.

The other issue is that we don’t tend to follow up, meaning we don’t tend to measure the impact of our initiatives. The data needs to be persuasive. Whether it’s scrutinizing pay gaps, gender balance, recruitment, promotions, or even performance metrics, don’t hitch your DEI wagon to a lone star. Go for a constellation. Measure progress for DEI programs holistically or you’ll end up like a dog chasing its tail—exhausted and none the wiser.

Focus for DEI programs in 2024

We’re navigating a tough world market in 2024, the relentless battle for top-notch talent, and not to mention, the economic headwinds and the socio-political ‘wokeness’ squabbles. DEI isn’t just a veneer of social niceties; it’s a tool in the competitiveness toolkit, a treadle for innovation, and to the best talents saying, “This is where you belong.”

DEI programs must align with three key principles to truly resonate within an organization:


Leaders and employees must hold up the mirror and face the reflection—privileges, biases, and all. This isn’t about self-criticism but self-realization, because superficial change is temporary and unsustainable.

Inclusive Leadership: 

A true leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) wholeheartedly embraces diversity. Effective leaders guide their teams in a way that values every individual’s contribution, ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and respected.

Structural Reinvention: 

Lastly, chisel away at the bedrock—processes and systems. They must not just accommodate but champion diversity. For the long haul, we need DEI to be a part of the business strategy, not just a side project. It must be woven into the very fabric of organizational purpose and operation.

So, roll up our sleeves and sculpt DEI programs that are not just a checklist item but a cornerstone for a thriving business.