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DEI Leaders: Escape the Confinement of the HR Silo

Management of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is critical to a competitive 21st-century organization. Many articles and studies show that DEI leaders and their efforts can significantly shape and implement policies that ensure your organization is prepared to succeed and thrive in the increasingly diverse world. However, many organizations struggle to realize these business benefits due to a lack of a holistic approach. This is where Joseph Santana comes in. As a former corporate DEI leader and thought-leading voice on driving DEI results in the 21st century, Santana has an innovative approach to achieving DEI business goals. This article will explore Santana’s approach in three areas that remove critical obstacles so DEI leaders can help organizations derive top business benefits from DEI.

DEI Leaders Must Escape the Restrictions of the Human Resources (HR) Silo

DEI leaders cannot fully succeed in helping their company realize business benefits while confined to HR. DEI leaders must partner equally with all business components to produce the highest level of business impact.  While partnering with HR is important, it’s not enough, and being trapped to focus only on DEI from an HR lens is a non-starter for significant business impact. The most effective DEI efforts must optimize the economic value added by all workforce members and the company supply chain partners and enable the company to expand its market size footprint. Therefore, a DEI leader must have a holistic understanding of the organization and be positioned to drive value across the entire enterprise.

Some DEI leaders come from an HR background, which is fine, but to be truly successful, they must learn how other organizational components work. On the other hand, if a DEI leader comes from a non-HR background, they should learn about HR since it’s equally important to their success.

The ideal position for a DEI leader is to report to the CEO or a COO. From this level, they act as a business strategy advisor and governance monitor over DEI efforts across all areas of the organization. Every organization must have a DEI leader with a holistic business approach to drive real change.

DEI Leaders Must Strengthen, Link, and Align Every Link in their DEI Efforts

DEI leaders cannot achieve top DEI-driven business results alone. Every leader of a component of this enterprise-level effort must be linked, aligned, and well-trained to do their part. ERG (Employee Resource Group) leaders and executive sponsors must be trained, linked, and aligned to support DEI business-impacting efforts. Supplier diversity managers must likewise be linked and aligned. The same is true for diversity councils. Education and training for DEI effort component leaders are crucial to expand their understanding of DEI issues and their connection to the business. Armed with a strong team, the top DEI leader can extend their positive impact into sales, the supply chain, operations, and, yes, even HR.

End the Love Affair with Best Practices

To have solutions that address the needs of the 21st century and have a business impact, DEI leaders must move beyond simply copying practices from other companies and reacting to urgent situations. First, the idea of “best practices” is useless unless you’re talking about achieving a set physically measurable result, as in Frederick Taylor’s Pin Factory. When it comes to strategy, there is no best practice. Some things work well in one organization but not in others due to operational, market, goals, and other differences. Second, the idea of copying best practices is to be as good as whoever you consider the practice leader in your industry. Santana says, “I never knew a business aiming to be as good as their competitor. Usually, the goal is to outthink and outsmart the competitor.”

To create and run DEI practices that provide a company with a competitive advantage, DEI leaders must innovate solutions that give their organization a competitive edge in leveraging their workforce and supplier while expanding that market share in an increasingly diverse world. DEI leaders must also learn to proactively anticipate opportunities and challenges and experiment with bold new solutions. DEI leaders must expand their understanding of current and future developments that impact their industry’s workforce, workplace, and marketplace. They need to anticipate upcoming changes from signals so they can prepare to pounce on opportunities, avoid obstacles, and sometimes turn lemons into lemonade.

As the business world continues to evolve and become more diverse, the ability of DEI leaders to proact and innovate becomes even more vital. DEI leaders must operate as innovative, proactive business strategists and governance monitors partnered with a top-notch aligned community of sub-component DEI leaders.


In conclusion, running DEI efforts that produce measurable business results requires a holistic strategic approach. Joseph Santana’s approach offers a starting point for companies that want to reap top business benefits from their 21st-century DEI efforts.

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