Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion through Strategic intent

Written by Manasa Sai & Nisha Chandran

As organisations work towards innovating solutions to solve complex problems in a volatile global business environment, it becomes a business imperative to ensure that people from all backgrounds, abilities and perspectives have equal opportunities to contribute and participate in organisational success. A decisive focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) helps organisations in managing & eradicating racial, gender, cultural, and ethnicity-based discrimination, stereotypes and biases to a large extent.

Despite the indisputable benefits of DEI, employees from underrepresented groups still remain that – underrepresented. In most organizations, PWD and LGBTQ+ employees remain a minority. Huge gender disparity is a big challenge across multiple industry sectors in India, even though women comprise 48% of the population. Fostering a workplace that is both diverse and inclusive, is a long-term commitment. Just like how companies have a fixation to win markets despite global crises, an important concept called “Strategic Intent” can set the tone and pace to help organization achieve DEI goals.

Strategic Intent to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is an idea wherein Organizations set ambitious intent that stretches or surpasses their resources and capabilities to bring forth changes within every level to achieve DEI goals.

Why Strategic Intent is important

During current times, one of the biggest realization leaders faced is the understanding that some of the immediate business issues they have to solve could be critical DEI challenges. The creation and sustenance of a unified and cohesive workplace instils a deep sense of belongingness and engagement in employees. And a highly engaged employee base is critical for business recovery. However, when it comes down to DEI strategy, organizations sometimes lack either the direction or the right kind of people who possess adequate skill sets and experience to develop these strategies.

In a recent Gartner survey, DEI was reported as the top talent management priority for CEOs, and more than 800 CEOs have signed the CEO Action Pledge for Diversity and Inclusion. Yet only 36% of DEI leaders report that their organization has been effective at building a diverse workforce. The research also revealed that 80% of organizations rate themselves as unsuccessful at developing a diverse and inclusive leadership bench.

Considering this status quo, the best way to set and achieve DEI goals and strategies to drive Inclusion in organizations is by setting a clear Strategic Intent

Hierarchy of Strategic Intent (adopted from ‘Strategic Management’ by Miller A & Den G.G,, 1996)

Setting a Strategic Intent involves both envisioning and articulating a powerful leadership position that establishes a clear path for the organization to march forward. For example, the Strategic Intent set by Microsoft in 1975 was to ensure ‘A Computer in every desk and in every home’. In 1999, Microsoft revised their Strategic Intent to ‘Empowering people through great software anytime, any place and on any device’, and the rest is history.

A Strategic Intent is more than a powerful ambition. It helps an organization to be not just overambitious, but motivates it to stay consistent and direct the focus towards achieving success through:

  1. seamless internal communication of this intent,
  2. creating a commitment and buy-in from all relevant stakeholders,
  3. securing effective contributions from individuals and teams,
  4. consistently allocating sufficient resources, and
  5. leaving room for accommodating strategic changes according to dynamic business environment and opportunities

How setting a Strategic DEI Intent helps organizations

Once a Strategic Intent is set, the Vision, Mission, Goals, Objectives and Plans are detailed around it. This helps the organization in charting and navigating a winning journey.

  • A DEI Vision statement will help the organization in setting clear direction about where it would like to see itself in the future in a realistic, credible and attractive way.
  • A Mission statement on DEI will help the organization to clarify its purpose of pursuing DEI as a strategic business priority. A clearly explained DEI mission statement outlines the unity of purpose within the organization and serves as a focal point to facilitate the conversion of goals and objectives into workable plans.
  • While setting key DEI goals, it is important to collect and analyse existing data, identify barriers or roadblocks and share it with key stakeholders. This has to be done with a sense of urgency. Often organizations set goals that are basic or unidimensional in nature and are focused on achieving certain numbers, like hiring a certain number of people from a minority group, or reaching a certain percentage increase in specific talent group over a period of time. Instead of starting out by focusing on achieving certain numbers primarily, a more effective approach would be to set DEI goals that actually help towards bringing in a mind-set shift and culture change.
  • DEI Objectives clearly outline how the goals will be achieved. Conducting Cultural audits or setting a DEI Council are effective goals to start the journey towards creating culture change.
  • An actionable and achievable DEI plan clearly outlines the intended actions with details of steps, timelines and resources.

Typically, a Strategic Intent reflects the ‘why’ as well as the what, by when, by whom and how. It stretches the organization and inspires leaders and teams to innovate solutions to ensure maximum utilization of the available resources. It is like running a marathon that prompts the organization to collectively focus on completing one step at a time, climbing all hills and valleys, and eventually crossing the finish line. The secret ingredient to succeed in a race like this is unflinching leadership commitment. It is only by going through such an exhilarating ride that leaders will gain the courage to steer organizations through immediate and imminent challenges, ensuring long-term success for all stakeholders, and in the process becoming an industry leader and a DEI champion!


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