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The Future of the DEI Manager: How to Reduce Risk in the Job Market and Leverage a Passion for Diversity and Inclusion in a Volatile 2024

The Future of the DEI Manager: How to Reduce Risk in the Job Market and Leverage a Passion for Diversity and Inclusion in a Volatile 2024

Currently, the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has come under fire. As an opinion piece in HR Dive noted, poorly structured DEI initiatives have presented a liability to companies, particularly with claims of discrimination in the workplace when one group of employees is supported and other groups are inadvertently disadvantaged. In a move to defund DEI programs, legislators have created bills targeting public universities. Corporations and well-known CEOs have also publicly voiced their opinion on DEI initiatives with conflicting perspectives. 

In the following sections, this article will review recent happenings in the changing world of DEI as well as explore the role of a DEI manager, including a look at the tasks of a DEI manager, a day in their life, their potential impact on a company, the skills and qualifications needed, and the average salary of a DEI manager in various large cities across the US. This article will also highlight how professionals who specialize in developing and implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives can stand out in their field and increase job security by emphasizing and building certain skills.

What’s Happening in the World of DEI?

Opinions by CEOs are conflicting on DEI in corporate environments. Elon Musk notoriously posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that DIE is “another word for racism” and that DEI “must DIE.” Businessman Mark Cuban responded to Musk that anti-DEI corporations gave Cuban a competitive edge in Cuban’s appreciation for diversity and inclusion within the businesses he helms. Similarly, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson chipped in that he disliked the “whole diversity and inclusion thing.” This comment promptly prompted outrage from both employees and consumers. When Lululemon put out a public statement that Wilson left the board in 2015 and does not speak for the company, former and current women and minority employees highlighted that Lululemon’s comment was hypocritical as the company has long failed to sufficiently address a hostile work culture.

With this backlash in response to DEI, many former DEI professionals are rebranding themselves or pursuing positions in Human Resources and People Operations. Many experts have declared DEI as an industry to be a failure due to a lack of accountability and standards among practices. However, DEI is still going strong. Last year, McKinsey & Company noted that the global market for DEI in 2020 was $7.5 billion and is expected to increase sharply to $15.4 by 2026. Several major executives and politicians in the US have cultivated a negative stigma against DEI, and discussions on the topic have asked whether DEI is losing popularity among corporations in the US. However, in Europe, DEI is increasingly more in demand and some European companies are reaching out across the pond to hire DEI practitioners from the US to work remotely. 

A Look at the Role of a DEI Manager

The purpose of this section is to explore the role of a DEI manager, especially in light of recent criticisms and in consideration of the fact that DEI roles are notorious for not being well-defined with a lack of consistency from company to company or organization to organization. However, this section will give examples of what some DEI managers are doing, where the gaps in DEI are, and how jobseekers with a passion for rising up the ranks and elevating diversity and inclusion can bring their unique skill set and level up their qualifications to stand out from other applicants.

Responsibilities of a DEI Manager

In looking at the responsibilities of a DEI manager, jobseekers can see that tasks typically include designing company policies that reinforce diversity in the workplace, training hiring managers and HR staff on how to hire and retain diverse candidates, acting as a consultant to underrepresented groups to field any concerns, developing the talent brand to demonstrate an adherence to diversity and inclusion, ensuring benefits packages are tailored to employee individual needs, organizing trainings on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, collecting data on diversity metrics for internal and external use, and ensuring compliance with state or national regulations on equal employment.

A common criticism of DEI in the past was a lack of training for professionals. For instance, DEI managers might create policies regarding diversity in the workplace without the knowledge of how to properly analyze the root cause of a lack of diversity and of unfamiliarity with employment laws when creating policies that landed the company in hot water.

A push for more data-driven DEI has emerged which requires DEI professionals to build their knowledge in software tools and statistical analysis to collect and analyze data. Qualtrics has become a popular surveying tool to review both customer satisfaction and employee engagement along with diversity, equity, and inclusion data to create a holistic look at the success of the company’s work culture and brand reputation. 

The Day-to-Day Life of a DEI Manager

Back in 2019, Steven Huang, the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp discussed his approach, qualifications, and day-to-day tasks in addressing diversity in the tech field. A key aspect that Huang emphasized is the lack of a universal approach to diversity and inclusion initiatives in the DEI arena as well as a lack of universal qualifications to enter the field. This absence of standardization has come under fire more recently as good intentions without strong foundational knowledge of employment law or data analysis approaches led to poor results. 

Huang’s particular background is in analytics with an emphasis on statistics and predictive modeling which he combined with past work experience in HR. He supports DEI professionals seeking out a wide array of work experience and obtaining a variety of qualifications to be able to create a customized approach to diversity and inclusion for each company where these DEI managers are employed. 

Huang described his approach within Culture Amp–a global company–as first setting the foundation for an initiative by spending twelve months with employees on an international scale to better understand what diversity and inclusion meant to these individuals personally. Huang then used the gathered data to better define the company’s core values. From there, the D&I team created a diversity and inclusion strategy that was ongoing. Huang notes that his goal was not simply to increase diversity metrics but to look deeper at data points to find areas where change could be made among specific groups of employees to create equal opportunities. Huang also emphasizes that his day-to-day life includes working across departments to emphasize the value of diversity and educate leaders in the organization on every level. 

Many DEI managers may have a background in HR or People Ops and can work well across these departments to ensure that all leaders are implementing the diversity and inclusion initiative cohesively. For example, the DEI manager can work with HR to ensure that the recruiting process is more inclusive and use metrics of diversity numbers as an assessment tool. For example, considering that more than 25 percent of the US population has a disability, low disability representation can indicate that applicants feel uncomfortable sharing that they have a disability or that the hiring process at the company is presenting inaccessibility issues. 

While HR is known for having the primary goal of reducing liability at the company and fielding problems as they arise, People Ops is growing in popularity as an additional department at many companies with a more proactive and strategic long-term approach to employee engagement, work culture, and the talent brand. The focus of the People Ops department makes it an ideal strategic partner with the DEI department to implement DEI initiatives as part of general employee experience initiatives. 

The DEI Manager’s Impact on a Company

In a field where there is great subjectivity and a lack of standards and accountability, DEI managers can take this opportunity to highlight objective success case studies as well as the ability to work well with groups internationally due to the current demand for DEI on a global scale. DEI managers who highlight diversity numbers alone are guiding corporations on the wrong path. 

During the Silicon Valley tech layoffs, companies were notoriously posting their diversity numbers and making public pledges to hire more Hispanic employees while rapidly losing predominantly minority women in each round of layoffs

In 2024, a strong employer brand is a valuable asset to a company. An employer brand signals the company’s mission, vision, and values as part of its identity in a way that is appealing to current and future talent. As consumers and as a large part of the current workforce, Gen Z is known to have a high interest in buying from and in working at companies that align with their values and that offer meaning. 

What matters more than posting diversity numbers is how diverse employees actually feel at the company. Do they feel valued? Do they feel that their concerns are addressed? If they have a positive experience at the company, they are more likely to remain at their place of work with high retention rates, leave positive reviews on Glassdoor with an excellent diversity and inclusion assessment from the employees themselves, and be brand ambassadors for the company

DEI managers can have many different impacts on a company considering the wide variations present in the field. However, a DEI manager with a focus on improving the employer brand and increasing retention numbers rather than diversity hire numbers can avoid many common pitfalls and demonstrate a positive financial impact at the company as well. 

According to one Gallup study, the cost of replacing a single employee can be in the range of 50% to 200% of that employee’s annual salary. In that aspect alone, if a DEI manager were to collect data and develop strategies to proactively build cross-cultural understanding, create employee resource groups (ERGs) for community and psychosocial support, and develop and routinely audit tailored plans for retention, that DEI manager could demonstrate savings of potentially millions or tens of millions annually to the company if the company is a large corporation that struggles with poor retention.

The best way to show that DEI has value is to demonstrate the monetary value in promoting a positive work experience for a diverse group of employees without forcing diversity for diversity’s sake. 

Skills and Qualifications for a DEI Manager

Considering that the skills and qualifications for a DEI manager differ from corporation to corporation, candidates in related fields can highlight a past track record of success in improving company culture, reported belongingness by employees, an improved talent and employer brand, and ultimately reduced costs via higher employee retention. 

Amidst a sea of DEI professionals accused of increasing liability at their respective companies through various initiatives, candidates with a background in HR and reducing liability while improving employee satisfaction or even candidates with a background as employment law attorneys and acquired certifications in People Operations can tout their ability to keep the company out of hot water by creating proactive initiatives that are legally sound. Interestingly, more than half of junior lawyers want to transition out of the legal field by 2027 due to factors such as a poor work-life balance and a stressful work culture. As a point of note, the base salary for a junior employee law attorney ranges from $89,194 to $118,986 in Los Angeles. In the same city, the average DEI manager makes between $137,573 and $172,463

With the many tech layoffs, this also presents an opportunity for data analysts to enter the DEI field to expand their job search. There is a need for more data-driven initiatives led by DEI professionals who have a strong background in statistical analysis and in collecting, analyzing, and utilizing data. 

For qualifications, candidates looking to transition across industries can focus on acquiring People Operations, Human Resources, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion certifications. POPS Academy offers a People Operations certification as an online asynchronous program that provides 7.25 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) professional development credits. The site PeopleManagingPeople.com offers a review of the 24 best HR certification programs and courses. People looking to obtain the SHRM-CP certification do not need a degree or previous Human Resources experience to apply. Without any work experience in HR for those transitioning in their career, pursuing SHRM credits could obtain much-needed HR experience to meet some company preferences for an HR background for DEI manager applicants. 

These SHRM certification programs and courses along with any work experience in the DEI industry can help DEI professionals or professionals transitioning into DEI to increase their employability and also to rise up in the executive ranks. At times, professionals with an HR or People Ops background and a track record of success can obtain a mid-level management job within the DEI department and rapidly progress within the company. 

Average Salaries for a DEI Manager

As the duties and scope of work for a DEI manager can vary widely from company to company, the average national salary likewise varies with an annual pay range of $98,000 to $159,000 estimated by Glassdoor with some outliers given in the $200,000s. Interestingly, looking at job openings for DEI managers listed on Glassdoor, readers can see that corporate environments tend to pay more than academic and government work environments. Considering that much of the recent anti-DEI efforts have targeted universities, job seekers might do well to pursue corporate jobs for more stability. As an example of an outlier, Riot Games–a video game developer based in Los Angeles–has a reported DEI program manager salary of $246,178 per year

The following sections list the average salaries for DEI managers in large cities across the US. 

New York City 

In New York City, DEI managers typically make between $143,950 and $180,469.

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, DEI managers typically make between $137,573 and $172,463.

San Francisco

In San Francisco, DEI managers typically make between $153,139 and $191,989.

Chicago

In Chicago, DEI managers typically make between $129,236 and $162,022.

Atlanta

In Atlanta, DEI managers typically make between $120,327 and $150,854.   

Final Thoughts

The future of the DEI field is uncertain, but it is clear that the role of the DEI manager is evolving. In light of recent criticisms, DEI professionals would benefit from demonstrating the value of their work in a tangible way. This means going beyond simply increasing diversity metrics and focusing on creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees that ultimately leads to increased profit for the company due to retaining talent. The question is asked often how DEI managers can encourage all other departments at a corporation to be excited about and involved in DEI initiatives. This can be achieved through showing the personal impact of happier employees in an improved work culture and the financial impact of higher employee satisfaction numbers leading to greater customer satisfaction and increased company revenue.

Here are some key takeaways for DEI professionals:

  • Highlight your impact: Show how your work has improved employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction; consider tracking company revenue growth along with employee satisfaction numbers to show correlations.

  • Focus on data-driven initiatives: Use data to track your progress and make informed decisions about your DEI programs.

  • Become an expert in legal compliance: Stay up-to-date on employment laws and regulations to avoid creating liability for your company.

  • Develop strong relationships with other departments: Work with HR, People Ops, and other departments to ensure that your DEI initiatives are aligned with the company's overall goals.

  • Continue your education and development: There are many resources available to help you stay ahead of the curve in the DEI field.

By following these tips, DEI professionals can position themselves for success in the years to come.