Your diversity and inclusion strategy should include a detailed description of your strategic priorities and how you plan to executive on that strategy. Often the most difficult step is defining those priorities – where do we need to focus in order to have the most impact. When crafting your diversity and inclusion strategic plan it is important to keep one very important question top of mind – “What’s my Line?” A well-crafted diversity and inclusion strategy has the opportunity to impact the business in three key areas – Pipeline – Bottom Line – Top Line. Your strategy should provide a detailed analysis of how you will impact the business in each of these areas.

Pipeline – The most common area of focus for traditional diversity and inclusion strategic plans is in the area of pipeline development. It is the most clear-cut and easy connection to make to the business. Few organizations will argue against the importance of access to talent and no organization can function without skilled and talented employees. A diversity and inclusion strategy should clearly depict the current state of the organization from a demographics standpoint as well as an engagement standpoint and should look at ways to enhance both recruitment and retention efforts.

Employee Resource Groups can be an excellent conduit for diverse talent. To ensure ERGs are adding value to the business, include pipeline development goals in your governance policies. Be purposeful in linking talent sourcing initiatives to development offered through the ERGs or through other mediums. Diversity and Inclusion practitioners are often well connected with the community and have strong relationships that can be leveraged in initiatives aimed at pipeline development. Most importantly make sure there is synergy between HR / talent management and your office of diversity and inclusion.

Bottom Line – Diversity and Inclusion efforts are often linked to bottom line results – i.e. how are diversity and inclusion efforts impacting the engagement and productivity of your workforce. Where efforts linked to pipeline development focus more on the diversity piece, efforts aimed at the bottom line are more aligned with inclusion. The inclusion piece is as important if not more important than the diversity piece. What good is diversity if you have not invested in creating a culture where that difference is valued and tapped? Above all your diversity and inclusion strategy should include initiatives aimed at creating an environment where all perspectives are valued and employees are encouraged to use their uniqueness to drive new ideas or improve old ones.

Your diversity and inclusion strategy should include goals linked to employee engagement, especially with respect to underrepresented employee groups. Make sure you have development plans aimed at diverse employee groups. It is equally important to provide inclusive leadership training to managers and leaders. Employees who feel included and valued by their organization are going to be more engaged, more productive and more vested in the success of the organization.

Top Line – More organizations are aligning their diversity and inclusion strategy with top line performance goals. In a business-to-consumer environment the connections are quite clear and organizations are looking to their diverse employee base to enhance customer intelligence, drive product and service innovation, and inform marketing and sales efforts. Again, employee resource groups can be an excellent strategic resource. Best-practice organizations are leveraging their ERGs in new and creative ways. We’ve seen examples where ERGs support new product lines aimed at diverse consumers by providing insight on cultural norms and buying habits. ERGs are leveraged in retail companies looking to enter new markets or establish presence and diverse communities. Healthcare organizations are partnering with diversity and inclusion in order to enhance the patient experience and ensure care is delivered in a culturally competent way.

But even in a business-to-business model, diversity and inclusion can support top line growth goals. Innovative D&I leaders are leveraging their relationships with their counterparts at potential client organizations. Often the office of diversity and inclusion can provide strategic inroads to a new client relationship. Also, keep in mind that when we talk about a business, we are not making deals or forging relationships with a building. It is about the way we relate to and connect with key decision-makers and influencers in the organization. Ultimately – your diversity and inclusion strategy is about making strategic connections with individuals who can influence the success of your business.