In her book The Necessary Journey, organizational psychological Dr. Ella F. Washington outlines five stages for companies along a spectrum of diversity, equity, and inclusion maturity: 

  • Awareness: Companies are still learning what DEI is and why it matters.
  • Compliance: Organizations have DEI efforts because laws and regulation require it.
  • Tactical: DEI efforts exist but are disjointed, and not ultimately at the core of the business.
  • Integrated: A company can say “DEI is part of everything we do,” including connections with employees, customers, partners, shareholders, and the community.
  • Sustainable: DEI efforts are so core that they persist through changes in the economy, strategy, or leadership.

Too often, organizations get stuck somewhere between that third and fourth stage, argues Natalie Norfus, owner of the DEI consultancy The Norfus Firm and a former chief diversity officer. “ “There has been so much focus on trying to get people to understand the importance of DEI that it stops short of people explaining, where does it fit in your day-to-day?” she says. “That means we've been left with a lot of tactics and ad hoc work or goals, and people don't understand why they have those goals.”

Norfus’ firm recently released a “light paper” (the company avoids the term “white paper” so as not to use racially coded language) on moving DEI efforts out of stagnation and toward a more comprehensive strategy. Below are highlights from our conversation with Norfus about what that looks like, edited for length and clarity:

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