Beyond Inclusion: The New Demand for ‘Diversity Champions’

Diversity champions are individuals who use their emotional intelligence in the name of a diversity value or ideal.


David Owasi

2 years ago | 7 min read

Diversity is the existence of variations of different characteristics in a group of people. These characteristics could be everything that makes us unique, such as our cognitive skills and personality traits, along with the things that shape our identity like race, age and cultural background.

The pandemic and reckoning on racial issues have resulted in serious conversations regarding diversity and bias in organizations and work environments as well as steps to improve diversity and reduce bias.

Diversity programs

Organizations are now realizing that making diversity and inclusion a business imperative will help them attract diverse talent and avoid jeopardizing their reputation. Diverse people often bring different, important and competitively relevant knowledge and perspectives about how to do work; from how to design processes, reach goals, frame tasks, create effective teams, communicate ideas and lead.

Most organizations are already starting to put a premium on candidates with “diversity champion” characteristics and would happily pay more to get them.

Most organizations are now being forced to think ahead about what kind of company they are, who they want to be and what their legacy will be and many organizations have already begun to step up and improve their diversity programs and outreach.

That being said, one of the missing ingredients in many diversity programs is that the programs are not designed to take advantage of diversity by using it to help participants learn how to do their work better and foster a truly collaborative culture.

It is all well and good to make people of diverse backgrounds feel comfortable and welcome at work, but that is not enough. Organizations will need to prioritize hiring and or training diversity champions to truly leverage and harness the power of diversity.

As a recruiting consultant, I spend a lot of time speaking and consulting with hiring managers and HR executives on the profile of ideal candidates they are looking for. Beyond technical expertise, many leading organizations are already acknowledging the value of diversity and inclusion in their workforce and are starting to put a premium on candidates with “diversity champion” characteristics and would happily pay more to get them.

These types of individuals are my ‘A’ candidates and a recruiter’s dream. If you are looking for an edge in the jobs market, adding a “diversity champion” characteristic to your skillset could just be what you need. How can you become one?

Diversity champions

Diversity champions are individuals who use their emotional intelligence in the name of a diversity value or ideal. That ideal could be a better world, a more inclusive or relevant program or, a more loving future for future generations. These types of individuals are going to be in demand, especially for organizations that are serious about taking advantage of the power of diversity.

A defining characteristic of a diversity champion is the skill of self-awareness. Self-awareness is useful in identifying the subtle distortions that stereotypes and bias bring to working relationships. The ability to be able to read and understand others accurately, without distortions of emotionally laden stereotypes, sets superior performers apart.

A defining characteristic of a diversity champion is the skill of self-awareness.

Generally, most people have difficulty reading the subtle non-verbal emotional signals of others. This is particularly tricky as different groups of people we all encounter at work have their norms for expressing emotion, and when one is unfamiliar with the norms of others, it makes it harder sometimes to relate, connect or empathize with others.

A failure of empathy for example can throw any interaction off, making both parties uncomfortable which then creates an emotional distance that encourages one to view the other person through the lens of a group stereotype rather than see him or her as an individual.

Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash

What do diversity champions do at their workplace?

  1. They start conversations around diversity and culture.
  2. They actively try to understand other people’s culture and norms.
  3. They ask the tough questions and do not hesitate in challenging the status quo.
  4. They create a safe and inclusive space where others can be their authentic self.
  5. They are vulnerable and share stories of their growth and journey as they navigate their own bias and stereotypes.
  6. They make diversity a priority in their interactions.
  7. They are willing to role model, mentor and demonstrate inclusion and diversity with their actions
  8. They lobby for changes that support improvement in inclusivity and diversity at their workplace.

Diversity champions with skills in emotional intelligence can respect and relate well to people from other backgrounds and understand diverse worldviews. They are delicate to group differences and see diversity as an opportunity to create an environment where others can thrive.

Diversity champions actively speak up to challenge bias and intolerance, they see strength in difference. To be an effective diversity champion, you need superior skills in emotional intelligence, how can you improve this skill?

How to improve your emotional intelligence

Renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. An emotionally intelligent individual is highly conscious of his or her emotional states whether positive — Joy, love, gratitude or negative — frustration, sadness or resentment.

An emotionally intelligent individual is also specially tuned in to the emotions others experience since they are attuned to theirs. Understanding and having this type of intelligence can be a game-changer. It’s quite clear that having skills that encourage sensitivity to emotional signals from within and from the social environment could make one a better friend, parent, partner, employee, and leader.

As work environments are becoming more collaborative, team-based and decentralized than ever before, strength in communication, integrity, adaptability, ethics, and leadership are now the leading metrics of promotion and employability. culture and diversity champions are needed more than ever to champion diversity and inclusion. How can you improve your emotional intelligence?

  1. Practice self-awareness — Stay in touch with yourself, practice identifying the emotions you feel and labelling them. Try to label your emotions to understand what you are feeling; anger, joy, frustration, jealousy, fear, trust etc. Use the calibration and trigger exercise below to sharpen this skill.
  2. Practice self-regulation — Being aware of your emotions is the first step, but you also need to be able to manage what you are feeling. People who possess good self-regulation can adapt well to changing situations. They don’t bottle things up, but they do wait for appropriate ways to express their emotions rather than just reacting impulsively at the moment. Mindfulness and meditation help to improve self-regulation.
  3. Practice empathy — Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of someone else coupled with the ability to communicate that understanding back to the other person. Empathy is essential as an emotional guidance system, piloting you to getting along with more people and accomplishing more. Genuineness and honesty are equally important to practice empathy, this ensures that you are not faking it or manipulative.

‘Calibration’ and ‘Trigger’ exercises

The ‘calibration’ exercise requires a set of steps that will help you to identify the gap between how you perceive yourself in contrast to how you are perceived by others.

  1. Pick a trait that you wish to improve. For example “Patience”.
  2. Form a question around the trait. For example: “On a scale of 1–10 with 10 being highest, how patient am I?”
  3. Answer the question about yourself: For example “5”.
  4. Try to understand your self-assessment by probing further. For example: “Why not 4 or 6?”
  5. Write down the names of 3 people you trust to be honest with you.
  6. Explain that you are following an exercise to improve your self-awareness. Ask each individual the question(s) in step 2. Write down their answer.
  7. Ask each individual the follow-up question in step 4. Write down their answer.
  8. Compare your self-assessment with that of your confidants.

If the gap is small or negligible, it means that you are self-aware about a particular trait or topic. You may find that there is a large gap between how you perceive yourself, versus how others perceive you for a given trait or topic. Understanding this gap is important because it allows you to create the next steps for areas that you need to improve.

The ‘trigger’ exercise is a reactive approach to developing your emotional awareness. This exercise requires summoning strong emotions and breaking down your triggers.

  1. Prepare a notepad.
  2. Pick a topic that triggers you. For example: Opposing political view.
  3. Find an article or video that argues in favour of the opposing political view.
  4. Read the full article or watch the whole video. You should feel triggered — i.e. experience some level of frustration or annoyance.
  5. Write down the name of at least one emotion that you feel. If you can note down two or three, that is even better. For example “Disturbed”.
  6. Break down each emotion, one at a time: “Why did I feel disturbed? What moment in this article or video triggered this emotion?”. Write down the reasons.
  7. Read the article or watch the video again, and as each emotion begins to surface, identify and name it in your head. For example “I am currently feeling disturbed because that reporter said…”
  8. Note how you feel each time you finish naming the emotion and breaking it down.

Shining the light of awareness on a given emotion should give you a higher sense of control to keep a cool head. The more you practice this, the better you will get at reacting on the fly in real-world situations.


Created by

David Owasi

I am a business owner, consultant and creative entrepreneur. I bring a lot of energy, passion and optimism to any project I am involved in. I drive to maximize my talents and potentials alongside those I work with. I bring a wealth of business ownership and coaching experience.







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