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Eliminating The Weakest Links in DEI Practices: Joseph Santana Offers a Holistic and Innovative Solution 

According to a recent Society for Human Resource Management study, 71% of organizations consider diversity and inclusion a high priority. In addition, a 2021 Summit Leadership Partners 2021 CEO study surveying 200 CEOs reported that 95% of participants said DEI is a focus for their companies. However, despite this recognition, many organizations struggle to effectively implement diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices that produce measurable business results. 

This is where Joseph Santana can help. Santana is a former corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leader and a global thought-leading voice on what it takes to drive business results through DEI practices in the 21st century. Santana offers a unique and innovative approach to closing the gaps that hinder successful business-impact-driving DEI implementation. Organizations across various industries have recognized his holistic solutions, and he is a sought-after speaker and coach. This article will explore his approach in three areas that will remove critical obstacles so organizations can achieve their DEI goals.

Change DEIs Position In Your Organization

Being a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) leader in the 21st century requires more than operating a few programs out of the HR department to hire and promote formally underrepresented people. DEI leaders must have the skills to influence and partner with all of their organization’s departments to drive change, not just confine themselves to HR. While a partnership with HR is crucial, it’s insufficient to drive all the changes required to have a DEI deliver real business-wide benefits.

In the 20th century, policies and practices regarding holidays, reimbursements, and other areas were established that are still in use today. For instance, Columbus Day is a federal holiday in the US, and most organizations recognize it. However, a DEI leader can influence change and consider celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead. Likewise, outdated reimbursement and other policies need to be updated. CFOs and CEOs are usually the decision-makers in these areas, and a DEI leader must understand and influence these people for real change to occur.

In addition, the most effective DEI efforts must go beyond HR to optimize the economic value add of their supply chains and enable the company to expand its market size footprint. This requires the DEI leader to understand and influence areas like Finance, Sales, and Marketing. Therefore, a DEI leader must have a holistic understanding of the organization to bring change effectively.

Some DEI leaders come from an HR background, and while it’s a great foundation, it’s not enough. They must have a greater understanding of how all other components of the organization work to drive change. On the other hand, if they come from a different department, they should learn about HR since it’s equally essential to their success.

The ideal position for a DEI leader is to report to the CEO or COO and act as a business strategy advisor and governance monitor over DEI efforts across all areas of the organization.

Suppose an organization does not have someone in this position. In that case, they should develop the person currently titled as a DEI leader, running their HR-centric DEI efforts, into this more significant role. If this isn’t an option, they should hire someone with a bigger-picture view to act at this level. Ideally, all other DEI-related tactical efforts, including the DEI leader currently attached only to HR-related efforts, should report to this business strategy-level DEI leader.

Realign Everyone Involved in the DEI Effort

DEI leaders cannot run a high-performing DEI practice alone. The success of the practice is only as strong as its weakest link. ERG (Employee Resource Group) leaders and executive sponsors must support these more significant DEI business efforts for them to be effective. This requires education and training for these leaders to expand their understanding of how DEI and employee community groups add value to the business.

Teaching DEI leaders alone the most powerful techniques is insufficient if their ERG leaders and executive sponsors are not properly aligned. Therefore, ERG leaders and sponsors must be up to the task of supporting these efforts. This is achieved through education and training that expands their thinking. Otherwise, you end up with a DEI leader trying to impact the entire business, while ERGs focus only on small-scale performative actions. Santana says, “Developing a DEI leader and trying to get them to provide business impact with an unaligned team is the equivalent of teaching a maestro to play a complex piece of music and asking them to execute it with the first-year high school band.” Everyone involved must be fully prepared and aligned to leverage DEI to transform an organization for the 21st century.

DEI Leaders Need to Graduate for Eternal Apprentices to Masters

To lead their organization’s efforts to competitive success, DEI leaders must move beyond simply copying best practices and reacting to urgent situations. While learning from the practices of other DEI leaders can help collect good ideas, it will not build a truly competitive and high-performing practice. To achieve this, DEI leaders must learn to anticipate opportunities and challenges and proactively experiment with bold new solutions.

This means that DEI leaders must expand their understanding of current and future developments that impact their industry’s workforce, workplace, and marketplace. They need to formulate hypotheses about where things are heading and develop new solutions to address emerging events, leveraging DEI to the company’s greatest advantage. To help their companies remain competitive, DEI leaders must mature beyond entry-level learners who expand their tools only by copying what others have done. They need to become master visionaries that anticipate and prepare for rapid change.


As the business world continues to evolve increasingly faster, the ability to proact and innovate becomes even more vital. DEI leaders who want to help their organizations reach the heights of competitive success need to be more than HR managers running disjointed HR-centric programs. They must operate as cohesive, innovative, proactive business strategists and governance monitors partnered with a top-notch extended community of aligned leaders.

Santana’s innovative approach offers a holistic and effective solution for companies who want to reap the rewards of a top-performing DEI team across all parts of their business. Success in today’s and tomorrow’s DEI practices requires this type of holistic and aligned leadership. DEI leaders who continuously develop and expand their skills in this area will be best positioned to support their organization’s position as a top 21st-century competitor.