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Can You Facilitate a DEI Initiative Without a Dedicated Department Head?

As more organizations realize the need for robust Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives, many ask, “How can we facilitate these conversations and changes when we don’t have the resources to create a department or hire a dedicated executive?”

While DEI initiatives can certainly be handled without a full-time department head, the process will require plenty of collaboration, flexibility, and creativity to achieve real and lasting change. Here are three ways

a franchise organization can manage the challenge – and help franchisees manage it in turn.


No matter how well-intentioned an organization may be, DEI is not a DIY project. Like any other field, it has many nuances, potential pitfalls, and details that a layperson, even one who means well and wants to do things “right,” will inevitably miss.

If a dedicated department head is not in the cards right now, outside experts are essential to guide an organization’s DEI efforts. By bringing in experts whose specialties align with their goals, franchise groups can make real headway, while minimizing the risk that well-intentioned efforts might actually have unintended negative consequences.

Along similar lines, it’s important to allow these experts to do their work, even when and especially if that work feels discomforting at times. DEI involves exploring and interrogating long-held ideas, biases, and power structures, and it’s only human to have uncomfortable or emotional reactions. The key is to work through these emotions rather than ignoring them or using them as an excuse.

When it comes to DEI initiatives, what an organization doesn’t do is just as important as what it does. Being a member of a historically marginalized group does not automatically qualify a person as a DEI expert or as the person who should “automatically” be assigned the brunt of the DEI leadership work. Companies should not make assumptions about tasks individuals are willing or prepared to take on based on identities. With that being said, it is still vital that DEI efforts involve a diverse range of voices. The point is simply that group identity, in and of itself, should not be the deciding factor in determining who takes the helm on DEI efforts.

All leaders must be engaged with or without an official DEI department head (especially without). You need commitment from high-level leaders in and around the C-suite and lower-level managers. In fact, lower- level managers often hold the key to getting things right. They’re the ones on the ground, who have direct interactions with nonmanagerial employees, and who must bring strategy to life for the day-to-day lives of those employees. Leadership must be prepared to offer real support for whatever DEI policies are made.


The vague idea of facilitating DEI sounds nice, but the real work occurs in the details. Franchise organizations that set out with broad-stroke ideas are much less likely to succeed in making relevant changes than those that focus on specifics. It’s important to start by knowing what the company hopes to get out of the process and how those goals can be measured.

Research is critical at this stage. Ask questions and get input. Then, ask more questions! By conducting surveys and gathering feedback, leadership can better understand what issues need to be addressed, what concerns exist for employees, and what changes are most necessary. At this stage, keep systemic issues in mind, as well as ones that might be more specific to your organization. While a single company cannot change systemic issues overnight, an organization certainly can craft policies that keep those concerns in mind and work to address and mitigate them.

The first step is intuitive: strive to make the franchise system more diverse from the beginning.


A successful DEI strategy requires setting clear, measurable goals and ways to collect feedback on efforts to achieve the goals. It’s not a one-time strategy, either. Leaders should regularly re-evaluate and self- audit. Good questions to ask regularly include:

  • What progress are we making?
  • What benchmarks are being met?
  • What needs to be adjusted now that we have more information?

Addressing these questions ensures your DEI strategy is flexible enough to evolve with new needs and information.


If there is no official DEI department or leader, it falls to the rest of the organization to manage those efforts. The temptation may be to informally and unofficially “assign” DEI responsibilities to one team or department as an additional duty outside their current, official ones. While this approach may seem reasonable or efficient, the result often is just a siloing of something that includes and affects everyone by its very nature.

Even if one team winds up originating a program or initiative, others must be included and involved in the process. By getting buy-in early on, all teams can feel like they are part of the process, rather than having to abide by something that feels like a top-down mandate. Plus, an expansive, inclusive process allows for more diversity of perspectives and more team involvement.


Developing a strategy at the corporate level is one thing but implementing it among franchisees requires its own playbook. The first step is quite intuitive: strive to make the franchise system more diverse from the beginning. Part of DEI’s work is about ensuring a broader range of people have opportunities to succeed. One aspect of a franchise’s brand strategy should be recruiting a more diverse group of franchisees and offering them support to meet their unique needs.


Truly pursuing DEI on a company-wide level, especially in the franchise world, is also about ensuring that there’s plenty of helpful guidance for individual franchisees in implementing DEI initiatives on the ground level.

A simple but effective framework for franchise organizations would provide franchisees with the following:

  • Employee Resource Groups: A critical element in establishing a strong DEI culture is the establishment of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). At the corporate level, providing ERG governance and a framework will ensure consistency in methodology, approach, and communication
  • DEI Policy Development and Education: Provide a template and recommended relevant policies toestablish DEI principles. Collaborate with external vendor partners to develop and deliver DEI training and education programs


Being a member of a historically marginalized group does not automatically qualify a person as a DEI expert.

  • DEI Data: Provide the framework for capturing and utilizing DEI KPIs and Proactively track and communicate relevant information, influence business decisions, and foster leadership commitment.

Other potential opportunities for value-added franchisor DEI support could include:

  • Training on hiring practices that support diversity
  • Providing support for community outreach and unconscious bias training
  • Encouraging the solicitation, review, and utilization of employee feedback to make adjustments and changes in the workplace
  • Providing assistance and guidance in the development of more diverse imaging and related marketing materials

In the absence of a dedicated DEI executive, it will fall to other leaders to do research, seek out expert advice, and ensure all voices are heard in the process. At a minimum, franchise leaders should focus on aligning their stated vision and values with their actions as they relate to creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace for all employees

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