Becoming a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist

Diversity and inclusion specialist discussing information on tablet with coworker

The culture of a workplace is critical for an organization’s success. To create a positive workplace culture, diversity and inclusion must be prioritized. This is the job of a relatively new type of professional — the diversity and inclusion specialist.

What exactly does a diversity and inclusion specialist do? Explore this career guide to learn more. You’ll also learn how to become a diversity and inclusion specialist, including degree options to consider.

The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

It’s often said that tolerance of differences is essential for forward progress. However, an argument can be made that tolerance alone isn’t enough. Rather than striving for mere tolerance, society should openly embrace and celebrate diversity and inclusion.

Before considering why diversity and inclusion are so important, it’s helpful to first have a basic understanding of what these terms mean. Diversity in the workplace refers to hiring people from all backgrounds and walks of life. A diverse workforce consists of employees of many different ages, genders, races, national origins, religions and so on.

It’s insufficient to only have diverse employees at the lower levels of the organization. A truly diverse organization will include diverse teams at all management levels, including the C-suite.

Inclusion is often defined as developing a workplace culture that enables everyone to feel comfortable. However, a better definition of inclusion would also include prioritizing the need for every employee, manager and executive to feel supported, respected and valued by the organization and their coworkers. Inclusion is the backbone that enables diversity and it should be reflected in the organization’s practices, policies and culture.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace are crucial for many reasons. Perhaps most notably, a diverse and inclusive company can enjoy the following benefits:

  • Enhanced innovation and creativity
  • A broader range of perspectives and life experiences to inform ideas
  • Varying and complementary skill sets
  • A welcoming environment that attracts top talent
  • Happier, more productive employees
  • Increased productivity thanks to complementary skill sets and creative idea sharing
  • A better understanding of diverse customers and clients

What Does a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist Do?

Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion, it’s time to investigate what a diversity and inclusion specialist does within a company. This role can look a little different from one organization to the next. Indeed, some diversity and inclusion professionals are the first to occupy such roles within their organizations, which means they are essentially defining their jobs along the way.

A diversity and inclusion specialist may work within a company’s human resources (HR) department. Alternatively, they may be assigned to a senior-level executive role, such as one in the C-suite. Some of these professionals work as consultants for an HR agency, in which case they may provide services for multiple companies. Although the specific responsibilities will vary from one organization to the next, a diversity and inclusion specialist may do any of the following:

  • Review the organization’s current diversity and inclusivity mission statement and practices, if applicable, and make changes as needed or develop a brand-new mission statement and practices
  • Present employee training on diversity and inclusion topics.
  • Develop diversity and inclusion programs for the workplace, such as booking guest speakers and bringing diverse thought leaders to the organization
  • Implement diversity and inclusion programs, evaluate their effectiveness and make adjustments as needed
  • Develop a feedback system that empowers all employees to anonymously share their concerns and experiences regarding inclusivity in the workplace
  • Ensure that all customers, clients or guests who interact with the organization receive a welcoming, inclusive experience
  • Consult with the hiring manager to attract, hire and retain diverse talent

Although diversity and inclusion specialists may do a variety of tasks for different organizations, their ultimate mission remains consistent: to nurture a diverse workforce within an inclusive, welcoming environment.

How to Become a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist

If you’re still in high school and you already know that you’re interested in learning how to become a diversity and inclusion specialist, then it’s time to talk to your guidance counselor about adjusting your course load. Certain classes may prove useful for your career aspirations; these include any courses in communications, public speaking, business law and minority studies that your school may offer.

An aspiring diversity and inclusion specialist will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree isn’t generally necessary; however, you may decide to return to school for your master’s degree at some point if you wish to pursue a role in upper management.

After you graduate with your bachelor’s degree, you can begin pursuing entry-level positions, such as those in an HR department or with an agency. To improve your chances of landing a role as a diversity and inclusion specialist, you might consider earning a voluntary certification. Look for options that focus on inclusive workplaces, diverse leadership and so on. Internships can also be very beneficial. They allow you to gain experience and connections that can help you in your pursuit of this career.

Is There a Diversity and Inclusion Degree Option?

Degree programs dedicated specifically to diversity and inclusion do exist, but they aren’t always easy to find. Fortunately, a specialized diversity and inclusion degree is not necessary to pursue this career path. People come to this field from various educational backgrounds, including sociology, psychology, communications, minority studies and business administration.

As a diversity and inclusion specialist will often work within the HR department or for an HR consulting agency, a human resources degree can be a great choice. Plus, an HR degree will instill a broad range of skills. This can prove particularly useful for aspiring diversity and inclusion specialists who start their careers as human resources specialists.

If you opt to earn a human resources degree rather than a diversity and inclusion degree, you may study topics such as:

  • Understanding individual and group behavior in organizations, including diversity, individual differences, leadership and effective management practices
  • Leading organizations through change with persuasive business communications, with a focus on diverse, dispersed and global companies
  • Identifying and resolving workplace conflicts and cultivating positive, productive employee relations
  • Using the human resources department to enhance the performance and success of the entire organization

While you’re working toward your HR degree, you may want to add a minor to enhance your knowledge base. Look for a minor that will inform your future work as an aspiring diversity and inclusion professional. For example, you may wish to declare a minor in African American experiences, Hispanic experiences or women’s studies.

Is There a Demand for Diversity and Inclusion Specialists?

Many large companies maintain their own HR departments, and diversity and inclusion specialists are typically found within those departments. However, there is an increasing trend to outsource organizations’ HR needs to dedicated HR agencies, which work with a range of different companies. Because of this trend, diversity and inclusion managers and professionals might be more likely to find employment at consulting firms and HR agencies.

You can pursue a rewarding and meaningful career as a diversity and inclusion specialist when you become a student at the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University. The college offers several degree options that effectively prepare students for 21st-century careers, including the Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Resources Management degree program. Graduates will emerge with strong competencies in workforce planning, employee relations and organizational behavior.

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to find out how you can join the Christian learning community at GCU. Students are encouraged to explore the mission and initiatives of GCU’s Department of Diversity and Inclusion.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.