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Is culture or strategy more important for DEI? Why not both?

Is Culture or Strategy More Important for DEI? Why Not Both?

By Raquel Tamez, Chief Inclusion & Engagement Officer, Charles River Associates

Back in June, I wrote a post highlighting the dozens of DE&I milestones that CRA has accomplished over the past year—everything from bolstering our employee resource groups to hosting events featuring a diverse array of voices and perspectives.

Taken together, these accomplishments represent the seeds from which our future DE&I efforts will one day grow. But they’re also the fruits of months of research, ideation, planning, and collaboration. Part of a broader DE&I strategy that is both rock-solid and ever-evolving.

When it comes to creating and implementing DE&I initiatives that really move the needle, having this kind of concrete strategic framework is critically important. And I’ve spent countless hours ensuring that we here at CRA are putting our best foot forward on that front. But if there’s one piece I’ve really tried to put into place—that cornerstone that enables the whole foundation to take shape—it’s gaining a better understanding of our firm’s culture.

I know this isn’t some game-changing insight. The nexus of an organization’s culture and its DE&I approach is one that many experts and scholars have weighed in on. And yet, the question of which is more foundational has become a kind of a chicken-or-egg debate—a philosophical wormhole.

Many of us have heard the phrase “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” It’s a sentiment I’ve long agreed with. At the same time, that kind of absolutist perspective can be counterproductive. It positions strategy as an afterthought—something that either happens or doesn’t depending on one’s culture. When we all know that, without sound strategies in place, for DE&I or anything else, it’s only a matter of time before the foundation starts to crumble.

So when I came across this Inc. magazine article from February, the title alone was enough to draw me in: “Why Culture Doesn’t Just Beat Strategy, It Must Be The Strategy.” (I’ll link to the piece below.) Written by former Navy SEAL and award-winning entrepreneur Brent Gleeson, the article offers some compelling examples of what a strong culture looks like. But the last paragraph really captures where I think the broader culture-strategy conversation needs to go:

“When you define the culture you want for your organization, align it with the vision and strategy and establish it authentically, you will have built the single most powerful tool for navigating change. You will be building a team that can adapt and thrive in adversity–which is something every organization has to do just to survive. And while organizational change doesn’t need to happen in such rapid succession as in urban combat for example, adaptability is key for success.”

That adaptability can’t be achieved unless you have people who are willing to truly embrace change. Willing to transition and transform. Like any skill, adaptability needs to be cultivated. And that means empowering team members to see themselves as agents of—and for—that change.

To that end, we here at CRA are dedicating more resources than ever to empowering our team members. In addition to growing our existing employee resource groups (including Women@CRA and OutLoud@CRA, our ERG dedicated to the LGBTQI+ community), we’re in the process of launching new ones—such as Mosaic@CRA, which seeks to bring together members of the Black, Hispanic, Latino/a, Native American and Pacific Islander communities. Under our environmental, social and governance framework, we’re developing new volunteer and pro-bono initiatives and bolstering our corporate-giving efforts.

In the end, it’s all about finding ways to bring team members together. To engage them in meaningful, impactful ways. To let them lend a hand in putting that foundation into place, one dynamic initiative at a time. That’s how you ensure that culture and strategy become mutually reinforcing. That’s how you create the kind of positive feedback loop that can help the organization grow.

Culture and strategy really are two sides of the same coin. The challenge is how to invest it wisely.

Resource: Why Culture Doesn’t Just Beat Strategy, It Must Be the Strategy |