Building a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Program

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By Margaret Foster, HR Business Partner

As a small company, it can be difficult to know where to begin when creating a DE&I program. There is often a driving force behind a company’s desire to start the process. It may be compliance issues, external societal issues or simply because such a program aligns with the company’s mission. Regardless of the reason an organization decides to start a DE&I program, there are five stages to attain DE&I maturity:

  1. Awareness is the first stage. This is the starting point for a company to begin to define what DE&I means internally. During this stage, the organization would create a formalized strategy and look at the current state of DE&I within their organization.
  2. Compliance is the second stage. During this stage, an organization would review any legal and regulatory requirements that apply to them. Different industries often have unique requirements. For example, the federal government has specific requirements that are part of an executive order. Federal contractors and subcontractors are subject to a different set of rules around equal employment and nondiscrimination under the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). During this stage, it’s important to ensure that the company is compliant with all regulations that apply to their business. Once this is complete, the company can move into the next stage.
  3. This is the tactical stage. is It’s important because this is when implementation of DE&I initiatives begin. It’s imperative that an organization defines its strategy with both short- and long-term goals. Without a strategy the initiatives can lack cohesion and the support needed to be successful. During this stage the company may also determine who sets the tone for DE&I (e.g., senior management or employee driven), the DE&I budget, and how to customize a DE&I program for the organization.
  4. Integration is the fourth stage for DE&I maturity. During this stage a company’s DE&I strategy is fully integrated into their culture and their business. Because it requires an organization to include DE&I into all its activities, it may take time to reach this level of maturity. In this stage, DE&I is incorporated into the company’s practices, policies, and everyday business. It’s likely that initiatives will change based on the company’s needs, so, it’s important to allow DE&I initiatives to evolve.
  5. The final stage is sustainability. This is achieved when the company can sustain their DE&I efforts. It’s important to understand that as the needs of the organization change over time, DE&I strategies should be re-evaluated and adapted.

These stages of DE&I maturity are a helpful tool for companies just getting started with a DE&I program.  Here at Karna, we started to formalize our DE&I strategy to recognize the alignment with our mission. We were already performing tasks in the background, and we wanted to make them more structured and visible with a formal DE&I program.  It was important to us to solicit feedback from our employees on where our efforts and strategy could have the greatest interest and impact. We used facilitated focus groups to gather the data from our employees. Once we had feedback, we created a strategy and got leadership buy-in to help support both the strategy and DE&I initiatives.

In 2023, Karna emphasized communication and education by sharing resources through our monthly newsletter and blog posts.  We also created a DE&I Committee to help gather ideas and implement our strategy.  We knew that we needed to start small and engage a diverse team of employees to ensure that we focused our time and effort in the right places.

For 2024, we are still in our tactical phase, building on the strategy we developed in 2023. For our strategy, we have separated our initiatives into short-term and long-term. We anticipate staying in the tactical stage throughout 2024. Our goal is to move towards integration in late 2024 and 2025.  We will continue to hone our strategy as our business needs change and focus on sustaining our efforts. We have identified an evaluation method for each initiative. We will use the feedback and data to help us continue to focus our efforts in a way that resonates with our employees and our business.

Integration ensures that we are incorporating these concepts and behaviors into our culture through education, communication, and performance while reflecting DE&I in our business model.  As a public health company, Karna is in a unique position to perform work that aligns with our mission and our mission directly supports our DE&I efforts.

The resources on DE&I linked below are great tools to help you get started with a program at your organization. It’s important to think about your company and why you’re looking to formalize DE&I efforts. Additionally, you should recognize that every company’s timeline and strategy will look different based on size, resources, and goals.


The Five Stages of DEI Maturity (

The 5 Stages of DEI Maturity | Eliot Partnership

Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce | The White House

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