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“How can I do what you do?” asked a bright young woman on the phone one spring morning. She enthusiastically described how she’d studied and experienced various cultures and was inspired to do work that makes a difference.

She’d read some of my articles, saw me speak and felt a spark of connection. She wanted to turn her passion and values into a career, like I had. And because she was resourceful, she reached out for advice.

One of the joys of being a mid-career D&I (diversity and inclusion) professional is that I often get inquiries like this. One of the burdens, however, is providing a helpful response to new professionals facing a world that’s quite different from the early ’90s landscape I navigated, yet troublingly similar.

What’s different is our technology, our demographics, our polarized politics and a resurgence of overt white supremacy and bigoted violence. What’s the same is the lack of credibility many D&I professionals command relative to other professionals and organizational functions. I believe one of the reasons is insufficient rigor in developing the necessary skillset to garner results that matter and exude excellence.

Here are four keys that will equip D&I professionals at any career level to embody excellence and establish themselves as best-in-class D&I professionals, indispensable to those we serve.

Identify and live from your personal “business case.” I’m struck by D&I practitioners who have no substantive answer to the question: “Why do you do this work? (How do you benefit?)” “New school” D&I isn’t just about helping others. It’s about creating a world that works better for more of us and attaining meaningful results that matter. Best-in-class professionals work from their heart, mind and soul, and have personal skin in the game. Being grounded in the heart balances intellectual rigor, and adds depth, integrity and authenticity to our work. A personal business case provides motivation and inspiration when we’re weary. My personal business case is that from a very young age I experienced and witnessed firsthand how traits over which people have no control (sex, race, nationality and social class) can cause other people to treat them as less than they are, thwarting their happiness and ability to contribute.

A personal business case requires not just knowledge of self, but clarity of values and vision. I deeply value integrity, authenticity, excellence, connection and expression. My vision is a world where everyone has access to all the knowledge and resources necessary to live their happiest, healthiest life, contributing their brilliance for personal fulfillment and collective benefit. I stand for a world where we get out of each other’s way — and our own way. Read the next 3 keys on Workforce!

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