Headshot of Sheri Crosby Wheeler, Global Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Fossil Group.
From creating safe spaces for employee discussion to embracing transparency, Sheri Crosby Wheeler, Fossil Group's Global VP of DEI shares ways Fossil is expanding its DEI efforts. — Fossil Group

Three tips for creating an effective diversity strategy:

  • Build a knowledge base about employees’ concerns so you know where to make improvements.
  • Develop a diversity plan to guide your DEI efforts.
  • Embrace transparency and accountability to maximize results.

Last year, Fossil Group, a global design firm known for its watches, brought on Sheri Crosby Wheeler as Global Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to take the company’s DEI efforts to new heights.

Crosby Wheeler, an employment lawyer, spent the last six years working on diversity and inclusion strategies in the corporate world at firms such as JP Morgan Chase. She’ll quickly tell you her DEI philosophy: “We’re not going to settle for ‘feel good’ DEI. We’re going to do real good DEI.”

Crosby Wheeler shared her thoughts with CO— about what does and doesn’t work in creating a DEI strategy.

Build a knowledge base about employees’ concerns so you know where to make improvements

Focus first on building a knowledge base that informs your DEI efforts. What’s top of mind for employees? You need a good assessment of where you are before you try to move forward, Crosby Wheeler said. Companies need answers to certain questions at the outset. “What does diversity mean at your company? What do you want to do, how does diversity fit in the company’s overall strategy?” she said.

Companies sometimes rush to get started. “You can’t just jump up and do unconscious bias training,” said Crosby Wheeler.

When she arrived, the company was already on a DEI journey, so among her initial tasks was raising awareness among employees. Employees were invited to participate in sessions to learn about the company’s diversity efforts and goals. “We explained what we’re doing, why, and how it will benefit them and the company. We got their feedback,” said Crosby Wheeler.

Diversity moves front and center when all employees are on the same page. Then a foundation is set that will help the company move forward in its DEI efforts, said Crosby Wheeler.

[Read: Diversity Leaders from WW, LinkedIn and Seattle Seahawks on Building—and Retaining—Inclusive Teams]

Create safe spaces for employees to ‘learn, connect, and share their knowledge and diversity’

“Employees need to learn, connect, articulate their creativity, and share their knowledge and diversity,” said Crosby Wheeler.

Last year, the company created Fossil Group Gatherings to do just that. They had four sessions last year. “They are a safe space to talk about society, like after the Chauvin verdict [in the murder of George Floyd] and anti-Asian violence, or deepen knowledge on something DEI-related,” said Crosby Wheeler.

The response was tremendous. “Employees say they feel seen, heard,” said Crosby Wheeler.

Last year, the company also launched six Employee Resource Groups, whose purpose is to build a more inclusive environment and build community among those with a shared identity, like race or sexual identity. Combined, the Fossil Group Gatherings and ERGs boosted employee engagement, which is key to retaining and recruiting a diverse employee base, said Crosby Wheeler.

[Read: LinkedIn’s Head of Diversity on How Economic Opportunity Fuels Business Success]

We’re not going to settle for ‘feel good’ DEI. We’re going to do real good DEI.

Sheri Crosby Wheeler, Global Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Fossil Group

Develop a diversity plan: First dig into the data

Some companies put together councils and groups before creating a road map, which Crosby Wheeler called a major misstep.

At Fossil Group, “We didn’t just start ERGs. We dug into our data, talked to people. We found out what types of ERGs were wanted by employees, where we should focus, what was needed. You don’t want to just throw something together to say you did something, that’s not effective.”

The company got the plan validated by a third party last year. A consultant reviewed it, weighed in on what was good and how they compared to peers, among other analysis.

With a vetted DEI strategy in place, Crosby Wheeler feels empowered. “The plan gives us direction,” she said.

Embrace transparency and accountability to maximize results

The truth is hard, said Crosby Wheeler. “Who wants to say, ‘I have things to work on’?” A DEI peer tells her, “Don’t keep DEI as a secret friend, otherwise who knows if you’ve succeeded? It’s like trying to lose weight and not telling anyone — nobody knows you were trying to lose weight, and no one knows if you don’t succeed.”

Fossil’s DEI goals this year include developing an accountability plan. “When you know your areas of opportunity, you know what you need to do to make it better,” said Crosby Wheeler.

Be connected externally with stakeholders from customers to nonprofits: ‘Those relationships are opportunities to deepen DEI work’

External connections can be customers, shareholders, and nonprofit groups a company interacts with. Those relationships are opportunities to deepen a company’s DEI work, she said.

Fossil Group, for its part, is a founding member of the Diversity in Design Collaborative, a group of companies working to increase diversity in design through projects that address the lack of Black creatives in design. This year for Black history month, Fossil Group launched a special collection of watches and jewelry. Proceeds of those sales helped fund the Collaborative’s work.

“The Collaborative is another way for us to make a positive impact, to connect with more Black designers and provide opportunities for young people,” Crosby Wheeler said. “It fits who we are.”

Eighteen months in, she reflects, “The best metric is when people tell me they appreciate what we’re doing and that they’re glad I’m here.”

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