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Should You Pay Your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council Members?

Feb 02, 2023

4 questions to consider when determining compensation for employee volunteers

By Angelique Grant, Ph.D.

Since 2020, the U.S. has seen an exponential increase in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) councils. DEI councils, which are employee workgroups, provide strategic planning, oversight, and accountability for corporations' and nonprofits' DEI initiatives. Strong DEI initiatives, often led by employee volunteers, directly benefit organizations, including their bottom line. Compensating DEI council members for their work with a stipend or bonus is gaining traction, but there is nuance to the decision. Asking a few important questions can help determine if and how you should compensate your DEI council members.


The rise of DEI councils in the U.S.

The tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd brought to the forefront an oppressive history and systemic injustices that this country could no longer deny. At the same time, certain groups aimed Coronavirus frustration at the Asian-American community, leading to an unprecedented increase in hate crimes. These circumstances led many businesses and nonprofits to affirmatively and publicly state their DEI beliefs and values.

However, employees, especially those from historically marginalized communities, craved more than a public statement from their employers. Employee stress during that volatile time hit a breaking point—they needed support and safety at work. Companies responded by forming councils—sometimes called committees or advisory groups—to direct and inform their DEI strategies, including creating a workplace culture that allows individuals to come to work as their authentic selves.

Read Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Advancement: A Guide to Strengthening Engagement and Fundraising Through Inclusion to learn more about employee councils.


Pros and cons of compensating DEI committee members

For many council members, affecting culture change, especially at work, is not easy. There is often pushback, resistance and fear from coworkers and leaders. And the work is usually done in addition to volunteers' primary employment responsibilities, which can not only add an additional layer of stress but draw from professional and personal capital that was hard earned.

Compensating employee council members recognizes their contributions and increases equity through income, benefits and opportunity—including professional development and recognition. However, there is nuance to the decision.

Here are the pros and cons of compensating employee council members to help you decide what's best for your organization.



+ Concrete evidence of the organization's willingness to invest in DEI.

+ Affirmation of the value of employee volunteer service to the organization.

+ Confirmation of the organization's understanding of equity.

+ Increased participation in DEI initiatives by employees.

+ Improved trust sentiment of employees from marginalized communities.

+ Affirmation that DEI leadership, skills and competencies are valued.



- The impression that the organization is throwing money at a problem.

- A larger DEI budget than you may have anticipated.

- Members join for the wrong reasons.

- Members may feel pressured to produce, which may impact the quality of work or the group's energy.


Should you compensate DEI council members? Before deciding what's right for your organization, ask these four questions:


1. How is DEI council membership determined?

Members may indeed be volunteers via peer or self-nomination. But in some organizations, certain employees are either appointed, explicitly expected or heavily encouraged to join—in other words, "volun-told." Conduct an honest assessment of your organization's membership expectations and what that means in the context of compensation.


2. What is the expected term of service for employee members?

DEI is a journey, not a destination. As the work is perpetually ongoing, the council’s membership should change on a rotating basis. Councils must strike a balance between retaining organizational knowledge, infusing new energy, and involving employees from many departments within the organization. Over the past several years, we've seen average terms of service of one-two years, which can be a significant commitment for some employee members.


3. How much time are members expected to spend on DEI council work?

As council members, employees do significant work beyond their official roles and responsibilities. DEI work benefits the organization, but the company rarely reduces employee workloads in other areas. On average, you can expect employees to work an additional 8-10 hours a month as a member and 12-16 as a council leader. How would you compensate for similar time commitments at your organization?


4. Is your DEI council supported only by women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), and minoritized employee groups?

DEI council membership should consist of members representing all areas of your organization, including diversity of divisions, disciplines, ages, races, ethnicities, personal interests, life experiences, abilities, management status, socioeconomic status, religions, political views, job titles, and gender identities. Representation matters.

However, if your DEI council primarily comprises mid- and lower-level employees, BIPOC or women, the organization may be perpetuating the inequity it seeks to eradicate. Their unpaid labor would add additional barriers to their equity rather than removing them.


Alternative forms of compensation

You may have read this far and decided that you want to compensate your council members for their work with a stipend. If budget is a barrier, there are other ways to reward and recognize your DEI council beyond monetary payment, including:

  • Sponsor professional certification in DEI work.
  • Provide conference attendance and other professional development opportunities.
  • Underwrite memberships to professional associations and societies, health and wellness facilities, and social clubs.
  • Offer sustained leadership opportunities within your organization.
  • Give increased paid time off (PTO), vacation, sick, and mental health days.
  • Organize service days where members have a PTO day(s) to work on a community service project.
  • Create a sabbatical program for employees with a certain number of years of service.
  • Provide support staff for the council to alleviate some of the time constraints associated with their efforts.
  • Plan networking and mentoring opportunities with leaders and execs in your organization.
  • Cover the cost of parking at the workplace or provide a higher tier of parking than they currently have.
  • Extend access to company accounts for hotels, car service, airplanes, airport lounges, and more.
  • Provide tickets to various arts and culture, athletic, entertainment, and community events.
  • Provide special access to educational resources, including books and coaching.
  • Brainstorm benefits that are unique to your company culture and meaningful to your employees.

Regardless of how an organization decides to compensate DEI council members, transparent communication is critical. Without proper communication, well-intentioned recognition can be misconstrued and viewed negatively.

Undoubtedly, DEI councils provide an invaluable contribution to organizations, which often positively impacts the organizational culture, which influences the bottom line. They provide direction, strategic leadership, resource development and identification, strategic planning, enthusiasm and buy-in, and perhaps most importantly, accountability for DEI goals.

Organizations should prioritize determining the best ways to recognize and possibly compensate these essential employee team members—monetarily or otherwise.


If you are interested in partnering with subject matter experts, contact us today at [email protected] to learn more about our services.


We are not just a diversity, equity, and inclusion firm, but one that is focused on accomplishing all of your organizational goals with an inclusive lens. We’ll guide you in how to maximize your organization's potential. If you are interested in partnering with our DEI subject matter experts contact us today.


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