Learning leaders have spent the last two years trying to understand their role in the larger diversity and inclusion (D&I) picture. We have been approached by stakeholders to build training with measurable outcomes, ensure our content is inclusive of our prospective audiences and, in some cases, asked to contribute to the overall organization’s D&I strategy. It’s a big ask, and one that requires even greater understanding of D&I best practices, our personal biases and our company’s own unique business case for D&I. More importantly, it requires us to take our relationships with organizational stakeholders to the next level if we truly want to be impactful in our efforts and continue adding value.

The last two years have shown us that relationships matter now more than ever. To move D&I initiatives forward, learning leaders should focus on forging relationships with organizational stakeholders to leverage both their influence and intellect for even greater strategic alignment. In some cases, it may require a full rebrand of the organizational strategy. In other cases, it may require a simple tweak to an existing process. In any case, below are three ways that learning leaders can use relationships to add greater value to D&I work in the coming year.

Be Authentic and Use Your Voice

D&I is often positioned as a human resources (HR) topic or initiative. As a result, learning leaders may hesitate to take on D&I initiatives for fear of overstepping their bounds. But D&I is everyone’s responsibility. Learning leaders should be authentic in their interactions, particularly because they are often seen as the “go-to” person for many organizational challenges. We should also use our voice to challenge the status quo when it limits innovation.

For example, are the images we use reflective of the diversity we wish to see? Do all the leaders in our case studies look the same? Do our activities and exercises reinforce stereotypes? If the answers to these questions are not progressing D&I initiatives, then it could be a sign our lack of authenticity is holding us back. It could also mean that we are missing opportunities to truly lead in our work by initiating much-needed change in areas where we have full autonomy.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Difficult Conversations

Learning leaders may shy away from conversations about D&I issues for fear of offending someone or creating conflict. But if we want to create inclusive environments, we need to be comfortable with discomfort and create opportunities for people to have courageous conversations with each other. These are the conversations that challenge our beliefs and assumptions — and help us learn and grow. We can do this by creating forums where diverse perspectives are valued and respected, and where people feel safe enough to share their experiences. We should normalize feedback as a standard for two-way communication.

Increase Your Subject Matter Expertise

Part of being an effective leader is continuously expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world around you. D&I work is no different. Reading articles, books and other resources about D&I is one sure way to increase your subject matter expertise. Another is simply leveraging the ideas in this article.

If you want to create inclusive environments, you must become knowledgeable about the experiences of people who are different from you. This includes understanding the systemic barriers that serve to marginalize those within your organization. The key is to keep an open mind and a willingness to grow, while also ensuring that everyone else has an opportunity to shine.