Implementing diversity initiatives to drive change
Far from being a fad, creating workplaces that are intentionally diverse, mindful of the importance of employees’ identities, and thoughtfully inclusive of a variety of differences is a mandate for 21st century leadership. It is no longer acceptable to lead teams that lack representation of the experiences and communities of their employees and customers. But with so much superficial activity in the marketplace regarding diversity and inclusion (D&I) — and much of it resulting in no real change — how can leaders who truly want to address inclusion-related aspects of workplace culture do so meaningfully and sustainably? We have worked with organizations of all sizes across industries globally, and those effectively implementing D&I initiatives and successfully driving change apply the following best practices.
1 Treat diversity as a strategic and cultural advantage, not a problem to be managed.
The initial framing of D&I often sets organizations on the wrong course. Rather than waiting to respond to a complaint, think proactively, and recognize that a diverse workforce and a truly inclusive environment are strategic advantages. If you knew that customers and employees might respond positively to diversity in gender, race, ability, religious expression, political affiliation, sexual orientation, language, veteran status, and other identities across your public-facing leaders, employees, products, and values, what would you do to avail the organization of that opportunity? How might individuals with different experiences offer productive challenges from alternate perspectives? How could these varied approaches lead to better business solutions? This strategy emphasizes conscious inclusion rather than the management of so-called unconscious bias.
2 Take personal responsibility and accountability for the success of the D&I agenda.
Delegating execution of an inclusive leadership agenda to a dedicated team of expert professionals is useful, but ownership of the total agenda and assurance of its success must sit with leaders at the top of the house. It is critical for employees to witness the commitment from the CEO and others as an indicator of the seriousness and importance of the D&I agenda to the organization’s total performance.
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