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How to Embrace Diversity and Inclusion as a Leader

Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion do more than just impress your customers and stakeholders. Research reveals diverse and inclusive companies are positioned to set clear corporate values, increase revenue, and promote employee innovation. If your company takes diversity and inclusion seriously, approaching it with humility, authenticity, and vulnerability, the rewards will be well worth the effort. And that effort starts with every company’s leadership team.

Why Is Diversity Key?

Embracing diversity and inclusion (D&I) at your company doesn’t mean you can run a one-hour seminar and expect everything to work out. Truly embracing diversity and inclusion at your company takes time. It means getting everyone in your company to enthusiastically support your efforts.

The ultimate goal of any diversity and inclusion initiative is to get to a point where people feel valued because of their uniqueness, which requires teaching people to look for commonalities. It also means recognizing base instincts, patterns, and biases, and constantly working to retrain the brain to overcome those ingrained responses. It will take constant reinforcement and lots of hard, personal conversations.

The good news is that if senior leaders make diversity and inclusion priorities, it can create measurable change. According to a 2018 report from McKinsey & Company:


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How to Make Your Company More Diverse & Inclusive

1. Make Diversity & Inclusion a Priority

Diversity and inclusion must be a priority at your company. It should be communicated early and often so it’s a valuable part of your culture, whether you’re talking to candidates, employees, customers, or stakeholders. It’s also crucial that D&I be part of your branding, not just a one-off training session.

Create a long-term plan to include diversity at all levels of your organization. Then, invest in strategies that shift your culture. Strategies include talent development, performance management, learning, and retention of top talent. For example, you could begin with a strategic onboarding process that incorporates many different perspectives and outlooks from various members of your staff.

2. Create A Diversity Council

Diversity and inclusion education and efforts shouldn’t be the responsibility of one individual or role. It needs to be a cultural value that starts from the top down and spreads out across departments. That’s where a diversity council can help.

A diversity council won’t focus on a single identity, but instead, draw from individuals across the company to ensure all viewpoints are represented. In this way, the council can call out obstacles and identify tensions from every area of the business. The council can then work together to formalize a D&I strategy, ensure accountability, and delegate responsibilities throughout the organization.

In an interview with CIO Magazine, Lever’s VP of people Mike Bailen explains, “Within the collective, we have representation from sales, engineering, marketing, customer success—everywhere. That way, people can call out issues…from every area of the business and overcome these obstacles as a group.”

3. Focus on Listening & Empathy

D&I

People want to know they matter. They need a sense of belonging, both intellectually and emotionally. As a leader, you need to listen to each person within your team and make them feel included.

Start by understanding your own story. Everyone has felt excluded, shamed, or interrupted at one point or another. Remember how you felt in those situations, and then try to be empathetic when someone else faces similar concerns. The key points to remember are we all have common ground, and we all deserve understanding.

4. Lead by Example

To truly create a culture of diversity and inclusion, leadership must be proactively engaged in all D&I initiatives. This can mean everything from recognizing who makes up the C-suite to providing the budget and resources to facilitate D&I activities. Leaders should also use inclusive language and participate in D&I events with their staff when possible.

Leading by example also means taking a look at your own privilege and acknowledging your responsibility as a leader to make the space more welcoming for others. Be receptive to discussing the issue if someone says they experience a challenge at work, and try to stimulate respectful exchanges of ideas in group settings.

5. Measure the Results

Forbes Insights found that 60% of companies have metrics in place to measure the success of their diversity and inclusion efforts. This is essential if you’re going to sell D&I to company executives and shareholders. Popular metrics include:

  • Employee productivity
  • Turnover rate
  • Employee morale, as measured by survey results or during interviews
  • Asking employees directly about the level of D&I at work

The perception of your employees can be used to make the program more successful, engaging, and inclusive. D&I should be about more than filling quotas—numbers can’t tell the whole story—but you’ll see the results in your company’s performance.


Want more advice for making your company more diverse and inclusive?

Check out our tips for using a DBP Inclusion Index.


About the Author

Kelly Vo is a full-time freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, personal development, and content creation. A social media and brand development expert, you can find Kelly at http://kevowriting.com/ where she helps businesses and executives develop their authentic voice.