How Leaders Can Drive a Culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The importance of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) has been growing for several years. But the movement for racial justice and coronavirus pandemic increased the importance of DE&I. More than three-quarters of organizations said DE&I gained importance because of the racial justice movement and 47% said the pandemic increased DE&I’s importance. The number of employers planning moderate or heavy investment in DE&I in 2021 jumped 59% compared to the previous year. 

DE&I is unique as a business driver because it often involves significant culture change. In many cases, increasing diversity and inclusion requires behavior change across the organization, starting with leaders. More than three-quarters of organizations give their leaders high marks on some inclusive leadership behaviors, such as caring for the well-being of others and persevering in the face of challenges. But less than 25% of organizations rate their leaders highly for more sophisticated competencies such as building trust, self-awareness, mitigating bias and collaborating inclusively. 

A lack of leadership and strategic planning for DE&I has created a disconnect between the high level of importance and the impact of DE&I on the business. For example, less than one-third of organizations address pay transparency issues by gender and race/ethnicity, have a diverse talent pipeline or a leadership group that reflects the composition of the workforce, according to Brandon Hall Group research. 

  • How can organizations do a better job creating awareness of unconscious bias and building a culture of self-awareness that empowers “unconscious inclusion?” 
  • How can organizations embed the values of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in all levels of the organization? 
  • How can organizations motivate leaders and eventually all employees to make themselves accountable for creating and sustaining a truly inclusive organization?

Inclusive leadership is intrinsic to a culture of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Leaders must demonstrate the values and behaviors they want everyone to adopt. For many organizations, becoming more inclusive requires significant change, which requires leaders who are agile, creative and emotionally centered. 

Most Important Leader Behaviors Needing Development 

Here are a few examples of applying inclusive leadership behaviors: 

Be willing to have meaningful, authentic conversations about workplace issues or social issues, including diversity. Discussing issues that employees deal with or are involved in — handled sensitively and with mutual respect — can help build a culture of transparency and bring work teams together. If this is new to you, consult your HR or DE&I professional for help and guidance and always follow organizational guidelines and protocols. 

Collaborate inclusively. Do you rely on the same subgroup to make decisions or provide input? Each person has unique strengths. People who might appear to not be the best fit for a discussion may have a different experience or viewpoint that can make a difference. 

Be comfortable — and make your team comfortable — with conflict or disagreement, as long as it is expressed constructively and professionally. 

Actively show empathy and support when employees express a different viewpoint from yours or the majority opinion. 

Complimentary Download: Bridging the Diversity and Inclusion Gap Between Intent and Reality (KnowledgeGraphic)

The events of 2020 increased the importance of D&I as a business driver but many organizations lack the leadership and accountability that come with other business priorities. Organizations whose D&I efforts are led by senior leaders are far more likely to have sophisticated, strategic approaches.

Bridging the Diversity and Inclusion Gap Between Intent and Reality

Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.