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

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