Although diversity and inclusion strategies and tactics have been in place with some organizations for a long time, the question I am most frequently asked by diversity practitioners is, " How can I help our leaders reflect their support of diversity and inclusion efforts?"
At company conferences, articles in internal newsletters, and other communication methods most often the CEO or other executive focuses on the need to attract the best talent with the intention of broadening their market penetration, or believing that it is the right thing to do. These messages are helpful but are rarely the words that motivate company employees to become more determined to create and sustain a diverse workforce. If logical business rationale does not work, then what does?
People want to know that their leaders are sensitive to the issues and experiences that affect their daily lives. My clients have found the following actions work well within their organizations. I invite you to try them too and share these recommendations with other leaders:
Share your stories. Your personal experiences and observations of difference, as well as stories in which you’re keenly aware of being included, make strong statements about how willing you are to be transparent and learn from others. So talk about your experiences. The more you show your vulnerability, the more likely employees will trust that you really care about them and want the most inclusive workplace possible. What did it feel like when you were the "only one" -- woman, person of color, oldest, only White guy, etc. -- at a major business function or within the community? What was going through your mind at the time? What biases and assumptions did you have to overcome, if any, to participate fully? How accepting were others of you, and what did that do for you? What did you learn about yourself? How did you feel when your daughter shared a situation at her workplace that appeared to be biased against females?
Become an active mentor. Get to know three high-potential, junior level individuals who come from a different background than you. Keep it informal; have coffee or go to lunch. Tell them what you’d like to learn about. Be willing to ask the "dumb" questions. How else will you learn? Be open to their experiences, and suspend your own judgment. Reverse mentoring is also likely to occur when you don't act as though you have all the answers, so remain open to letting it happen. You’ll be grateful for what you can learn from your mentees.
Support your organization’s Business Resource Groups. Become an executive liaison for a group and choose one that is different from you so you can learn more or, if that assignment has been filled, regularly attend and support their functions. These groups can be an incubator of leadership talent so get to know their leaders and nurture them into your organization’s leadership ranks.
Make inclusion and diversity updates a standing agenda item at your regular leadership team meetings. Share stories as well as numbers. Set and provide clear expectations of advancement and consequences. Reward and communicate progress broadly. Recognize that when the organization sees and hears little, they assume that nothing is happening so communicate often to let them know about everything that is indeed happening.
Seek opportunities to include messages of the business imperative and the impact of inclusion and diversity to your company’s bottom line in every speech you give and every meeting you hold – internally and externally. Work with the chief diversity officer and the public affairs team to proactively brand your company in the marketplace as an inclusive employer; one that respects the broad definition of diversity, and believes in the value of an inclusive and inviting culture. Help everyone understand that diversity and inclusion is linked to but not the same as equal employment opportunity (EEO) compliance.
Monitor, measure, and reward evidence of inclusion and diversity progress. Utilize the performance management system as well as your organization’s rewards and recognition programs to emphasize any progress. Recognize the efforts that others put forth in a way that is meaningful to them and remember that it may not always be a monetary award. In fact, many of the Trailblazers’ organizations utilized a variety of compensation. While these included more traditional year-end monetary and spot awards, they also used more creative means to recognize people – an extra day or two paid time off, theater tickets, a small grant of stock options, dinner reservations for two at top notch local restaurant, and simple "thank-you" notes hand written by senior leaders. All of these methods convey a message of recognition for results.
Explore the individual and embedded systems of unconscious bias that are present within the organization. During the last fifteen years the neuroscience research that has been conducted to explore bias has produced amazing results. Among my clients, this has been the most sought after topic within the diversity and inclusion arena. When leaders and other employees recognize that bias in the workplace occurs more often than not in an unconscious manner and without an intention of malice, it becomes easier to be willing to address areas of bias that might produce results opposite than those intended. One of the best books on this topic as it relates to the work world is Everyday Bias, by Howard Ross.
Develop a plan to try one or all seven of these suggestions and watch the positive reactions within yourself and your organization. Creating an inclusive environment that values diversity and engages employees is a journey. The more methods you employ to show your genuine interest and commitment the more likely you will accelerate your business results.