diversity in leadership

Diversity in leadership: 6 steps to make it happen

Does your company have diversity in its leadership? If not, you could be missing out on a host of business benefits, like more innovation, higher revenues and stronger talent acquisition opportunities.

However, potential benefits and enthusiasm around the issue haven’t yet translated into more diverse C-suites. Representation of women and minority populations in executive roles at American companies remains low.

The lack of diversity in leadership is a missed opportunity for companies that are serious about creating an inclusive culture. To get the business benefits inclusivity provides, a company’s commitment to diversity must be modeled by its leaders – in the C-suite and at all levels of leadership.

What if your company’s leadership teams aren’t diverse yet? You can change that by taking six important steps.

1. Understand the full scope of diversity.

Race, ethnicity and gender are the kinds of diversity that most people think of. But diversity goes beyond gender and race. Other types of diversity include:

  • Age
  • Disability status
  • Educational experience
  • LGBTQ status
  • Religion
  • Parent/family caregiver status
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Veteran status

Every hire that brings a fresh perspective based on their life experiences adds to your organization’s diversity and its potential to succeed.

2. Get stakeholder buy-in.

The next step is making the case for more diverse leadership. To succeed, your plan needs stakeholder buy-in, and that buy-in must start at the top. As you plan your pitch, focus on the benefits to your organization and the bottom line.

Revenue and profitability

A good place to start is with the financial upsides. Some studies have found that diverse corporate leadership is associated with higher revenues and profitability.

Diversity contributes to more innovation, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, and that innovation can drive revenue gains. The OPM also states that diversity can lead to a better return on recruitment and retention investments, as companies that pursue diversity are better positioned to acquire top talent and retain those employees longer.

Customer acquisition and retention

Diversity in leadership gives business-to-business companies an advantage with prospective customers. As more corporate leadership teams make diversity a priority in-house, they’re also extending their expectation of diversity to their suppliers. Vendors that can demonstrate their own diversity practices are more likely to win business from these companies.

Talent acquisition and retention

Diversity can drive decision-making by jobseekers, especially millennials and younger workers.

Companies that aren’t diverse risk losing talent to competitors who are. Companies with inclusive hiring practices and a supportive culture are more likely to retain their talent, too.


Diversity is a component of compliance that’s more and more important as states implement corporate inclusivity laws. For example, in 2018 California enacted a law requiring publicly held California-based companies to have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021, women must make up 25 to 50 percent of these companies’ boards.

As other states enact their own corporate diversity laws, companies will face a growing patchwork of regulations. The most efficient solution to an increasingly complex compliance landscape is to start diversifying your leadership now.

The advantages of more revenue, more appeal to diversity-minded customers, better talent acquisition and simpler compliance are usually enough to get decision makers on board. Once you have buy-in, the next step is to consult with experts to plan your program.

3. Bring in diversity implementation experts.

On paper, the business benefits of diversity are clear. The World Economic forum even calls them “overwhelming.” However, diversity is a sensitive topic that calls for thoughtful implementation. To give your new program the best possible start, consult with outside expertise as soon as you decide to diversify.

Diversity and inclusivity consultants have the resources, knowledge and sensitivity to navigate the conversations and changes that come with starting a diversity program. These experts also have the regulatory know-how to help your organization comply with applicable laws.

Your company may start by hiring a consultant to help you strategize the elements of your diversity plan. Then you can decide if you need help implementing it.

4. Lead the shift in your company culture.

Once you commit to diversifying, you must regularly speak the language of diversity, partnership and inclusion. You’re shifting the culture within the workplace, by acknowledging where you’ve been and stating where you want to go. Your diversity goals must be stated clearly and often by leadership, because departments and teams need to hear that leadership is serious about inclusivity.

5. Hire the best people for the job.

When you’re recruiting for diversity in management and C-suite talent, the easiest way to diversify is to hire the best person for each role. The challenge may be finding the best person. That may require you to network and recruit in ways that are new to your organization.

Diversify your talent pipeline

Yes, you should explore traditional talent sources like professional networks that have served you well in the past. If your workforce is already diverse, promoting to management from within may be a logical choice.

Don’t stop with your tried-and-true talent pools. Consider the recruiting tactics used by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Workforce Diversity Outreach program, which include:

  • Recruiting with women’s colleges, historically black colleges and universities and other schools with majority-minority student bodies
  • Advertising open management roles in media that serves women and minorities

If your organization doesn’t already have relationships in place with minority- and women-focused professional groups, connecting with them will expand your pool of potential talent.

Overhaul your hiring practices

Reread your company’s standard job postings and look for words and phrases that can subtly limit the number of jobseekers who can see themselves in those roles.

For example, “supportive” is seen as a feminine attribute, while “hard-charging” seems masculine. When you find these barriers to diversity in your job descriptions, change them to be more neutral.

Most of us relate best to people like ourselves, but that comfort can skew our perception of job candidates. Blind hiring is one approach to reducing unconscious bias in hiring. With names and other personal information removed from resumes, recruiters can focus on candidates’ accomplishments without the influence of identity indicators.

When you recruit from a more diverse talent pool and focus on achievements rather than personal attributes, it’s easier to identify the best people for the job, regardless of their race, gender or other status.

6. Provide diversity support resources.

Diversity in leadership doesn’t stop when you’ve diversified your team. To maintain your diversity and retain your new hires, your company may wish to create employee resource groups (ERGs).

ERGs can support your diversity program by giving employees a place where they can discuss issues that affect them and interests they have in common.

For example, the Disability Resource Group is one of several ERGs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s open to all MIT community members, and its goal is advancing “awareness and inclusion for people with disabilities” at the university. It also serves as a group where MIT community members with disabilities can talk about their challenges and stories and get support from other people in the group.

Among MIT’s ERG principles are:

  • Participation is voluntary.
  • All groups are open to all employees.
  • ERGs strive to benefit the school as well as employees.

Summing it all up

Diversity can bring a variety of new perspectives and experiences to the leadership team. That fresh input can help companies thrive by boosting innovation and revenue, attracting and retaining talent and appealing to inclusion-focused customers.

Diversity in leadership can deliver real benefits. It also requires commitment, planning and continuous learning. Are you ready to learn more about hiring the best people? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attract, retain, recruit and hire talent.

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