If your company lacks diversity in its leadership, which is an important HR trend not going away any time soon, you could be missing out on many business benefits. And yet, despite the clear advantages of diversification, the percentage of underrepresented populations in executive roles – and especially C-suites – within companies remains low.
Why diversity in leadership is important
Having diverse leadership can accomplish the following:
- Demonstrate your organization’s commitment to reflect the communities it serves.
- Improve understanding of different target customers and geographic areas.
- Promote learning, growth and expansion of perspectives among the workforce by bringing together different worldviews and life experiences.
- Avoid groupthink, challenge the status quo and spur innovation – all conditions associated with higher revenue.
- Foster a more inclusive culture in which everyone feels welcomed and accepted, which boosts morale, engagement and productivity.
- Inspire and empower diverse talent at lower levels of the organization to push for success.
- Increase the likelihood of greater empathy among leadership.
- Potentially aid in earlier detection and resolution of discrimination and harassment issues.
- Boost the company’s brand and reputation, which can enhance recruiting and business acquisition.
1. Consider the full scope of diversity in leadership
When people think of diversity, race, ethnicity and gender usually come to mind first. However, diversity is a much broader concept. Other types of diversity include (but are not limited to):
- Disability status
- Educational experience
- Skill sets
- Sexual orientation
- Parent or family caregiver status
- Socioeconomic background
- Veteran status
Diversity can mean different things to different companies based on unique factors, such as:
- Your industry
- The type of business you have
- The markets in which you operate
- Your current workforce
- The local pool of talent available to you
- Your organization’s culture and values
Define what diversity means for your business so you have a realistic goal in mind and can formulate a plan to reach your targets.
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, highlight the concrete benefits to your organization.
Revenue and profitability
When you argue the case for diversity, focus on the financial upsides to your business and how it can improve the bottom line. Hard data can be very persuasive – and there is compelling evidence that having a diverse leadership team positively impacts organizational performance.
Customer and talent acquisition and retention
Customers, current employees and prospective job candidates want to see organizations with which they’re affiliated embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Customers are no longer merely buying products or services, and workers no longer just clock in and out of a 9-to-5 job.
Instead, more people actively seek to affiliate with companies that align with their values and support socially conscious causes. Many Millennials and Generation Z workers, in particular, are themselves more diverse and consider it a priority to work for diverse companies that reflect their worldview.
Right now and for the foreseeable future, DE&I is one of the hottest topics of conversation related to the workplace. Companies that fail to acknowledge this will get left behind by customers and talent alike.
As more states consider or enact corporate inclusivity laws focused on improving gender diversity and the proportion of underrepresented groups within the highest echelons of leadership, DE&I is an increasingly important part of legal compliance.
For example, some states are encouraging companies to disclose board diversity data or set minimum diversity targets.
Be familiar with current and pending laws in the state where you operate.
Companies with multi-state operations may face a growing patchwork of regulations. The most efficient solution to an increasingly complex compliance landscape is to start diversifying your leadership now.
3. Bring in diversity implementation experts
To give your new diversity program the best possible start, consult with experts as early as possible.
Diversity and inclusivity professionals have the resources, knowledge and sensitivity to navigate the workplace changes that come with implementing a diversity program. For example, as with any other change-management initiative, they can help your organization to:
- Gather data
- Get a pulse on staff sentiment
- Review processes and systems
- Find disconnects between leadership and staff
- Make recommendations based on data
- Establish targets and strategic initiatives
- Dissolve and restructure current processes as needed to make them more equitable
- Create training
- Guide messaging and facilitate conversations
DE&I experts also have the regulatory know-how to help your organization comply with applicable diversity laws while still adhering to anti-discrimination laws.
Some companies rely on consultants for this knowledge. However, many companies have begun hiring permanent, in-house DE&I professionals.
4. Lead the shift in your company culture
Once you commit to diversifying, you must regularly speak the language of diversity, partnership and inclusion. Whatever diversity means to your organization, use that language consistently and frequently, and embed it into everything you do – from your website and marketing materials to meetings and trainings. This will reinforce the message to both internal and external stakeholders.
For team members to know that the company takes DE&I seriously, leaders must state diversity goals clearly and often. Furthermore, leadership needs to model all desired behaviors and messaging.
5. Overhaul your hiring practices
Be careful to not tokenize diverse hires in leadership roles, which can damage their morale and make your company appear disingenuous in its diversity efforts. First and foremost, focus on hiring the best person for the job with the right skill sets. Because you’re diversifying and therefore have the widest possible pool of talent under consideration, along with a thorough recruiting process, be assured that you can accomplish both goals of diversification and hiring the best people successfully.
The exciting part of this endeavor is that you will likely have the opportunity to network and recruit in ways that are new to your organization, exposing your company to talented job candidates you may have never reached before, and helping you to discover equally successful recruiting methods and resources to leverage going forward.
Diversify your talent pipeline
Don’t discard traditional recruiting methods, along with tried-and-true talent pools, that have served you well in the past. Certainly, keep doing what has proven effective. However, consider other resources that may serve underrepresented groups, including specialized media and professional associations.
If your non-management workforce is already diverse, promoting to leadership from within may be a logical choice.
Eliminate bias from the hiring process
Many of us relate best to people similar to ourselves, or who align with our preconceived notions of who should fill a certain leadership role. Whether or not we’re aware of our biases and preferences, they can skew our perceptions of job candidates.
One approach to combat this is blind hiring. With names and other personal information removed from resumes, recruiters can focus on candidates’ accomplishments without the influence of identity indicators.
On the other hand, the language and behaviors we display can deter qualified candidates from ever applying. Make sure that you’re not unintentionally limiting your pool of job candidates by turning people off. Reassess your company’s written marketing and promotional materials, and review job postings.
Identify words and phrases that can reveal and communicate to others our unconscious bias – thereby limiting the number of jobseekers who can see themselves in a leadership role at your company. Reconsider what you say during job interviews as well.
When you find these barriers to diversity in your written and verbal communications, change them to be more neutral.
6. Provide resources to support ongoing diversity
Once you’ve diversified your leadership team, your goals will be to:
- Maintain your diversity
- Retain your new hires
To that end, you’ll need to put in place resources to support your diverse leaders. As an example, many companies have created employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs can support your diversity program by giving employees at all levels of the organizational hierarchy a place where they can discuss issues that affect them and interests they have in common. This also provides diverse leaders a forum in which to discuss diversity initiatives and their importance with other team members.
You also want to make sure that you have the long-term support needed to solidify your organization’s DE&I commitment beyond any single program. Consider the structures you will need to maintain this commitment, such as:
- Management processes
- Communication policies
- Annual audits
- Regular employee surveys and other feedback mechanisms
- Training curricula
- Accountability measures
- Disciplinary policies for discrimination or harassment
Summing it all up
For companies, the benefits of achieving diversity in leadership are clear and significant. In addition to adding fresh perspectives and enhancing the workplace culture and employer brand, diverse leadership helps companies to thrive by driving innovation, increasing revenue, and attracting customers and talent. However, a diversity program also requires commitment, planning and continuous learning.
Are you ready to diversify your leadership team while acquiring top-tier talent? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to attract, retain, recruit and hire talent.