How to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Leadership Capability: Promoting DEI

This blog is part of a 16-part series focused on what capabilities make a strong leader. Sounding Board has identified 16 leadership capabilities that the strongest leaders possess. These were developed from research-backed leadership theories, leadership competencies used for evaluation from top business schools, and 25+ years of practical coaching application. 

Gone are the days when bolstering diversity meant simply making a diversity hire. These days it’s more complicated, and corporate platitudes about being colorblind, gender-blind, or otherwise unseeing are not only unfashionable, they’re meaningless and borderline offensive.

In an increasingly polarized world that is more critical and more conscious, the most effective companies understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and promoting DEI cannot be empty promises made as a reaction to social injustice. Rather, DEI is a business imperative, a source of competitive advantage, and promoting inclusion at work can be the key to unlock the full potential of organizational growth and culture.

As with most things, company culture and actions to support DEI begin with leaders. By now, most companies are aware of the benefits of leadership coaching. But incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into your coaching program can take leadership development to a whole new level. 

Why should you invest in DEI?

As news stories of racial, gender, and sociopolitical inequality take center screen on our TVs and daily news feeds, DEI must be a pressing concern for top business leaders. In fact, 2021 research from HR consultancy McLean & Company put DEI initiatives in fourth place for HR leaders’ top priorities.

According to an August 2021 article in Entrepreneur magazine, global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. reported that companies that effectively prioritize DEI see 35% higher returns than organizations that don’t. DEI has organization-wide benefits. Nearly 80 percent of job seekers view DEI as a pivotal factor to consider when choosing an employer. Similarly, when this talent finds employers who are DEI advocates, they are much more likely to stay, and to outperform their peers in innovation, efficiency, and in making tangible contributions to the bottom line. 

Incorporate DEI into your leadership coaching

So, how inclusive is your leadership? The numbers often speak for themselves, and your workforce is taking note of what actions are or are not taken to build more inclusive leaders. Large financial or hiring gestures to showcase your commitment to DEI aren’t enough to create long-lasting results. You need to incorporate DEI into your organizational structure and culture, and again, that starts with leaders. 

DEI isn’t an initiative. It’s a leadership imperative, one that can be developed with coaching. Here are some things to consider when deciding if DEI is a capability you want your leadership coaching program to build in support of your business. Leadership coaching can help you to:

  1. Cultivate a culture of inclusivity from the top down: When employees feel included and respected, they perform better and are more engaged. Leaders who are equipped with the skills to cultivate inclusivity often find it easier to drive change in all avenues of their leadership — be it hiring, project management, stakeholder buy-in, client relations, and more. When DEI starts at the top, actionable commitment to it becomes etched into organizational memory, and thus, it is more sustainable.

  2. Provide an opportunity for leaders to examine their own biases and grow: Even the best of us are not without flaws. Great leaders are no exception. Leadership coaching designed to build DEI capabilities offers an opportunity to acknowledge and correct leaders’ own biases before they negatively impact hiring and people decisions, client and public relations, or anything else.

  3. Improve organizational accountability and marketability: Business case analysis for DEI seldom considers the ways in which a lack of meaningful workplace inclusion creates a strategic risk for an organization. This risk often manifests as hits to brand reputation, a lack of innovation, and the inability to attract and retain great talent. On the flip side, when leaders take DEI seriously and hold themselves accountable in not only words, but actions, the results appear as long-term DEI sustainability, improved marketability, and greater access to the full potential and discretionary effort in your workforce.

  4. Innovate better: Diverse teams are often more innovative. Given their diversity of thought and experiences, they are more adept at anticipating shifts in consumer needs, wants, and identifying valuable patterns. Further, employees in companies that are committed to DEI report feeling more comfortable when proposing new ideas and experimenting with new processes. Without fear and with confidence, diverse teams are innately more daring and often more successful.

  5. Attract and retain vital talent: At its core, DEI is not about meeting certain quotas. It’s about hiring the best of the best from a diverse talent slate, unencumbered by divisive or limiting considerations. You want substance. Not DEI plans that are pretty on paper. When potential employees and stakeholders see your leaders’ real dedication to the work, it sends a powerful message that you are a DEI champion, and your company is exactly where they want to be. 

No matter where you are in your leadership development journey, it’s always a good time to include a focus on DEI in your leadership coaching program. Like many capabilities, DEI doesn’t always come naturally — and that’s okay. It’s not easy to check our own biases, or to change the way we act or think after a lifetime of being set in our ways. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continuously learn and grow when given the opportunity — and a great coach.

Develop a leadership playbook for DEI

It’s one thing to study statistics and data points. It’s another to practice leadership that is inclusive and empowering for all people, no matter how diverse. If organizations and their leaders still view diversity empowerment as just another buzzword or a shallow, marketable social boon, they will lose their edge in today’s hyper competitive business environment. 

With company culture, employee retention, consumer satisfaction, talent recruitment, and innovation on the line, DEI is not an imperative any leader can afford to neglect. Fortunately, most people today are actively looking to lead diversity, equity, and inclusion, and they don’t have to do it alone. 

When you have the right tools and skilled coaches at your disposal, you’re empowered to build better leaders. That’s our goal at Sounding Board. Contact us for a demo or to learn more about what our certified coaches can do for you. We can help you establish a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture in your organization — and make it sustainable.

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