Our guest author Dr Gillian Shapiro writes that despite a lot of focus and effort is being paid to diversity and inclusion, many organisations struggle to make the extent of progress they’re seeking. Leadership is key…
There’s now so much evidence showing how greater diversity and inclusion makes a positive impact on business performance. There are few leaders that would argue it’s not important both on moral and competitive grounds. Yet, despite a lot of focus and effort being paid to it, many organisations struggle to make the extent of progress they’re seeking.
External forces, such as mandatory gender pay gap reporting will play their part; likewise, internally brokered initiatives, such as networks for women, recruitment programmes for those with disabilities, or mentoring programmes for ethnic minority employees. But as soon as the foot comes off the organisational or regulatory gas pedal, things revert to the status quo.
Sustainable change requires a systematic approach that filters into every aspect of the business including:
- rewards and recognition
- management of the talent pipeline
- and the way an organisation presents itself externally.
Influencing employees and customers
Organisations that make better and more sustainable progress regard inclusion and diversity as business-critical and are led by people who create changes that directly influence the way employees and customers experience that organisation. As the saying goes, it’s not enough to talk the talk.
Our research (as published in Inclusive Leadership – from Pioneer to Mainstream Maximising the Potential of your People and later expanded upon with Sarah Bond) differentiates inclusive leaders. They key differences can be summarised under 4 headings:
- Stand up.
So, what do these core characteristics look like in practice?
Leaders who see the value of diversity and inclusion are very open to change and take a flexible approach to getting results. They take responsibility for coaching, mentoring and sponsoring within the wider organisation to enable different people coming from different places and backgrounds to be better represented at all levels.
They place an emphasis on building relationships and are very aware of unconscious bias. They are often described by others as “trustworthy” and encourage people – the more introvert as well as the more extrovert – to speak up.
Finally, they are courageous. They’ll speak up and challenge and stand-up for diversity and inclusion.
eBay showed the impact of this when John Donohoe made himself, as CEO, ultimately accountable for achieving the company’s diversity objectives. His actions led to those who reported to him setting their own goals and actions for inclusion and this ultimately cascaded out to their 170 VPs. EBay succeeded in increasing women in leadership roles by 30% annually between 2011 and 2013*.
Another example I can think of involves a woman I met through our research that, though a consistently high performer and earner for her organisation, was frustrated at her lack of progression.
She was on the point of leaving when a leader stepped forward and became her sponsor. He felt her profile needed to be higher with a wider range of senior leaders and took responsibility for helping her achieve this.
Within 18 months she’d achieved the promotion she was seeking. What’s more, she felt her contributions and talent were being recognised and valued. This isn’t about positive discrimination but about balancing things out and stretching people.
Diversity is a given, inclusion is the key
It’s pretty hard to avoid diversity in business today. Inclusion – ensuring everyone, from all backgrounds, employees and clients, feel valued for who they are and what they bring is essential for making diversity work.
Has a business ever gone under because of a lack of diversity? Possibly not. Has a business ever failed to reach its full potential, or been held back by its lack of diversity or failure to make diversity work? Definitely yes.
Typical examples include businesses that fail to break into new global markets because they struggle culturally, or whose pitch to a new client fails because they field a gender and ethnically predictable team which undermines the positioning of their product or creative.
Research from the Center for Talent Innovation in the US indicates that if just one member of a team is more reflective of the team’s target consumer, the entire team is more likely to understand that consumer.
Another reason why leaders need to foster diversity and inclusion in business is the growing role of Millennial talent. A report from PWC emphasises that attracting the best of this generation, born between 1980 and 2000, is “critical to the future of your business”.
Millennials already form 25% of the workforce in the US and account for over half of the population in India. By 2020, Millennials will form 50% of the global workforce. As a cohort they expect greater diversity in the organisations they work for. They also demand leaders who can adapt, develop, relate and stand up.
There’s plenty of research out there that demonstrates that inclusion leads to greater productivity, great collaboration and greater creativity. Can your business – and your business leaders – seriously afford to do without that?
More information – come to our Talent Night in May
Dr. Gillian Shapiro specialises in organisation development and change projects focused on inclusion and diversity. Come and hear her on May 5 at the Leadership & Diversity in Business Talent Night organised by training, coaching and mentoring provider, Bec Development. You can find out more here
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