If inclusion initiatives are to actually take hold in the workplace, leadership must take charge. From embracing a conscious mindset to clearly communicating diversity goals and ensuring accountability, it is up to leaders to set an example that the rest of the company can follow.

The reality is that an inclusive workplace is better in, arguably, every way: It attracts better employees, elicits a better performance from them, and, ultimately, yields better bottom-line results. However, if inclusion initiatives are to transcend rhetoric and actually cement themselves within the workplace, leadership must take charge. It is up to leaders to not merely support, but spearhead, these initiatives for them to be truly successful. In a Boston Consulting Group survey of 171 companies, two-thirds reported that visible commitment of senior leaders is most effective in promoting gender diversity at a management level. During a panel at Advertising Week 2017, Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine, underscored how important it is to have executives engaged in inclusion initiatives: “We as business leaders have a role to play in breaking the cycle. To have true inclusion, all voices need to be on the table.”

The payoff is significant: David Thomas, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, calls the most effective organizations ones that “don’t simply use their diversity in order to have legitimacy with clients, but use their diversity to increase the cultural competence of their workforce, writ large.” The numbers confirm this; Deloitte Australia research shows that inclusive teams outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments, while a Bersin by Deloitte study found that inclusive organizations have 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than their non-inclusive counterparts.

Aspects of Leadership

  • Conscious Mindset: When leaders lead with a conscious mindset, they help employees connect to the values that ground an inclusive workplace. By communicating these values internally and externally, leaders can inform workplace culture. Purpose-driven leadership allows employees to align around a shared set of goals that go beyond performance objectives.
  • Goal-setting: A successful workplace is a diverse one. In addition to creating opportunities where people can succeed regardless of gender or race, it’s important to consider how to promote unique perspectives, experiences, and values. Create clear goals on how to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace community — and stick to them.
  • Accountability: The business management gospel rings true: “You treasure what you measure.” Take time to assess the impact that equality efforts are having in the workplace — and share success stories both internally and externally. This helps employees feel connected to organizational goals and positions the organization as a thought leader.

At A Glance

More than 70 percent of companies say they are committed to diversity, but less than a third of their workers see senior leaders held accountable for improving gender outcomes.

SOURCE: Weber Shandwick: The CEO Reputation Premium: Gaining Advantage in the Engagement Era (2015).

Sixty-four of female executives say the reputation of CEO influences their decision to stay at company.

SOURCE: Alter, C.: Intel Pledges $300 Million to Increase Workforce Diversity (2015).

Six percent of respondents now believe diversity and inclusion is a competitive advantage however, only 6 percent of companies actually tie compensation to diversity outcomes.

SOURCE: Bourke, J., Garr, S., van Berkel, A., and Wong, J.: Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap (2017).

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