If your diversity strategy relies on presentations and workshops, it’s probably not working as it should. In addition to diversity programs showing minimal improvement in terms of racial composition in the workforce, some leaders have failed to take the proper steps to prioritize this issue.
About $8 billion a year is spent on diversity training in the United States. This is a significant number, that looms large when considering the lack of progress. Numbers suggest that demonstrations of microaggressions—packaged into 3-5 minute clips and presented every 6 months—aren’t working. If you want success with your DE&I strategies, you must take responsibility for the actions that can fuel results.
Why Leadership Should Invest in Building a More Inclusive Culture
To attract good talent, start with building trust. Be directly involved in DE&I efforts. Your diversity strategy will be more successful with the involvement and influence of your leadership team.
It’s no coincidence that McDonald’s set competitive annual diversity goals for 2025 that are directly tied to the compensation of executive vice presidents. You have to believe that failing to invest time and energy in improving organizational DE&I negatively, can affect your company’s performance. Putting it simply—the solution starts with your visible commitment to developing diversity-related KPIs for other leaders and managers.
The benefits of an inclusive workforce include increasing employee retention, recruiting through brand awareness and possibly customer acquisition. You should own these efforts, not solely because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is also what is best for your business.
To start, evaluate your company’s diversity strategy and its results. In addition, talk with leaders about ways they can help make the strategy more successful.
Let’s explore 6 ways leaders can fuel workplace diversity and inclusion.
1. Sponsor a diversity and inclusion-related initiative.
Choose a DE&I issue that you are passionate about or a professional skill that you may possess. Is there a skill that is missing within the company? Are there enough support programs? Are there skill-share opportunities? You have the power to create programs to fill gaps. Sponsoring Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), is one great way for senior leaders to connect with their employees.
2. Offer support to underrepresented employees.
Support both sponsorship and mentorship programs; noting that sponsorship will include help with elements such as career vision & visibility. These programs help create genuine connections between employees and leadership, helping to build better, trusting relationships. Set up consistent skip-level meetings with underrepresented employees, or ask your managers to introduce you to high performers who may be able to help.
3. Join executive forums that embrace diversity.
One of the best things you can do as a leader is expand your network to include underrepresented executives. Joining communities that champion underrepresented employees will help you gain a broader perspective. Some useful forums are Chief, him for her, Hitec, and MLT.
4. Discuss progress of diversity-related initiatives at all-hands meetings.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in your company-wide all-hands or strategic discussions, is a simple way to include these plans within company KPIs. Clearly communicating progress on your diversity strategy should be on the agenda.
5. Participate in diversity and inclusion training.
Attend diversity training with other employees, not just other leaders. Encourage your executive team to take part in training with their direct reports. Leaders will have an opportunity to increase psychological safety, and learn more about how individual employees feel about the culture.
6. Hold VPs and Directors accountable for building diverse teams.
The sphere of influence within an organization starts with leadership. If your organization wants to champion diversity, your leadership team should reflect that. Hold yourself, and your direct reports accountable for building a diverse team by setting aspirational targets. Similar to how the McDonald’s executive team tied diversity goals to compensation, determine what will motivate your peers and direct reports to take diversity seriously.
Ultimately, the solution is to create safe and productive work environments that keep employees motivated and candidates eager to join your organization. Start with these 6 steps and build momentum.