How to Develop Leadership Skills When Building Diverse Teams [Podcast]

At this point, it’s well known that building diverse teams of employees offers a competitive advantage to organizations everywhere. It’s hard to argue with the stats. For example, research shows that inclusive teams outperform peers by 80 percent in team assessments. Ethnically-diverse organizations are 35 percent more likely to financially surpass their peers. And companies with more women in top management experience higher returns on investment than those with less.

If leaders want to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), they need to hone their skills to get the best results out of their current employees and attract diverse candidates. Not doing so could mean the difference between the success and failure of their businesses.

Our Guests: Entrepreneurs Rosaleen Blair and Stasia Mitchell

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Rosaleen Blair and Stasia Mitchell, entrepreneurs with decades of experience in their respective fields. Rosaleen is the founder and chair of AMS, where she was CEO for 23 years, and is a serial entrepreneur, having invested in and advised many organizations, as well as offered coaching and mentoring services to growth businesses. Stasia leads the global entrepreneurship program at EY across 64 countries and has more than 20 years of experience working in EMEIA and the Americas. She brings a global mindset to her work and helps support the global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As the “great resignation” rears its head, building diverse teams should be at the forefront of leaders’ minds. Employees are demanding that leaders celebrate differences and take an interest in the unique needs of individuals. If people give so much of themselves to work, they want to see their work give something back.

“Because of the pandemic, employees have a new expectation for work … They want to be thought of as individuals–human beings–and not just a part of the headcount,” Rosaleen says. “They want to feel commitment from their leaders. This can come in the form of an investment in their growth and skills, career mobility, or even support for their personal wellbeing. Empathy is critical.”

To meet these new employee expectations, employers should be curious, says Stasia, especially when it comes to diversity. Learning about differences can allow your organization to excel.

“Leaders need to be extremely curious, be open to possibilities of solutioning around creating and ensuring collaborative, diverse teams,” says Stasia. “Listening is so powerful. Learn from these diverse groups of people.”

Defining Diversity and the Importance of Role Models

When it comes to DEI initiatives, it’s important that employers make decisions about what diversity means to them. Then, set goals to achieve.

“I think we all agree that people are the foundation for any great organization,” Stasia says. “We all need to be ready to define what diversity means to us as organizations, and stick to that definition. Stay accountable, make it measurable. The most important thing is we’ve got to make positive progress together.”

One great way to begin building diverse teams is to show people that opportunities are open to everyone. In the case of women’s equality, Rosaleen suggests encouraging women to lean in and take projects across global initiatives and activities. This allows women to see themselves in roles they wouldn’t have before. Organizations can give female employees opportunities to represent organizations externally too–which allows them to build their profiles and create strong networks.

“From my experience, role models are key. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Rosaleen says. “Celebrating the success of female role models and creating the space to ensure that all voices are heard is important.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by EY, one of the largest professional services networks in the world. You can learn more about building diverse teams by reaching out to Rosaleen and Stasia on LinkedIn. Also, on September 1, 2021, from 1:30-2:30 pm EST, don’t miss the #WorkTrends Twitter chat with Rosaleen (@rosaleenblair) and Stasia (@Stasia_EY). During the chat, we will tackle topics like innovative management techniques, diversity of thought, and more.

7 Tips to Manage Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity! It’s an important topic we’re talking about a lot lately. Here’s something to think about: We often talk about diversity and inclusion within the confines of training and programs. But what about the day-to-day challenges and best practices of managing a diverse workforce? Here are seven tips from HR experts to help you successfully manage a diversity in the workplace.

Stop Thinking of Diversity as a Buzzword

HR is full of buzzwords these days, but diversity isn’t one of them — nor should it be treated as one. Too many organizations fall prey to superficial efforts to increase diversity. Programs and initiatives can be great tools, but they’re ultimately temporary.

Instead, remember that building a diverse and inclusive organization is something you must work on every day, just as your sales team hustles for leads and your accounting team keeps the books in order.

Make Diversity Part of Your Hiring Process

Building a diverse organization from the ground up takes time. Try auditing your hiring process to ensure that you’re interviewing a diverse slate of candidates. “Mandate that before a requisition can be closed, you have to be shown that you had a diverse slate,” says Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, chief human resources officer at Symantec.

Taking this actionable step is small, but it ensures that hiring officers aren’t simply hiring people who remind them of themselves. “It starts at the hiring process,” Cappellanti-Wolf says. If you want to show that you’re serious about building a more diverse organization, you have to look critically at how you assess and hire candidates.

Build Connections to Create Talent Pipelines

It’s enormously important to build internal talent pipelines for your organization, and ensuring that you have standards in your hiring process for interviewing diverse candidates is an important step toward creating a more inclusive business and culture.

But in order to create a truly diverse pipelines, companies need to look outside their walls, says La’Wana Harris, diversity and inclusion consultant and author. Harris recommends that companies reach out externally to organizations devoted to promoting diversity in the workplace, as well as educational institutions such as historically black colleges and universities. You’ll find plenty of talented candidates, and also will expand your hiring base.

Make Sure Leadership Is Aligned with Your Goals

Managing a diverse culture can be challenging at times. But without buy-in from leadership from the very beginning, it may be a lost cause.

As you look to address issues of diversity in your organization, be sure that leadership is briefed and on board with your plans. “If you don’t have leadership support, these things fail,” Cappellanti-Wolf says. Additionally, leadership’s behavior and actions will serve as examples for all levels of the organization, and set the tone for what’s expected of employees.

Examine Your Policies to Fight Systemic Inequality

Creating a more inclusive organization takes effort. But no matter what actions an organization takes, it must also be aware that its policies may be promoting systemic inequality. “Workplace policies, systems and processes can disproportionately impact historically marginalized populations,” Harris says.

To counter this, audit your policies. Ensure that your family-leave policy is supportive of LGBTQ parents as well as traditional couples. “Remote-work policies are another point of consideration for building a truly inclusive work environment,” Harris says. “Remote work can open up opportunities for individuals with visible and invisible disabilities.”

Create a Culture of Empathy and Forgiveness

Just as with any process within your organization, there will be hiccups with diversity and inclusion. But both Cappellanti-Wolf and Harris say that’s OK — and it’s no big deal. “We’re all struggling with the same challenges,” Cappellanti-Wolf says.

Leaders need to admit to mistakes, and to encourage others to do the same. Harris says that one way leaders can do this is by adopting a servant leadership mindset. “How do you bring out the best in someone else?” she says. “I’m a proponent of leaders making it their No. 1 goals to mine their employees: mine for the genius, mine for their power, mine for their brilliance.”

Ultimately, it’s about unlocking the potential in your employees. By tailoring your leadership philosophies to meet their needs, you’ll be better able to empathize with them, and when hiccups occur, they’ll understand that an honest mistake was made.

Find Your Blind Spots

Leaders must have the self-awareness to know that they’ll have certain blind spots when it comes to their employees and their employees’ experience. For example, maybe a leader doesn’t know the pronouns an employee prefers.

But what’s most important in these situations is that leaders be aware of their blind spots — and that they work to solve them. “I like to look at it as mirrors, windows and doors,” Harris says. “You look in the mirror and that’s self-awareness. You look out the window and you get perspectives from others to try to get a clue about your blind spots.”

The final step is the door — “What actions do I need to take to build an inclusive environment?”

This article was originally published in 2016 and substantially reworked in July 2019.

How to Intentionally Create a More Inclusive Culture

Inclusion is a popular buzzword, but are companies doing more than just paying lip service to the idea? Some organizations truly want to create an inclusive culture, but many leaders don’t fully understand what that entails. If you’re working on making your workplace more inclusive, consider these four steps.

Define an Inclusive Culture

There’s some confusion regarding the definition of an inclusive culture. Just because your company has some racial and gender diversity doesn’t mean you can check the inclusion box. “In an inclusive culture, everyone has the opportunity to do their best work no matter who they are, what they do or where they work,” says Simma Lieberman, an inclusion expert who is the author of “110 Ways to Champion Diversity and Build Inclusion” and who recently launched a podcast, Every Day Conversations on Race for Every Day People.

In a truly inclusive workplace, she says, everyone feels like they’re really a part of the organization, and they know how they contribute to the organization’s success. “Diversity management and inclusion are integrated into every system and process, so people are comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and they feel invested in their own success and the success of the organization at every level.”

The key is to make employees feel comfortable and believe they’re a good fit with the organization. “In an inclusive culture, all members of the staff understand and embrace that this is a space that belongs to everyone and that there are values we hold and behaviors we expect to guard that culture,” says Ximena Hartsock, co-founder and president of Phone2Action, a digital advocacy platform. “Inclusion is a lifestyle, a way of living, not just a set of principles written on a wall,” Hartsock says.

Understand the Relationship Between Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are often mentioned together and some people think they’re synonymous terms. They’re not. “Diversity is a fact; inclusion is a choice. You must have a diverse workforce in order to be inclusive,” says Anna Beninger, senior director of research and corporate engagement partner at Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with CEOs and companies to help build workplaces that work for women.

Beninger says diversity refers to the demographic makeup of an organization’s workforce. “A diverse workforce includes individuals representing more than one gender, racial/ethnic group, sexual orientation, national origin, socioeconomic stratum or other characteristic.”

The benefit of diverse groups is that they bring a variety of viewpoints, experiences, backgrounds and interests to the table. “Diverse teams inherently create more unique ideas because individuals have had different experiences and view problems in different ways,” Beninger says. “They challenge one another and ultimately develop stronger solutions.”

On the other hand, she says, inclusion can be invisible and difficult to grasp. “Catalyst research shows that when individuals feel that they belong to the group and are valued for their unique perspective and skills, they are more cooperative and innovative,” Beninger says.

However, when companies have diversity without inclusion, the results are much different. Lieberman says that without inclusion, you just have employees from different backgrounds. “Diversity alone may look good in the company photo, but without inclusion employees end up in racial, cultural, gender and other types of silos — and they will leave if they are underutilized, underestimated or feel invisible.” She says companies will not benefit from diversity unless they make employees feel welcome and can bring them together to interact and solve problems using the unique talents and experiences from their backgrounds.

Realize That D&I Is a Process, Not a Program

Inclusion isn’t something that you do one time and then check it off your list. “Too many people see it as a one-time event with training or an hour lunch-and-learn, but inclusion has to be embedded in the culture in every business system and process,” Lieberman says, adding that this doesn’t just happen by chance. “It has to be intentional and aligned with recruiting, hiring and retaining people,” she says.

Another issue is the tendency to focus too much on policies and programs. When developing a D&I strategy, Beninger says it’s important to pay attention to the human side of change. “Catalyst research shows that an organization’s formal efforts to promote inclusion may be effective, but if there is a disconnect with the informal culture, exclusion can persist.”

For example, she says, an employee may be excited about the company’s leadership development program, but at the same time dreading interactions with team members who constantly dismiss his or her ideas at meetings.

“To overcome this challenge, organizations should promote inclusive leadership behaviors among all employees and visibly and explicitly reward these behaviors,” Beninger says. “When exclusionary behavior does happen, interrupt these behaviors — and, importantly, leaders should validate employees’ experiences of exclusion by transparently acknowledging barriers and setbacks, and highlighting efforts to amplify inclusion.”

Adopt Inclusive Leadership Behaviors

To create an inclusive culture in which everyone feels they belong and is comfortable expressing their uniqueness, Beninger recommends adopting four key inclusive leadership behaviors:

  • Empowerment: Enable team members to grow and excel by encouraging them to solve problems, come up with new ideas and develop new skills.
  • Accountability: Show confidence in team members by holding them responsible for aspects of their performance that are within their control.
  • Courage: Stand up for what you believe is right, even when it means taking a risk.
  • Humility: Admit mistakes, learn from criticism and different points of view, and overcome your limitations by seeking contributions from team members.

Companies should also actively recruit, develop and advance people from underrepresented groups. “Catalyst research shows that significant barriers still remain that hold high-potential women, including women of color, back in organizations,” Beninger says. “These barriers must be addressed to level the playing field and create a truly diverse and inclusive organization.”

And while gender and ethnicity tend to dominate the D&I conversation, diversity extends beyond these descriptors. “We had a student in a wheelchair in our fellows program, and that helped us tremendously to understand his limitations, but also value even more his resilience and desire to succeed,” Hartsock says. “We had to make several adjustments that gave us more empathy about his situation and raised our awareness tremendously.”

Also, Hartsock says her company has summer fellows as young as 15, and next summer it will have senior fellows older than 65. “We do this to get a wide range of perspectives, and it’s incredible how much you learn when you are open to other views.”

It’s being open to these other viewpoints that will ultimately determine the success of your program. “For D&I to benefit an organization and sustain itself, people have to know each other, engage in meaningful interactions and learn skills to be more culturally intelligent, which benefits everyone,” Lieberman says.