Driving Diversity and Inclusion—the Role for Chairs and CEOs
David Mills, Harsonal Sachar, Rachel Middleton
The Harvard Law School Forum published a bylined article, “Driving Diversity and Inclusion—the Role for Chairs and CEOs,” co-authored by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant David Mills. The piece is based on the firm's paper, "Leading by Example: The Critical Role Chairs and CEOs Play in Driving Diversity and Inclusion." The article is excerpted below.
The case for diversity in corporate leadership has never been stronger. To learn more, Russell Reynolds Associates spoke to nearly 60 directors and senior executives at large global companies across 10 countries who have helped foster change in their organizations. They consistently emphasized the critical role that the chair and CEO play in driving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace, specifically in terms of creating inclusive environments where everyone can thrive. From their insights, we have distilled three sets of takeaways, detailing how chairs and CEOs can drive progress on the agenda.
1. Change Starts with the Chair
As board leaders, chairs can model an ideal culture within the boardroom by:
Ensuring that the board itself is diverse, including women, minorities and diverse points of view; engaging in creative efforts to build the board candidate pipeline; and eliminating bias from the ideal director profile.
Creating an inclusive boardroom environment that fully harnesses the benefits of a diverse board and encouraging all board members to contribute and constructively challenge assumptions and perspectives.
Setting the tone that D&I is important to the organization by keeping it on the board agenda, asking the right questions and monitoring the relevant data. Chairs and boards can and do have a direct impact on the success of D&I within the organizations they serve.
2. A Partnership Between the Chair and CEO is Essential
Within organizations that lead the way on D&I, the chair and CEO are aligned on the importance of the topic. Together they:
Embed D&I into the organization’s strategy and empower the business to prioritize the topic alongside other business KPIs and objectives.
Make a shared commitment to role-model purposeful, authentic and inclusive leadership for the rest of the organization.
3. The CEO Delivers Results
While the chair and CEO can partner on tone-setting and making D&I a strategic priority, it is ultimately the CEO’s role to deliver results. The best CEOs:
Gather data and set targets to ensure diversity across the business. This means going deep into the data around hiring and promotion decisions at all levels across the firm, analyzing roadblocks and being transparent about success and failure in meeting targets.
Put structures and policies into place that encourage inclusive working environments and that provide diverse talent with the support systems they need to be successful within the organization.
Coach and mentor leaders with the recognition that diverse teams require different management skills than homogenous ones do.
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