Empowering Diversity: Why Leaders Need to Own “Inclusion”


USA Today | March 29, 2018

The article, “Empowering Diversity: Why Leaders Need to Own 'Inclusion,'” was co-written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultants Amy Hayes and Jamie Hechinger and published in USA Today’s insert on Diversity and Inclusion. The piece shared insights on how to be an inclusive leader.

Many companies understand "diversity" but struggle to grasp "inclusion" in concrete terms. Corporate talent strategies tend to overemphasize the pipeline as being the barrier and underestimate how culture can catalyze (or deter) the recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce. Furthermore, inclusive cultures are not just actualized by corporate policy, but also by open, empathetic, empowering leaders who enable a sense of "belonging" among groups and individuals, thereby creating opportunities for all employees to realize their unique contribution.

Diversity is a seat at the table. Inclusion is an invitation to have a voice at that table.

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a business imperative. Inclusive leaders are critical to companies that plan to stay relevant and resilient. Our research shows that employees at companies whose leaders champion inclusion and diversity are 25% more engaged, 47% more creative and 43% more likely to stay in their roles.

How can you become an inclusive leader?

Be vocal (and empower others to have a voice).

  • Communicate commitment to D&I, and D&I goals, internally and externally
  • Ensure that diverse talent has a voice
  • Model inclusive behavior
  • Ensure that diverse perspectives reach the top—every single time

Act (and empower others to act).

  • Remove process bias from talent attraction, development and retention (e.g., establish diverse hiring panels)
  • Create leadership development opportunities for underrepresented groups
  • Ensure that the CEO, board and senior leadership have an unbiased view of the barriers to an effective D&I strategy

Stay honest (and keep others honest).

  • Diagnose the company's level of diversity and inclusion to identify areas of weakness
  • Have an appetite for honest feedback—everything from exit interviews to informal observations
  • Develop an inclusive definition of talent and ensure that decisions driven by "culture fit" are not an excuse, conscious or not, to turn away diverse individuals
  • Track D&I metrics and embed D&I objectives into business plans
  • Be authentic and empower others to be the same

The journey toward an actualized D&I strategy can begin only once an organization participates in honest self-reflection and commitment to change. Inclusive leaders have the potential to catalyze culture change that delivers the many benefits diversity has to offer, but they cannot do it alone. 

Ideally, inclusive leadership is expected, incentivized and relentlessly practiced by the CEO, the boardroom and throughout an institution. Human resources departments can facilitate, educate and support efforts toward a more inclusive leadership and culture, but ultimately it is up to human capital up, down and across the organization to live the values every day—even when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient. Beyond mere "tolerance," this extends to inviting individuals to bring their authentic selves, voices and expertise to all they do. Embracing D&I cannot guarantee success, but ignoring or obstructing it is guaranteed not only to threaten a company's recruitment and retention, but also its ultimate relevance and resiliency.

The article can be found originally here.

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Empowering Diversity: Why Leaders Need to Own “Inclusion”