You are probably familiar with the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I know I’ve subscribed to this philosophy a time or two, especially since becoming a parent. But, I’ve also come across this style of leadership many times in the workplace. I’ve had senior leaders who talk a good game when it comes to inclusion and valuing their employees, but their actions tell a different story.
One of the most important things I learned in my last role as a women’s initiative manger, is that if you want any talent strategy to succeed, senior leaders HAVE to be invested. They have to not only talk about what they want to see from their employees, they have to model those behaviors every day. This is particularly important when it comes to implementing a diversity and gender inclusion strategy.
So what are some things leaders can do to show their teams that they take diversity and inclusion seriously?
- Understand (and talk about) the business case for diversity and inclusion. Having diverse teams where everyone feels included and has the ability to thrive isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s what makes the most business sense. There are now countless studies that show the value of having diverse teams. Teams with a mix of backgrounds are better at making decisions and are smarter. An equal gender mix leads to increased sales and profits and overall better performance than male-dominated teams. At the end of the day, companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion are simply more successful, and the more leaders talk to their employees about this, the more likely they are to implement best practices into their decision-making and performance at every level.
- Invest in education and training. Training in and of itself won’t cure all of a company’s ills. But, it is an essential component of any diversity strategy. Invest in regular workshops and training sessions that address issues like unconscious bias; how to recognize it, and most importantly, what to do about it. Reinforce these lessons over the course of an employee’s time at your company. Once a year isn’t enough. Train management and reform internal processes to make unbiased hiring, promotion and performance evaluation decisions.
- Monitor results and hold managers accountable. Someone wiser than me once said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. If you want to see true results, you must be willing to do the hard work of measuring your progress and holding people accountable. This will require a deep dive into your company’s processes, structures and culture. After all, you need to know where you are to figure out how to get to where you want to go. Your employees will know if you’re throwing out diversity initiatives without any careful thought to WHY you’re doing them in the first place. Having a data driven approach that addresses your company’s true pain points, measures outcomes, and holds leaders accountable for the results will be the best way to define and achieve your diversity goals.
- Give people permission to integrate life and work. Whether you call it work-life balance or workplace flexibility, you have to pay attention to and prioritize your employees’ ability to integrate their work and home lives. People’s lives don’t stop once they enter the workplace. They still have doctor’s appointments, school plays, and outside projects to attend to. When you give your employees the flexibility to meet those needs, they will reward you with higher engagement, better work product, and increased productivity and efficiency. But beyond just offering these benefits, make sure that you are creating a culture in which people feel permission to actually take advantage of that flexibility. That starts with you, as a leader, modeling this behavior. If you’re leaving early to take your child to soccer practice, say so out loud. If you need time off to care for a sick relative, let others know you’re doing that. If you recently had a child, take your full parental leave. Encourage your managers to do the same and make sure they, in turn, encourage their teams to follow suit. This is how you create a flexible culture, and not just a flexible policy, that will attract and retain diverse talent.
- Take a look at your own team. Leaders, change starts with you. Who is sitting at the table with you in those high level meetings? Is it all people who look like you? If so, your employees have noticed, and those who don’t fit the mold have likely given up on their ambition to sit at the table with you and will eventually seek out employers that will give them more opportunities to grow. Take a more careful look at how you define leadership potential. Do you define it all? You will probably find that you’re missing out on scores of talented people who can do the top jobs.