By Olufunke Akinjiyan

Business leaders have a responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion.

Within the last 10 – 15 years, inclusion and diversity have been more of a corporate facade to boost organizational performance and financial results with inclusion and diversity initiatives focused on celebrating historical months and the occasional unconscious bias training. In the recent wake of the global peaceful protests which have engulfed most countries across the globe demanding justice for minority victims of police brutality and shining a light on ingrained policies and practices of inequality, organizations have been forced to bring inclusion and diversity to the centre stage of their organizations. Senior leadership teams across various global multinational organizations have felt compelled to ignite courageous conversations and discussions within their organizations.

Indeed, over the last 20 years, the global workforce has become more diverse due to global migration. However, what is yet to increase on par is the inclusion piece. Looking globally at both boards of directors and CEOs of most multinational organizations, it can be said that they do not reflect diversity in the global workplace. While inclusion and diversity are words that are often used interchangeably, it is important for organizations to understand that they are two exclusive terms.

What is very prevalent across organizations is diversity without inclusion. However, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth, won’t happen. While diversity has been a welcome development globally, as noted by the diversity
advocate Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party while Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

There is a need to educate senior leadership teams on being aware of the cultural biases that pervade their organizations, and these come across in hiring decisions, succession planning decisions, career advancement, remuneration, etc. For example, a global educational organization with presence globally, is seen to have no problem with diversity. However, it lacks inclusivity because a lot of the employees who do not hold Western passports are treated differently compared to their Western colleagues in as much as they have the same educational qualification and in some instances are better qualified.

The modern workplace is yet to inculcate an international mindset. Hence, to address these issues, there needs to be a shift in organizational culture. Organizations need core metrics with which senior leadership teams will need to be measured, and this needs to come from an understanding of the inclusion and diversity issues affecting the organization. Now, more than ever, any organization that wants to realize the full potential of its employees should be taking action to create a safe and inclusive workplace where minorities can achieve their full potential.

A few facts that employers, leaders, and managers can use to create an inclusive workplace are highlighted below.

RECOGNIZE BIAS

No matter how well-prepared people of color are, they won’t get a seat at the table unless those at the table allow them to pull up a chair. Organizations should take steps to make this happen. A multinational company, for example, developed a leadership program that not only puts high-potential employees on the management track but also targets the supervisors who select the candidates.

In de-biasing training, supervisors learned to recognize and control their inclinations to nominate candidates who were similar to themselves and instead acknowledge great candidates of color. Employees of minority groups who participated in this reported feeling more engaged and better positioned for advancement opportunities. More importantly, their supervisors committed to offering these employees leadership opportunities within one year.

PRACTISE INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP

Leaders need to create a safe team environment where all employees can speak up, be heard and feel welcome. They should embrace the input of employees whose backgrounds or expertise differ from their own, foster collaboration among diverse staff, ask questions of all members of the team, facilitate constructive arguments, give actionable feedback and act upon the advice of diverse employees. In addition, leaders can make minority groups feel valued and included by prizing authenticity over conformity, and operating from an understanding that a range of presentation and communication styles can succeed in the workplace.

PROVIDE SPONSORSHIP PROGRAMS

Some corporations have created programs that accelerate the progress of women and people of minority groups by pairing them with more experienced sponsors who help them learn the ropes – not just in their first weeks or months on the job, but over the long haul. Research shows that a mentor’s advice is not enough; a  sponsor’s meaningful advocacy makes all the difference. For instance, research has shown that people of minority groups who say they have sponsors are 81% more likely to be satisfied with their career progression than those without sponsors.

HOLD LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE

Make sure that inclusion is a core value of the organization, not just something you do to “tick a box.” For instance, Kathleen Hogan, Head of HR at Microsoft, has instituted a tracking and reporting system to measure progress against the diversity and inclusion goals for each division. Leaders were held accountable with 10% of their bonuses tied to their goals.

Finally, if businesses are to grow and thrive now and in the future, it is imperative to elevate
the voices of women and minority groups and eliminate institutional barriers to their success. In order to do this, business leaders must intentionally address the relentless undertow of discrimination that continues to hinder them from career advancement within the organization. We must unleash all talent and,
in the process, create more profit, equity, and a better world.