5 Things to Consider to Build Diverse Leadership

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By Elise Awwad

November 3, 2021
6 min read

Creating meaningful change in your team’s diversity in the leadership ranks is an issue we hear from our clients we work with every day. Unfortunately, even when these clients find the right talent for the job it can be difficult to build a plan to elevate that talent.

When you lack diversity within your leadership team it can impact your company—it sets the tone. Non-diverse organizations may see hampered innovation, lower work performance and an impact on their overall bottom line. A McKinsey study found that ethnically-diverse and gender-diverse companies were more profitable. And more than half of workers think their company should be doing more to increase diversity among its workforce.

A study by Gallup reported that 55% of American workers agree that their organization has diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies in place. Unfortunately, almost half of the surveyed organizations still do not create a diverse, safe and welcoming environment for their employees.

If your business doesn’t have DEI goals and metrics in place to report on your progress, you should start today. Since it could take some time to build out your policies, you might want to first focus on inclusivity within your company. Reach out to your team in a way they’re comfortable with for sharing feedback and take a pulse on where you stand today. Look at your teams, departments and leaders to see where you have representation and where it’s lacking. Then be a part of the solution, as you frame an open, honest and intentioned plan.

If you already have a plan or are just getting started, consider some of these strategies to help build diverse leadership and let that tone permeate throughout your entire company.

Create an inclusive workplace

In today's workplace, every team member should feel welcome, safe, comfortable, and more than anything, valued. Research has continually shown that organizations who are more inclusive and diverse outperform peers on longer-term value creation. To create an inclusive workplace, consider how these tactics might fit into your plan:

Mentoring programs

Mentoring programs are designed to bring people together to grow, share knowledge and experiences and develop relationships throughout the organization. Mentoring generally begins with pairing employees from different departments, backgrounds and experiences levels, but you can use mentoring to lift certain groups of underrepresented talent by creating specific programs. This can especially be effective when you’ve documented pockets in your leadership where you’re lacking representation.

Interactive training

Creating interactive training will help the organization identify what steps it needs to take to hit diversity markers, but it will also show people how to self-reflect. Using self-reflection within training, your employees can examine how they approach situations, learn, and provide the necessary insight to correct negative habits and affirm good ones.

Employee resource group

Employee resource groups (ERGS) are voluntary, employee-led groups that work to create a diverse, inclusive workplace by bringing diverse voices to the forefront. Instilling ERGs within your business can aid colleagues to come together, lift diverse voices and create community through action.

Reflect on your representation

When you set up a DEI strategy, identify any areas within your organization that need representation. Oftentimes diversity in the ranks is superseded by diversity in leadership, so consider starting at the top and then seek to fill gaps within other roles.

If you find that you lack diverse talent throughout the organization, not just in leadership, you likely have a recruiting pipeline issue you need to solve for. Consider addressing these common missteps:

  • Analyze the diversity of the schools you recruit from: Look at the diversity makeup of the schools overall as well as the degree programs you're recruiting from.
  • Consider lowering education requirements: Then, offer upskilling or teaching opportunities once new hires enter your team.
  • Loosen office boundaries: With hybrid work environments, your team might not need to reside in certain larger cities or hubs. This could make an impact on whether talent from underrepresented communities can even qualify.
  • Strengthen diverse referrals: Encourage diverse colleagues to refer their connections and share job postings with their networks.
  • Share your DEI policies: More than 3 out of 4 job seekers and employees (76%) report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. 

Create a succession plan for diverse talent

Your business succession plan is the talent management process that builds up a pool of trained workers who can fill critical roles when leaders and other employees step down. This should be included in your DEI plans. Within your business succession plan, identify essential functions in your organization and consider whom you would need to fill those roles.

Identify skills needed for these roles and find rising stars within your organization who have the potential to grow into a leader. When you infuse DEI benchmarks and goals into your succession plan, you can develop talent with on-the-job, cross-functional experience as well as educational programming.

Establish learning pathways for advancement

Setting up education opportunities can help balance the scales for underrepresented talent. In addition, these learning pathways can help your rising stars feel more confident within their current role or when taking on a new role. So, as you’re figuring out how to execute your succession plan, consider setting up dedicated learning pathways that include:

  • Targeted scholarships within your company can be based on your diversity gaps/goals
  • Learning cohorts can help you pool diverse rising talent into a program to lift them through educational goals, like graduate certs
  • Stackable degree programs can provide opportunities for your team to build their education within a relevant field over time
  • Interpersonal skills or soft skills can be an indicator of future leadership potential, so remember to infuse learnings that cover topics like communication, time management, confidence and empathy

Also, instead of always looking to hire new talent, consider actively promoting your vacancies internally. Offering education opportunities to your existing team can provide underrepresented talent the means they need to feel valued and give them the tools to step into new managerial roles.

Ensure learning pathways are used

Offering education opportunities is just the first step in creating a pathway to diverse leadership. For these avenues to be practical, benchmarks and goals must be set and align to what you want to achieve. If you are using education as a tool to help your DEI goals, set your goals and report on them. You may find that some opportunities are more beneficial than others, or some might not work within your business plans at all. Some ways to set up your reports include:

  • Number of diverse participants, especially as a percentage of the total
  • Number of participants that are enrolled after a specific time
  • Number of participants that have completed
  • An aggregate of skills that are being learned and applied
  • Evaluating if these are the right skills needed for career progression

Check on your progress and adjust your goals

DEI goals are unique to each organization and industry. Also, the metrics your organization needed to meet a year ago might be vastly different from today's metrics. Setting DEI benchmarks and goals is vital to see where your company is making progress or lagging.

Ask yourself, "when is the last time you met your Leadership DEI goals?" and if you aren’t sure or know you’re lagging, “who can I ask for help?”

About Elise Awwad

Elise Awwad is the Chief Operating Officer of DeVry University. She has oversight of all student operations to ensure a positive and consistent experience for DeVry students and corporate partners.

Awwad leads all admissions functions and student support activities, as well as DeVryWorks, DeVry’s corporate partner department, to provide a student centric journey from inquiry to graduation, creating an innovative model of support rooted in DeVry’s principle of Student Care.

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