How to crack the code – Engaging senior leaders to drive Diversity & Inclusion, linking to innovation and performance

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks often about the necessity of diversity to achieve business performance

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks often about the necessity of diversity to achieve business performance

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions and outcomes for everyone,” says Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

While sounding easy, creating a work environment that enables today’s diverse mix of staff from all levels, backgrounds, geographies and professions to feel safe to speak up and feel truly valued has proven much trickier to achieve than initially thought. Without this confidence, people cannot contribute at their best to developing innovative solutions to the complex problems our organisations are all facing.

The biggest challenge in bridging the gap between our aim to create a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment, and creating consistency of diversity and inclusion (D&I) practice, is that leaders and decision makers often don’t know what they don’t know in the D&I space.

This is hardly surprising as when surveyed, 60% of Australian organisations identified as being at the compliance stage of inclusive culture maturity, where difference is only tolerated or accepted rather than valued.

Source: Diversity Knowhow client research

Source: Diversity Knowhow client research

While establishing HR policies, programs, and understanding your workforce mix is an important starting place, it’s not enough. To capture the innovation of your people, it’s critical for the leadership team to take the D&I baton from HR and drive the inclusive workplace culture themselves, supporting everyone to thrive at work.

Due to the outcomes of the recent Australian Banking Enquiry, workplace culture is now on the Executive Team agenda, as is innovation (McKinseys, 2017). So the time has never been better to educate your senior leadership team on the D&I case for change. This can be achieved by creating the space to explore collectively how to leverage D&I to increase staff engagement, innovation and business performance.

Throughout 2019 in my work with senior leadership teams, I am seeing an understanding of:

·         the importance of diversity of thought at the decision-making table to increase innovation and reduce the risk of group think in today’s rapidly changing marketplace,

·         the need to do something more in the D&I space without knowing what or how,

·         the fear that D&I will become a workforce ‘numbers game,’ risking the creation of a divisive ‘us and them’ workplace culture,

·         the desire to weave D&I into how their organisations do business.

It’s been inspiring to see senior leaders recognise their role in defining and diagnosing the D&I journey that is required, and participating strongly in robust strategic interventions. It’s also inspiring to hear leaders having new D&I conversations that explore new possibilities.

So, as a leader, what are the first steps to opening new D&I conversations?

1.          Engage your colleagues through education to access the latest evidence-based D&I thinking and leading practice.

2.          Reflect on your current business challenges.

3.          Reflect on your organisation’s current diversity cultural maturity state and aspirations for the future.

4.          Identify your biggest challenge to achieving the desired state.

5.          Identify what needs to happen to make change to address this challenge.

6.          Identify the role all leaders will need to play to accelerate the D&I agenda.

It’s an exciting time to be working with senior leadership teams, and no leadership intervention needs to start with a blank piece of paper. There is excellent evidence-based research, education, frameworks and case studies available to help build leader D&I capability and confidence to create work environments that increase collective staff innovation and performance.

If you would like to chat about how you can enable and empower your leaders to drive individual action and collective group impact, or would like a free copy of our D&I cultural maturity framework, contact me here.

Image via BBC

Fiona KrautilComment