Why Diversity Begins with Leadership

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Leadership diversity is essential for organizations as they strive to reflect the interests and needs of the staff and clients they serve. Diversity does not just need to be seen in the boardroom but at every level of the organization. That being said, it’s critical that diversifying your organization begins with leadership.

I spoke with Eric Albert, one of our Executive Search Consultants and part of our Diversity Council, to discuss how leadership impacts diversity and steps you can be taking now as you begin or continue to make efforts to diversify your organization.

What Is The Role Of Leadership In Diversifying Organizations?

Leadership in your organization sets the pace for diversity. While change needs to happen at every level, change always starts with leadership. For your team to buy into an idea, you have to first prove that you’re invested in its success. If your board room is diverse, the other branches of your organization are more likely to be on board when diversity initiatives spread throughout the org chart. Starting with change at the top of your org chart reflects your dedication to diversifying and builds trust as you show that you believe in the change enough to implement it not only at the lower levels of your organization.

Furthermore, having a diverse leadership team shows others that there is room for anyone at the organization to grow and allows staff members of different backgrounds to see someone like themselves in a leadership position. Ultimately, for your diversity initiatives to make a lasting impact in your culture, you need decision-makers who understand the needs and interests of the different kinds of people that make up your organization.

What Can Leaders Do To Start Diversifying Their Teams?

Let’s face it, we all have implicit biases that need to be dealt with before lasting strides can be made. The most important thing organizational leaders can start doing to diversify their team is to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Diversifying your organization will be uncomfortable as you strive to understand people who are innately different from you, but don’t give up. Ask questions and seek guidance as you begin to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. This will be a journey and evolution, so don’t expect results to be instantaneous.

Secondly, be intentional about diversity. Saying you want to make more diverse hires, does not necessarily mean it is going to happen. Intentionality means asking hard questions to find out where there’s room for cultural growth, making changes that benefit your staff even if it’s something your organization hasn’t done before and implementing programs and activities that ensure the different voices that make up your staff are expressed. Showing that you’re invested in what each person needs individually will allow them to feel more comfortable coming to work as they are. When people feel accepted and aligned with your organization’s mission, they’re more likely to show loyalty, resulting in higher morale and less turnover.

Having happy employees is the key to your success since they are the engine that powers your mission. In fact, according to a Harvard Law article, when employees feel as if they don’t belong in their organization, only 22% indicate they intend to remain at their organization. Therefore, feeling included is critical to maintaining motivated employees who buy into your mission.

By the way, this also means that when you begin bringing more diverse staff onboard, you need to ensure you’ve set them up for success and provide opportunities for them to feel included. Consider having an on-boarding process that involves a more tenured team member showing new employees the ropes, ensuring they are included in staff activities, and advocating for their interests and opinions until they get their feet under them.

If you work with our Diversity Council, we’ll dive deep into your culture and processes to make tailored suggestions that address your particular needs.

What Are The Next Steps For My Organization?

If you feel your organization is ready to take steps toward diversity, here are the 3 things you can do now:

1. Just Start – There will always be more you can do to prepare for starting diversity initiatives. That being said, start now, even if you don’t feel fully prepared. One way to get started is walking through our free, 5-minute Diversity Readiness Tool. You’ll come away with at least a few ideas you can get started with.

2. Have Intentional Conversations – Start talking with fellow leaders and staff about diversity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Listen to others and be willing to learn and adjust based on what you find out.

3. Eliminate the but – Your diversity conversations should not include a but. Sentences like, “we want to be diverse, but”, will only hold you back from actually becoming a diverse organization. Try replacing “but” with “so” to focus on solutions and opportunities.

We hope this conversation gives you practical steps to begin implementing diversity initiates in your organization. At Vanderbloemen, we know this process can be challenging, so we’ve launched our new Diversity Practice in partnership with Sam Collier to help you build and maintain an environment where people of different backgrounds, cultures, and interests can come together to advance the Kingdom in a fuller way. If you are interested in working with our Diversity Council team or have questions about the process, contact us – we’d love to chat with you.

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