Diversity Should be the Bottom Line for Leaders at the Top

Don’t just let your leadership team say they know about D&I; make sure they know how to put it into action. Otherwise, you're all talk.

We all understand how monumentally important it is to develop diversity and inclusion (D&I) within our workplaces. Not only is it an ethical and moral mission, but it also leads to greater innovation, new ways of thinking and overall growth for businesses. McKinsey’s study on diversity has stated that firms with higher diversity quotients are 35 percent more likely to post financial returns than their national industry medians. Companies who had diverse management teams in particular also report 19 percent higher revenues, as a result of increased innovation from diverse teams. We all understand this much: diversity works, and it’s imperative that it becomes a normal part of the workplace.

But while a number of organizations and leaders are talking the talk, not all of them are walking the walk. There are a number of reasons for this, but when it comes to establishing D&I within a workplace, the responsibility ultimately falls on the CEO. If there is a disconnect between what is said about diversity and what is being done, executives must take charge in implementing best practices and making D&I a part of their bottom line.

Educate the workplace, lead by example

If you’re hiring an employee who is from an underrepresented background within your organization, there’s a chance they may feel alienated from their peers from the start. When this happens, it’s up to your employees to be mindful and open towards new hires. It follows that leaders must then educate employees on how to implement diversity in the workplace. This is usually done through the HR department, though executives should be working with them to develop the best practices and goals for inclusion in their workplace.

Leaders too, should be formally trained in diversity. The disconnect that plagues diversity in the workplace can be solved by ensuring that leaders are able to properly represent their own standards and ultimately lead their workers by example. If a leader is understanding, empathetic and accepting, employees will be more likely to follow suit. Your fellow executives and middle managers should all be adept in handling D&I in the workplace—this is what sets the tone for the rest of your employees.

Taking the time and spending the resources to teach leaders and employees what it means to be diverse and inclusive in the workplace is a powerful way to incorporate it into your work environment. Don’t just let your organization’s leaders and employees say they know about D&I, make sure they know how to put it into action.

Integrate diversity in your products and services

No company’s consumer base is totally homogenous. Even with target audiences in mind, it’s likely that your consumers are made up of people of all kinds, from all walks of life. As a business grows, they seek larger addressable markets. What companies may not realize however, is that diversity can actually be a major factor in scaling and expanding a customer base.

When an organization lacks diversity, it can be difficult for employees to break out of their “cultural blindspots,” resulting in narrower perspectives that can end up isolating underrepresented customer groups. This isn’t an intentional decision, but is non-inclusive all the same.

Product diversification is one straightforward way that businesses can address diversity in their offerings. By developing products that are related to your current ones or creating new services that bring your organization into a new industry, leaders have the chance to consider diversity within their customer base and to create truly inclusive products.

Not every business will seek to diversify their offerings, instead focusing on perfecting their products to greater serve their existing market. But there’s a fine line between having a specialty and failing to adapt; CEOs should understand which path is most effective for their business, and remain mindful of how they can incorporate diversity, whether it’s through creating new products or improving old ones.

Take the step toward inclusion

Making the effort to hire a diverse workforce is only the first step — employers must move from diversity to inclusion. The two terms go together hand in hand and can often be conflated with each other, but inclusion is more like the actionable aspect of diversity—showing what it really means to be a workplace that is completely accepting of all kinds of people.

The typical strategy has been to create a new leadership position, such as a chief diversity officer, that is responsible for formally developing strategies for inclusion and acceptance in the workplace. Other companies have formed diversity and inclusion councils in lieu of hiring an executive. This increasingly popular method gives employees more direct input in how they want to improve D&I in the workplace. In either case, having someone in charge or a group to monitor and actively develop D&I is highly beneficial for organizations.

At this point, diversity and inclusion has been a long time coming. Now that the idea is thriving in the public consciousness, it’s time for businesses to thrive alongside it. And who better than CEOs themselves to make meaningful strides toward equality in our workplaces? Keeping in mind how to integrate D&I can allow executives to transform the workplace into a positive and innovative environment, leading not only to economic growth, but to a better future as well.

Tim Gentry is a Washington, D.C.-based business consultant, and a thought leader in value chain disruption and protection measurements. In over two decades in the field he has advised various companies throughout their growth phase, most often working with SaaS-based voice tech solutions that provided a communications API to enterprise clients.