In a perfect world, we would all work in places as committed as we are to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Workplaces that honor diversity in all the ways we are different; ones that seek equity, where everyone gets the resources and support that meet their unique needs and can access the same opportunities as everyone else; and strive for an environment of inclusion, where everyone feels included, valued and respected and where they can bring their authentic selves to work.
So – in this world that is, sadly, far from perfect, how are we actually doing? Well, it’s tough to tell sometimes, because there are mixed messages coming from the market.
On the upside, back in early 2020, Glassdoor predicted the recruitment of DEI specialists would surge, and it appears they were right. DEI job postings have increased by 30% in the United States, and by a whopping 106% (!) in the UK. LinkedIn named the Chief Diversity Officer as the fastest growing ‘chief’ title in 2020. On a less positive note, there remains a persistent lack of diverse representation in leadership. And, according to a Gallup survey, only 42% of U.S. managers strongly agreed that they are prepared to have meaningful conversations about race with their teams.
Therein lies the challenge. Employees take their cues from leaders, and gauge leaders' authenticity based on their actions, words and strategies. Organizational leaders have a responsibility to take steps toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, but evidently, nominal leaders – those with the big titles – aren’t all doing this well.
What to do, then, if you find yourself as one of the only people championing DEI in an organization – a lone voice in the wilderness? What those organizations need is people who understand that leadership doesn’t necessarily come with a title, that there are leaders to be found at every level. Helpfully, the talent space is exactly the place those leaders are needed most.
By their very nature, talent processes inherently reflect and create organizational norms. These practices can ultimately be levers for system-wide change, no matter how big or small an organization may be. Talent has a bird’s-eye view of the processes related to recruiting, hiring, and promoting people; you can use that perspective to view those practices with a critical eye. Ask yourself the tough questions about access to assessment, challenge, and support. Who are the people tapped for training or leadership experiences? Who is receiving coaching and mentoring; how is that happening? Are different standards applied to some people or groups? Leaders need quantitative and qualitative data to understand the organization’s current state; you’re in precisely the right place to gather that information.
Once you have it, the next question is what to do with it. Being a lone champion – particularly a leader without the designation of a title – can be a challenging position. Where there’s an attachment to the status quo, even when that attachment is benign, managing change and getting others engaged requires an inclusive leader. One helpful model for this comes from Deloitte, who identified six signature attributes of an inclusive leader: Commitment, Courage, Cognizance of bias, Curiosity, Cultural intelligence, and Collaboration.
The Six Signature Attributes of an Inclusive Leader:
There’s no sugarcoating it: being a champion for change of any kind is difficult. Being a (more or less) solitary proponent for DEI in the workplace is no exception. Organizational and cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, so this isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. It will require tenacity in the long term, and that means being committed to the cause.
Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Uncomfortable conversations need to happen, and these conversations require courage. You will ultimately need to step out of your comfort zone, and say the things that others may not be willing to say. To ask the tougher questions, and to speak truth to power. All of this requires courage.
Cognizance of bias
As someone with an interest in DEI, you know how powerful biases are in driving behavior. You begin to recognize them in others because you first recognize them in yourself, and you have the ability to be real, to be vulnerable, when you speak with others about these biases and their impact in the workplace. That authenticity is a powerful force in creating change and engaging others.
Questions carry far more power than statements. Approaching uncomfortable conversations with curiosity begins a dialogue. You can tell someone what you believe is important any number of ways, and change nothing about what they believe. The moment you show genuine curiosity, asking them about what’s important to them – and why – is the moment that real change can begin.
As someone who cares about DEI, you already possess a cultural intelligence about the differences that make us unique and uniquely valuable. Cultural intelligence in this context also applies to the organization: what are the unseen power dynamics? Who are the influencers and the potential allies in inspiring others? Where are the barriers to change and how can they be overcome?
Ultimately, the goal is to not be the lone voice; in the end, getting others engaged and involved is necessary for real change. Your ability to collaborate with others, to share the load, to bring other people along and let them shine … these are the final keys to creating lasting change in an organization of any size, with or without a title.
In the talent space, you have access to the data and information you need to promote DEI as a priority in your organization. As an inclusive leader (which – because you’re reading this – you are, whether you’ve thought of yourself that way or not), you also possess these six attributes of inclusive leadership. Bringing them together can be the key to inspiring and engaging others to take action with you.