Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are more than just business buzzwords. For many business leaders, diversity is both beneficial and important to the company’s values. However, to truly embrace DEI, you need to do more than hire minority workers. You need to build diversity into your company’s leadership.

Why Should You Focus on Building a Diverse Workforce

Many business owners have adopted diversity as a core company value. This may be because of a personal commitment or in response to cultural shifts in their industry. But focusing on diversity may also be a wise business decision. There are many compelling reasons to develop a diverse workplace:

  • Expanding the company’s perspective through different worldviews and life experiences
  • Improve the company’s reputation within the community
  • Improving workplace culture to allow employees to feel accepted
  • Increasing employee satisfaction and productivity
  • Improving employee empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Avoiding tunnel vision or group think
  • Reflecting the community your business serves
  • Promoting employee understanding of other types of people
  • Improving innovation among diverse workers
  • Empowering underrepresented talent
  • Developing robust strategies for dealing with discrimination and harassment
  • Making the company more appealing to future employees

Get Help with Leadership, Conflict Resolution, and Business Strategy

Talk to a consultant who can help you make strategic decisions about the future of your business.

How to Ensure the Full Range of Diversity

Often, the idea of diversity gets reduced to simply a question of race and gender or sex. But there are many other dynamics to consider. The full range of diversity should include:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Religion or religious observance
  • Family status (such as parents or caregivers)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Age
  • Veteran status
  • History of incarceration
  • Disabilities
  • Educational background
  • Employment experience
  • Skillsets

Not every company is able to tick all the boxes of diversity. Depending on your industry, the type of business you operate, your market, the size of your company, and accessible talent, certain aspects of diversity may be easier or more difficult to accomplish. You should take time to prioritize the aspects of diversity that will benefit your business and set realistic goals for when and how you can reach your DEI targets.

Why Diversity in Leadership is Important

However, the goals of DEI will not be met simply by hiring minority workers. You should also commit to raising up diverse workers into leadership positions within your company. Providing opportunities for advancement and promotion is just as important as the number of employees you hire.  

Committing to diversity in leadership is important because it demonstrates your company’s commitment to DEI is more than in name only. It shows you are willing to encourage and foster the development of your employees. It also gives you the benefit of those same diverse perspectives in your top-level decision making, making it easier to tap into your employees’ various backgrounds and experiences in your company’s strategic planning.

How to Build Diversity into Your Company’s Leadership

Diversity in leadership doesn’t just happen. You will need to make concerted efforts to meet your DEI goals. Here are some strategies to build diversity into your company’s leadership:

Advocate for Diversity from the Top

Your CEO, business owners, and top management must be universally committed to promoting diversity. You can achieve this by building the case for a strong DEI portfolio, or by acknowledging the importance of inclusion as a core value. Either way, your employees must know that the leadership is committed to embracing people with differences, and building a welcoming environment for a diverse range of employees.

Restructure Hiring and Promotion Criteria

If your company has not historically valued diversity as a criterion for hiring and promotion, there is likely bias against minority workers baked into your process (and you may not even know it). Find ways to make hiring more objective and to broaden your talent pool to locate and recruit people who may not come to your company along predictable pathways. Remove arbitrary or ill-fitting obstacles that could screen out highly skilled individuals. Focus instead on identifying each position’s most important hiring criteria and selecting the best person for the job. As you pull from a wider pool of applicants, this will allow you to recruit the best talent, and improve the chances for diversity along the way.

Embrace Flexibility

If you want to build a friendly working environment for veterans, disabled workers, parents, and employees of other religions, you will need to be willing to be flexible. Recruiting and retaining these workers often depends on your company’s willingness to make accommodations for different schedules, holidays, styles of dress, and ways of getting core assignments done. While there are laws requiring reasonable accommodations for disabled workers, you should be committed to doing more that the minimum. Whether that means adopting flex schedules or experimenting with remote employment, be ready to consider strategies that will make it easier for your team to cooperate and support one another.

Be Prepared to Train and Support Diverse Employees

Underrepresented groups often have less access to formal training and education and may come into your business with fewer of the secondary skills that you might otherwise expect. If you identify an opportunity for improvement in an employee, don’t discount them for promotion or leadership. Instead, consider providing additional training, or pairing them with a leadership coach, to supplement their existing skills. Your company will benefit from their improved productivity, perspective, and loyalty.

Receive Feedback from Minority Employees

Once you have begun hiring and promoting minority employees, use surveys, interviews, and other opportunities for feedback. Minority employees may try to avoid creating conflict if they feel insecure in their workplace. You will need to take active steps to encourage them to report any harassment, bias, or obstacles they experience in the workplace. When they do report a struggle, listen to it. Then go back to your leadership team and identify ways to further refine how you build diversity into your company’s leadership. By making employees feel heard and taking meaningful steps to address their concerns, you can increase minority employee retention and encourage the development of diverse leaders.

David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 25 years’ experience in creating diverse workplaces. Through business consulting and facilitation, David helps businesses improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in their teams and their leadership. Contact us to meet with David to move toward high organizational functioning today.