Importance of Diversity & Inclusion: It Starts at the Top

CEOs & Executive Teams need to model the importance of diversity and inclusion.

Diversity is a huge value creator. Companies with more ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams are 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.1

Whilst the creation of diverse teams has a huge upside, it is not simply a quota issue. Successfully leading these teams is key to driving long-lasting, sustainable transformation at your organization.

CEOs & top leaders need to champion the importance of diversity & inclusion strategies.

Bringing diversity to your organization and fostering inclusive behavior in your Executive Team and Board of Directors guarantees change. This practice reinforces that diversity is something you absolutely value. In addition, it ensures that inclusion will become part of your culture.

It is imperative to authentically cascade diversity down into your organization. Leaders who lead by example and inspire their team members positively affect your top and bottom line and increase your ability to do this.

Designating the right leaders to head up your diversity & inclusion program and the respective company initiatives requires thoughtful deliberation. You must carefully select leaders who are not only passionate about building a diverse and inclusive organization, but also have the respect and trust of your people.

Prioritizing diversity will transform your teams.

Not only is diversity a driver of company growth, it also has a positive effect on decision making. Below are a few key statistics from Cloverpop’s ‘Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision Making’2 white paper that confirm this:

  • An average team of peers makes better decisions 66% of the time.
  • An all-male team makes better decisions 58% of the time.
  • A diverse team that spans different ages, genders, and geographical locations makes better decision up to 87% of the time.

If your teams aren’t diverse, you are missing out on different perspectives and filters driven by gender, age, cultural upbringing, ethnicity, academic and professional backgrounds, etc. Diverse team members typically also bring a richer variety of strengths and expert knowledge to the table. Not investing in building and leading diverse teams will keep your existing teams from reaching their full potential.

Have you analyzed how often men, women and diverse groups are involved in the decision-making process in your organization? Are you modeling this by including a variety of individuals in your own top-level meetings and project teams? Do you develop leadership cohorts across the organization that reflect the importance of diversity and inclusion?

Placing a quota on diverse team members must be backed with a strategy.

It speaks volumes when the CEO, who needs to ultimately be the steward of diversity & inclusion efforts, sets a precedence for diversifying the company and truly embraces inclusive secure base leadership.

Determining the required quota to move toward puts a stake in the ground. However, backing that up with a strategy and executing on it ensures sustainable success.

Offering ongoing training around diversity & inclusion issues will keep the conversation going at every organizational level. This provides opportunities for people to recognize that we all have some level of bias against people and situations we are not familiar with. Diversity often pushes people out of their comfort zone consciously as well as subconsciously. Awareness towards bias is the beginning of the change journey.

Remember, the necessary behavior changes will not happen overnight.

Sustainable change occurs when people embrace and practice recognizing bias and work toward true behavior change. Change and transformation require patience, persistence and ideally the support of external coaches. This way, your leaders can embrace the change, step up to the challenge and become secure bases to their team members. Driving the desired cultural transformation across your entire organization is dependent on this.

Leading with authenticity makes all the difference.

It is also critically important that the required changes in behavior and culture resonate with your individual leaders on an authentic level. This means the CEO and the Executive Team need to be clear in their communication regarding the purpose – the big ‘why’ – of your drive toward diversity. All of this needs to be aligned with the corporate strategy so people truly understand the reasons for the new direction and embrace the importance of diversity and inclusion.

As you determine how your company will prioritize diversity, create a roadmap to ingrain it in your culture. For example, many companies offer employee resource groups (ERGs) or affinity groups for diverse individuals. These groups are valuable, but that is often not enough on its own. Be sure to deploy and manage these groups with thoughtful deliberation. If not managed well, ERGs can actually contribute more to separation than inclusion as diverse subgroups are being formed.

In summary:

  • Lead by example and encourage your Executive Team to do the same.
  • Create opportunities for your ERGs to cross-fertilize. Make them integral to your business and talent strategies.
  • Provide leadership development opportunities to connect people from different parts of the organization, breaking down silos and cross-hierarchical power distances.
  • Foster communication and collaboration to eliminate cross-vertical and cross-hierarchical barriers.
  • Build leadership development cohort groups that reflect diversity and focus on increasing inclusion along the way.

Seventy-three percent (73%) of companies believe their C-suite leaders rarely work together.3 If this means the top tiers of your organization aren’t prioritizing Diversity & Inclusion in their own efforts, it becomes unrealistic to expect it of your various departments and business units.

Failing to address diversity issues can increase turnover, hinder innovation and stifle customer growth. Making it a top priority makes your company more attractive to new clients and allows you to attract and retain the best talent. As the driver of Diversity & Inclusion at your organization, how will you model it for all?

If advancing more women leaders is at the top of your diversity initiatives, use our Analyze Gender Diversity Workbook to determine your first step toward closing the gender gap.


1 Delivering through Diversity, McKinsey & Company
2 Hacking Diversity with Inclusive Decision Making, Cloverpop
3 Rise of the Social Enterprise, 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends