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  • Writer's pictureAmy Robinson

Taking Chances: What Leaders Can Do to Improve Diversity & Inclusion

This year, a series of pivotal moments has sparked a change for diversity and inclusion. Although it’s been top of mind for many organizations the last few years, now we’re seeing it brought to light on a much wider scale, being splashed all over media, news, and headlines. Every single one of us is taking notice and feels the need to do our part.

Heartbreaking reasons escalated the outcry for change, and people have the right to feel angry. However, these events share a clear message: what we’ve been doing still isn’t enough. It’s not working. It’s just a Band-Aid on an issue that needs much more than hopeful conversation and well-meaning programs. It needs action.

Leaders need to step up. We shouldn’t be satisfied with simply checking the boxes and hitting arbitrary numbers. We also can’t keep making excuses that building a diverse workforce is impossible because of a pipeline problem.

If finding and retaining talent is the problem, then we need to be the ones to grow talented people.

Take the Numbers Out of the Diversity Equation

Of course the optics look great if you’ve hit diversity hiring numbers, built employee resource groups, invested in communities and conferences for D&I, brought in diversity consultants, and spotlighted your diverse employees. These activities move the needle little by little, yet it’s still not making the impact the world really needs.

We can’t deny the benefits of doing it though. It helps create an inclusive workforce, allowing people to feel more comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. And it teaches all employees to check their bias and make the workplace safe for everyone.

But we still have a ways to go to improve the amount of qualified diverse candidates overall.

I worry companies are too focused on the PR aspect of their efforts. Big numbers seem more impressive and can positively impact business or stock prices. Splashy news about raising money, supporting causes on social media, and hiring a diverse person to leadership is good, but topical. Almost superficial.

Do big numbers and exciting headlines fix the problem or is it just another Band-Aid? When all’s said and done, can you clearly define the change you’ve made? Can you see the outcome? Can you definitively say you’ve changed someone’s life?

Enough with the lip service. Enough with following the trends of creating these programs or doing XYZ things without measuring if they’re actually serving the people they were intended to.

Leader to leader, I encourage you to look at this differently. Stop focusing on numbers. Your people and this situation shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as you would your bottom line. This is about the long-term and the difference you can make for this generation and generations to come. Sometimes, that means focusing on fewer people, but making a greater impact.

Changing the Mindset for Diversity Hiring

It’s easy to write off lukewarm hiring results by saying there’s a pipeline issue, but that’s a cop out.

If you’re committed to improving diversity and inclusion, take a chance on your people. Start elevating talent from within. Be open to hiring or promoting someone who doesn’t look perfect on paper.

Realistically, you’re taking a chance on every single candidate you hire. Just because someone has an amazing resume, seems perfectly suited for the job, and has stellar referrals doesn’t mean they’re going to succeed. No solution or person is perfect.

Falling into these patterns can feel safe, but it’s a pattern that has kept diverse individuals from securing a chance they deserve to have. When it comes to hiring and promoting from within, you need to flip your mindset. This changes the system, which then changes the behavior.

Take work from home, for example. How long has the debate gone on about whether companies would drop in productivity if they allowed people to work remotely? Well, a pandemic left majority of us with little choice. We were forced into this change, and we saw it could work. It might not be perfect, but companies were more willing to tweak strategies and figure it out because they found employees to be equally or even more productive.

The world changed, then the system changed, then the policy changed. New best practices emerged, and everyone was on board. This is what I mean when I say we need to change the mindset. Stop looking for reasons it won’t work and just do it. We can deal with the challenges along the way, but we need to take action and lean into it with everything we have.

What You Can Do Now to Improve Diversity in the Workplace

Focus on what you can control and how you can help your under-represented employees. Why not consider them a new role rather than just tapping them to lead an employee resource group? Legitimize them. Here are a few ideas how:

  • First, start putting them into boxes on your org chart. Start looking at diverse people who have potential for growth and make a commitment to sponsor them, advocate for them, and tap other leaders to give them opportunities for growth.

  • Assign each one of your executives to a person each year to mentor and advocate for them.

  • Stretch your people’s abilities by giving them a higher profile job. Back them, sponsor them, and give them a legitimate shot to rise up so they can move to the next bigger operational job (and, hopefully, executive job down the line).

I understand the concern of doing these things. You could invest in someone and they might not meet the challenge. Or maybe they grow their skills and leave. This is an issue you’d find with all your employees or new hires. There’s always a chance to lose, but you’re guaranteed to lose if you don’t take action. Stepping up and doing this is the only way you might win and gain.

Even if you can only support and meaningfully promote a handful of employees a year, it makes a difference. The numbers might seem small, but the impact is extraordinary. By investing in your people and giving under-represented employees an opportunity, you may not only have changed the whole trajectory of their lives, but also their families and generations to come.

You want to make a difference? This is what it takes. As a leader, use your power and drive change. Throw all your weight behind someone and see what happens.

Does your company need help with diversity and inclusion? Pivotal Moments can help. Contact us here for more information.

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