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Diversity in leadership and why it matters

As society evolves, we’ve seen an increasing need to ensure that organisations and, in particular, leadership of those organisations, keep up with changes. This has never been more apparent when it comes to diversity and inclusion. And the studies are clear – diversity and inclusion, especially in leadership, is paramount to success.

  • Top team diversity is strongly correlated with profitability
  • Inclusive leaders can drive a 17% increase in team performance and a 29% increase in team collaboration
  • 76% of jobseekers and employees say that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers

If you value each employee difference you will therefore encourage each person to share their unique experience, which will ultimately bring your workforce together to build a more successful, prosperous organisation and a truly unbiased work culture.

Representation matters

In media, popular culture, and in business, representation is important. The more you can see someone who looks like, or who shares similarities with you, the more you’re able to understand how you can fit into the business and make a pathway for yourself. So, we need more leaders to share their diversity traits and ensure they are visible and vocal about their support for marginalised groups. This is the only way we’ll start to disrupt decades of patriarchal, white-dominated business practice.

“For me personally, I’ve struggled with a lack of representation my whole life. I’ve rarely met other Eurasian women, let alone seen any diversity in powerful leadership roles and leading businesses. I still struggle to see people I can aspire to that understand my diversity – how my background of combined cultures influences my perceptions of the world, including how I view success, treat money, and why I’m exceptionally passionate about understanding backgrounds of others to improve how I lead, or help them understand how businesses can better accommodate them. It’s only recently that I’ve seen people like me represented in the media, so I imagine it will take another decade for me to see those same traits in a successful business or leadership context too.”

– Melisaan Foster, Customer Success and Experience Director at WorkBuzz

Consider diversity in leadership for your future workforce

As leaders, we need to consider future talent and how we attract it. Equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB) is a driving principle for Generation Z, who have a greater interest in human rights, race and ethnicity issues, LGBTQ+ equality, and feminism than any of their predecessors. With this front of mind, we need to ensure that the future workforce – the talent now coming though – is met by organisations that are equally as passionate about rights as they are.

This brings both opportunity and challenge – the future workforce will expect diversity and inclusion as an essential from their employers, not the ‘nice to have’ approach that currently exists. But it won’t be a simple fix.

Get to the root of the issue

If your leadership team isn’t representative of the workforce, you could promote or add a leadership role for someone that gives the underrepresented a leader like them to look up to – but that’s just a sticking plaster.

Instead, you need to get into the roots of the issue – why haven’t you already got a representative leadership team? Where are you hiring from? Is everyone able to progress and be themselves in your organisation? Are the same opportunities for development open to all? Can you take more chances on people that haven’t ‘been there and done that’ to make home-grown talent? By understanding more about the roots and why the problem is happening, you can then address it through actions to improve those root causes to ensure a pipeline of talent succession for the future.

Jennifer Brown’s Inclusive Leader Continuum

Jennifer Brown’s book, How to be an Inclusive Leader, introduces a concept that describes a continuum of learning from Unaware through to Advocate.

The concept explains that at any point you can be at several points on the continuum and can move into different stages, so you must re-evaluate your position and where you are in relation to different groups, and always take strides to revisit your learning. We have to keep learning and reinventing as leaders, so our organisational cultures adapt, and we create workplaces that better enable inclusivity.

The Learn, Plan, Act and Realise Model for diversity in leadership

It’s not enough to give promises. We need action-orientated leaders who are open to dialogue and putting themselves in positions of learning.

WorkBuzz created a continuous improvement model called the Learn, Plan, Act and Realise Model which can help you create a more inclusive culture:

Diagram of the Learn, Plan, Act and Realise Model

While the model details the elements of each stage, it’s all about keeping it simple:

  • Learn – gather data, listen to your people
  • Plan – use that information to create the way your organisation will move forward
  • Act – keep your promises and involve employees in taking action
  • Realise – witness and celebrate the changes you have made and gather feedback from employees to confirm your journey (and start it all over again)! After all, to create an inclusive culture, you have to continuously develop it and not see it as a one-off exercise.

This article is an extract from our eBook: ‘Steering your leadership teams: A how to guide for HR’ – download the eBook now from here to learn how views on leadership have changed over time and how HR can support leaders to adapt to this. You can also view all our other eBooks available to download here.

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