Developing the Mindset for Inclusive Leadership

January 16, 2020

Developing the Mindset for Inclusive Leadership

Efforts to reduce workplace bias and inclusion have become widespread, yet the demographics of leadership positions at most organizations remain unchanged. 

Research demonstrates that organizations with diverse representation and inclusive practices perform better. Last year The Wall Street Journal analyzed companies in the S&P 500 and reported that the 20 most diverse companies not only have better operating results on average than the lowest-scoring firms, but their shares generally outperform those of the least-diverse firms. Yet the understanding of the value of diversity and inclusion is not translating into inclusive company cultures or processes. 

To improve diversity and inclusion practices, HR executives are uniquely positioned to provide accountability to the leadership team, demonstrate ways to use power and influence to bring about change, and model empathy needed during the process. 

Here are three ways leaders can embrace a more inclusive mindset.  

1. Understand that diversity without inclusion is not enough. 

“If companies focus more on getting people in the door rather than figuring out how to make them feel inclusive, that will just create a revolving door,” said Shellye Archambeau, former CEO of MetricStream and a director at Verizon and Nordstrom. “That approach is significantly more expensive for companies than figuring out how to create an environment in which all people feel valued and are able to contribute.”

Todd Corley, Ohio-based Chief Strategist at The TAPO Institute, has noticed throughout his experience as a Chief Diversity Officer a difference in companies that have become more inclusive. “The overarching success factor has been consistent: don’t merely focus on hiring more outwardly diverse people,” said Corley. “Rather, address diversity and inclusion as a change management initiative, one that needs to be operationalized across the business to change the company’s internal approach on multiple levels.”

2. Learn to examine your own biases. 

“In terms of how to have an impact, it’s not through giving a lecture, but more helping people see through their own actions, helping them to come to ask the question themselves of whether bias is playing a role,” said Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford University professor and author of Biased

Cultivating authenticity is crucial for leaders aiming to get buy-in and participation in inclusion programs and changes. 

“Rather than thinking of DEAI efforts as only being about others, leaders needed to challenge themselves to instead look inwards and see how they could connect with their own personal story,” said Ruchi Jalla, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer based in Arlington, Va., for BAE Systems, Inc. “Once they saw that inclusion was about them too, leaders were much more engaged in our programs. They understood their roles and how they could contribute, and they were perceived as authentic advocates with their teams.” 

3. Adopt a variety of tactics to address bias.  

“No one size fits all,” said Pam Lipp Hendricks, New York-based Head of Executive Talent Management and Diversity at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “The best way I’ve seen for addressing this is to have different initiatives to engage people. Driving inclusion is as diverse as the employees involved and what works for one person may not be a comfortable solution for another.”

PepsiCo is one example of a large organization harnessing multiple strategies to create a more inclusive culture. Rather than being perceived as a single, stand-alone change effort, it was necessary to apply a diverse and inclusive mindset and framework to all core HR processes to create sustainable change.  

PepsiCo used a systems approach involving multiple forms of measurement, reward, and decision-making processes to shift the culture toward greater inclusion. Senior leaders needed to be true advocates, driving inclusion through the organization in all systems, frameworks and processes. 

For more on cultivating inclusive leadership, read the Winter 2020 issue of People + Strategy

The Authors: 

Deborah Stadtler is Managing Editor at SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People + Strategy.