Leadership Development: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

  • 8 mins read

How does your organization approach diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?

While many leaders believe they have taken adequate steps to correct or avoid inequalities in the workplace through policies, promotion, and training, we hear about employees who experience some form of exclusion or inequity, including lack of promotion, outright harassment, and even worse.

Being excluded at work is not fun. Even when most people work remotely, being left out can intensify a sense of alienation, impacting our happiness and performance. This is even more critical for small businesses: according to a 2019 survey, 52% of small businesses report labor quality as their biggest challenge.

Imagine the impact when co-workers and leaders ignore an ongoing problem.

What if the exclusion(s) were due to your ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation? How do you address your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion problems?

Social psychologist and researcher Robert Livingston, author of The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth About Racism Can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations, (Random House 2021) writes in the September-October 2020 issue of Harvard Business Review that the real challenge is not figuring out what to do, it’s our willingness. We’re able but unwilling. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Trickle-Up Diversity

The concept that diversity will trickle up to the C-level suites is fundamentally flawed.

According to research conducted between September and November 2019 by Mercer, Caucasians fill 64% of entry-level positions and 85% of top executive positions, demonstrating a promotion and equity gap. “The representation of people of color (both men and women) decreases incrementally as career levels rise.” Let’s Get Real About Equality (2020, p 22.)

Without equity and inclusion, diversity falls short. According to new research published by Columbia Business School, people need a sense of belonging. Is this even possible, given today’s challenges with an ongoing pandemic and a polarizing political climate?

Cynicism and apathy are the biggest obstacles to hope and change. Don’t let that happen in your organization. We can do better, and better is better.

We need to become aware of the problems, analyze the root cause (s), practice empathy, and sometimes make hard choices to the point of sacrifice. But in the long run, when we invest our time and effort in real strategies that work, the return on investment is worth it.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.

Increase Accountability and Transparency

We are making some progress regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As Harvard University psychologists Tessa E.S. Charlesworth and Mahzarin R. Banaji found in their research and published in What Works, “New data from nearly 6 million respondents shows that implicit (and explicit) attitudes/beliefs about minority groups can and do improve over the long-term (sexuality, race, skin tone, and gender roles).” They found that over a 10-year period, a widespread change occurred across most demographic groups.

What’s going on in your organization? Track your diversity and increase accountability and transparency with these steps:

Complete a SWOT analysis:

Collect data over time, including personnel transitions, discrimination complaints and outcomes, and employee surveys:

Create a template of questions to be answered anonymously; offer a range of answer choices and an opportunity for a comment.

Ensure the survey reaches all employees and they have adequate instructions and time to complete it.

Tabulate the results to establish your baseline.

Periodically, re-survey all employees with the same questions.

Analyze trends.

Compare your data over time, and compare it to other organizations.

Where are you seeing improvement in recruitment, hiring, promotion, pay, and retention?

Where do you need to improve?

Create goals. This is a critical step in the process: it lays the foundation for accountability and transparency.

Share your anonymous results with all employees.

Celebrate trends as they improve.

Establish SMART goals for areas needing improvement.

Educate all employees on how their attitudes and actions contribute to results, especially matters regarding inclusion.

Uncover Hidden Hiring Bias

While human bias can change over time, employee surveys often reveal slow progress, especially regarding promotion and equity. Here are a few suggestions that work in any organization, regardless of size:

▶ Post the position in various forums, networks, or organizations, including those that work with the under-represented.

▶ Don’t discriminate by asking for classification-specific applicants or referrals. Rather, include a mission statement and/or diversity statement in your post.

▶ Create a diverse interviewer panel, consistent interview questions, and scoring criteria relevant to an accurate job description and essential qualifications.

▶ Ask every applicant for their definition of diversity. As a follow-up, ask how they have promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion through their previous work experiences.

▶ Document your recruiting, hiring, and promotion process. Retain notes from interviews or decisions on promotions.

If you haven’t already, identify a diversity officer or diversity task force to create hiring and promotion plans and review outcomes and disparities. Look to your managers at all levels as potential participants in the task force.

What You Need to Know about Hiring Technology

Hiring technology must be carefully designed to avoid pitfalls and achieve fair hiring: absent of disparate treatment and disparate impact. In assessing technology, look for:

▶ Data that demonstrates fairness throughout all demographics

▶ Candidate assessments and selections that are relevant to job requirements

▶ Disparate impact testing before deployment

▶ Ability to conceal demographic indicators from decision-makers to enable objective human assessment

▶ Tools that mitigate the risk of human bias in decision-making

▶ Tools that audit for disparate impact

Two important notes: beware of small samplings or group sizes in data sets and review algorithms. This is critical to demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and relevancy, especially in terms of predicting outcomes and success.

Share your employment composition data and processes with all stakeholders. This includes the criteria for hiring, promotion, salary, bias/discrimination complaints, and how it compares to other businesses in your segment and geography.

Create Safe Reporting Alternatives

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, over 39,000 retaliation-based discrimination charges were filed in 2019. Unfortunately, many of our complaint systems are not working.

In What Works, researchers Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev report that formal grievance procedures actually slow progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion of minority men and women in management. Instead, organizations and leaders can offer alternatives, including:

▶ A neutral party to receive confidential complaints, such as an ombudsperson. Their role is to listen and provide guidance to resolve issues. Developing a pool of well-trained and skilled ombudspersons can improve potential conflict of interest risk.

▶ An external, third-party mediator. Their role is to listen and advise. Mediators are commonly available through an employee assistance program.

▶ A dispute resolution department, either internal or external. They represent and arbitrate for both parties in mediation on various issues. However, when there is a power difference between parties or termination is the remedy, complaints may go unresolved satisfactorily.

▶ A transformative dispute resolution model designed to change the workplace. At its core, this model is designed to change the workplace by improving self-awareness, skills, and accountability through training and, sometimes, in policies and processes.

Of course, equity and inclusion ultimately depend on leadership attitudes. When leaders perceive complaints as threats, they miss the opportunity to gain valuable insights. By balancing speed with quality in finding solutions, they gain insights.

Balance Speed with Proven Strategies

Leaders can create a culture of equality and inclusivity with best practices and proven methods that can be quickly and successfully implemented with little or no customization and at low cost.


Assess the local context. Your diagnostics should include research on your own business and local or relevant geographic demographics and statistics, including pay scales. This is important for equality comparisons and goal setting.

Engage influencers:

Invite willing and able actors, especially managers, into the design process. Ask your managers to conduct reality checks: How will this impact current systems, processes, and business methods?

Create your model of change:

Take the local context into account and identify a target of change. Understand the experiences of specific groups of underrepresented minorities, that one size does not fit all, and that minority voices are not heard until they reach 30% critical mass.

Build momentum:

Begin with the most engaged departments, teams, or individuals. Incorporate bystander training to equip and empower everyone. Celebrate accomplishments as progress is made.

The Key to Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are not the same. While companies can mandate diversity, leaders have to cultivate inclusion. This begins with a genuine interest in and for other individuals.

People instinctively yearn for inclusion; belonging is a part of our hierarchical needs to achieve our potential and peak performance. Our sense of belonging is relative to our sense of security and safety. Leaders who support diversity, equality, and inclusion provide a safe and equitable work environment.

Great leaders get to know individuals, learning about their unique strengths, experiences, and needs. The best leaders demonstrate their understanding and care by recognizing individuals with respect.

Managers play a key role in this. As Michael Slepian writes for Harvard Business Review (August 2020), “Managers should not only signal that a social identity is valued, but also that the individual is valued, as a person, not just on the basis of the social group they represent.”

Most individuals don’t want to be asked to speak on behalf of their social group or singled out in this manner. Instead, get to know the individual and ask them to share their thoughts based on their strengths and unique experiences. People want their social group to be included and their individual selves to belong. 

Sign up for Confidential Kashbox Coach Notes
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.








Kashbox Coaching - Executive Coaches
Find Your Coach

Coach Notes To Your Inbox

[CONFIDENTIAL] Nuggets of Leadership

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Success! Please check your email.