Real Leaders

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging: A Leader’s Secret Strategy 

Have you ever led a team that can’t seem to live up to its potential? Or a team that consistently misses deadlines? Team members don’t share information? Don’t contribute during meetings? Call each other names and don’t adhere to company culture?

Employees leaving in the Great Resignation say they don’t feel valued. Employees are downsizing their contributions, stating that they experience bias and don’t feel they can bring their authentic selves to work. Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs U.S. companies $450-$550 billion per year.

This begs the question for you as a leader: How do you keep and get the most out of your team? Whether you’re a supervisor or senior executive, knowing the answer to this question is the ticket to success. 

The answer is establishing a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). As proof, World Economic Council studies confirm that diverse organizations outperform their peers who aren’t diverse across a wide range of key performance metrics, including profitability (25-36%), innovation (20%), decision-making (30%), and employee engagement (statistically significant).

This is because when diverse people are included and treated equitably, they feel that they belong and can bring their authentic selves to work. They feel comfortable sharing their different perspectives. And different perspectives are necessary for high-performing teams. That’s the value of DEIB – a means to the end that is superior organizational performance.

But how is diversity achieved? How are equitable and inclusive practices executed? How are people made to feel that they belong? All these occur through the efforts of skilled leaders.

Leaders who’ve acquired the secret weapon of leading through DEIB go through what Jennifer Brown calls the “Leadership Continuum.”

Phase 1

A leader is unaware of diversity and its value. The leader thinks diversity is compliance-related — something the government makes you do. It’s considered simply tolerating others. Ensuring that DEIB happens is someone else’s job, not the leader’s, so it’s not worth paying attention to.

Phase 2

A leader becomes aware of having a role to play in DEIB and begins looking into how best to move forward at the interpersonal level. The levers that a leader can pull at this stage of development are:

  • Showing respect for the opinion of every employee
  • Keeping quiet when appropriate
  • Challenging assumptions
  • Having empathy and humor
  • Interrupting any bias

Phase 3

A leader has shifted priorities and is finding a voice in taking meaningful action that supports others. This is moving away from an autocratic management style to a collaborative management style. The leader has shifted from acting in a private way to acting in a public way. The levers to pull to make this stage happen include:

  • Mentoring and sponsoring
  • Showing vulnerability
  • Taping into your “why”

Being cognizant of the unique challenges faced by diverse people and being available to help them through these challenges.

Phase 4

A leader proactively and consistently confronts discrimination. The leader uses an equity lens and ensures that everyone else uses that equity lens. The leader works to bring about change in order to prevent discrimination on a systemic level by evaluating how policies and procedures are implemented and followed. The levers at this stage are:

  • Examining norms with the goal of leveling the playing field at work and in life
  • Identifying and working to correct systemic inequities

    Team members who feel that they’re included and supported will then:
  • Trust their leader and others on the team, which reduces drama and delays
  • Have clarity on what they need to do to contribute, which drives accuracy and coordination
  • Feel a sense of accountability for their work, which drives completion of tasks on-time and on-budget
  • Are more engaged because they know their work has meaning and impact, which drives productivity
  • Exhibit a winning attitude that drives engagement and innovation.

    DEIB is a secret weapon for getting the most out of your team. Honing the skills to use this weapon comes from moving through the phases of unawareness, awareness, action, and advocacy. Granted, this takes time, but research proves that the results of leading high-performing teams are well worth an allocation in any leader’s schedule.

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