Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
July 11, 2018

Six Ways for Leaders and Organizations to Foster Inclusion and Diversity

By Spencer Stuart's Human Resources Practice

Inclusion and diversity efforts have evolved from cursory check-the-box exercises to high organizational priorities. In our work, we’ve seen an uptick in requests for diverse candidate slates as more companies realize the many benefits of diversity. Although progress has been made, more can — and should — be done if organizations want to successfully compete in the marketplace and win top talent.

To delve further into this topic, we recently held a panel discussion at our 11th Annual HR Reception in New York, featuring three leaders who are working to move the needle on inclusion and diversity:

  • Erika Irish Brown, global head of diversity & inclusion at Bloomberg LP
  • Leander LeSure, CHRO of Getty Images
  • Marcelo Modica, chief people officer of Mercer

We talked about what steps HR leaders and organizations can take to embed diversity in the workplace and make it part of the culture. Here are some of our key takeaways:

1. Understand that inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s a business imperative
Demographics are shifting and we are becoming a more diverse society. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that minority groups will become the majority by 2044, and organizations cannot afford to exclude such significant swaths of both consumers and talent. Fortunately, more leaders are recognizing the value of diversity: According to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 85 percent of CEOs said that having a diversified and inclusive workplace population improved their bottom line.

“Inclusion is actually just a code name for ‘innovation,’” Modica said. “If you want to have a chance of surviving in the business world today, you better bring every single idea that’s available.” Modica shared a cautionary tale he heard about the cost of not having all voices represented: Organization X would spend millions of dollars each year to fix a particular machine. The company hired an outside consultant to investigate the problem and the consultant’s first step was to ask the machine operator, “What’s happening with this machine?” The machine operator said, “If we just tweak these two things, this issue goes away.” The consultant asked if he ever told anyone about this solution. His response: “No. No one ever asked.” The organization lost millions each year because they did not include everyone in trying to solve the problem.

Six Ways for Leaders and Organizations to Foster Inclusion and Diversity

(From left: Tom Scanlan moderating the panel with Marcelo Modica, Leander LeSure and Erika Irish Brown.)

2. Go beyond just “tolerance”
One of the core challenges of improving inclusion is defining it. “We’ve got to get people beyond the concept of tolerance,” Brown said. “And even then, there is a great deal of conversation around whether or not ‘inclusion’ is the right word. Is it ‘belonging’? That still implies that there's this majority group that people seeking acceptance from. Inclusion at a minimum is about valuing differences. Somehow you have to believe that you can bring your authentic self and be able to voice an opinion without fear of retribution if it's a different opinion. You need to feel like you can be as successful in that environment as anybody else.” By setting the bar at tolerance versus inclusion, organizations can inadvertently discourage their people from contributing fully.

3. HR’s job is to ensure fairness and accountability
Some believe that HR leaders should not view diversity as a means to help particular groups advance, but rather as a way to even the playing field overall. “The roles that we have as HR professionals should be about fairness for all,” LeSure said. “I'm the black guy in the room suggesting that it's not just about gender pay or pay parity, it's about fairness, which to me, is under the umbrella of culture. Our role is to test for that accountability.”

This accountability includes taking a hard look at current practices. The group noted that the #MeToo movement and all-too-common refrain of “I went to HR and nothing happened” has prompted candid conversations among members of the function. “We use it as a platform to re-engage all of HR, because I think HR people were pretty upset by some of those headlines,” Modica said. “It gave us the opportunity to remind them of their role and frankly, how their role is more important than ever. It’s a great opportunity to look at all your policies. Don't assume they're fine.”

4. Use data to drive progress
To bring along leaders who may not see an issue with the status quo or an organization that’s slow to change, HR leaders are increasingly turning to data to make the case for improving inclusion and diversity. “I do think the data really matters,” Brown said. “I was really fortunate because the role of chief diversity and inclusion officer at Bloomberg was conceived by our chairman, and this was something that was coming from the top. But then there's the how — how do we approach this? We’re a very data-driven environment and the data told the story. We shared data where you could see pain points, opportunities and trends. Our leaders and our people were inclined to act on the data.” Without data, even the best-intentioned efforts can quickly become derailed. If an organization doesn’t track the diversity of candidate slates, how can it determine whether there has been improvement?

5. Support new diverse talent early or you’ll lose them
Onboarding is critical to any new hire’s success, but particularly for diverse candidates entering a non-diverse environment. Modica advised that organizations embrace this talent early and help them feel like they are part of the organization. Without the inclusion component, Brown cautioned that retention becomes a problem: “Without inclusion, you have people who want to leave because they don’t feel they have a voice, they don’t fit in with the culture and they don’t have contemporaries who are showing them where the hidden landmines are or helping them understand the culture.”

6. Everyone has to walk the walk
Don’t underestimate the power of change on a small scale to inspire change more broadly. “I started with representing what I was trying to create,” LeSure said. “So with my HR function at a previous company, I built a team that was diverse. I wanted something to be able to showcase that this is what it could look like. After a while, people started to notice the difference.”

In order for substantive and sustained progress to be made, everyone has to own inclusion and diversity, and these elements should be part of business as usual, Brown said. At Bloomberg, each business unit has its own inclusion and diversity business plan. HR provides a set of three overarching goals (i.e., recruit, retain, develop), but each unit is empowered to define its plan. “That gave them skin in the game,” Brown said. “It was their plan. Not HR’s plan for them. It was their goals that they presented to our chairman.”

It’s also important that senior leadership acknowledge that inclusion and diversity is not a one-off initiative, but should be part of the culture. “I’ve seen senior leadership feel they have to do something ‘right now,’ so it became a project that’s time-boxed and dies after 12 months,” LeSure said. “How do we make this into something you can’t shake apart? It’s about the culture in which we sit. But it really requires in a very classic way the ownership and accountability of the senior leader. It doesn't matter how pretty the deck is that I can create. It really comes down to the voice CEO puts around this. Otherwise it will die.”