Five Tactics to Address the Systemic Issue of the Lack of Diverse Business Leaders, Part 2

You can never take your foot off the gas in executing diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Last week I wrote in part 1 (Huge Gaps in Diversity in Business Leadership – A Systemic Issue Needing a Systemic Approach)… questioning if we are really making any progress in the diversity of corporate senior leadership.  I had just read an article in the Triangle Business Journal that featured the CEOs of our area’s 50 fastest growing companies … and 88% were led by white men! I also shared some research by industry leading consulting firm McKinsey measuring the under-representation of women and people of color in management and senior leadership roles.

In this blog I propose five tactics to systemically address this issue:

1) Training and commitment of senior leadership. The very top leadership has to understand the extreme criticality of building a more diverse leadership team. They need to understand the changing dynamics of the talent pool and how it is much more diverse. If most of the people progressing into higher levels are white men, they will eventually run out of qualified leaders.

2) Robust investment in minority coaching and training. Due to Unconscious Bias, particularly the “Like Me” syndrome, it is far too easy for current leaders to mentor and teach people similar to themselves. This is not necessarily done intentionally, but is a natural human tendency. Deliberate thought has to be given, and intentional action taken, to provide mentoring and development opportunities for underrepresented minorities. Extra investment may be needed since it is more challenging for someone to lead a group of which they are not in the majority.

More programs are needed for diverse students to start building the talent pipeline earlier.

3) Building an earlier pipeline. Companies as a whole need to get more engaged in building a diverse pipeline of future talent at far earlier stages. Investment needs to be made in education at the elementary and secondary levels, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas which historically have seen less investment in education than affluent areas. Companies can encourage and even provide paid time for employees to engage junior high and high school kids in career discussions, sharing the wide diversity of vocational options and encouraging youngsters to further their college or vocational education. See my blog from last fall featuring an innovative organization (District C) working to build diverse future leaders.

4) Never let up. One issue that is slowing down progress and even at times leading us backward is lack of an ongoing continual commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. So often executives see a little progress (“we now have an African-American in the c-Suite, women in management has gone up from 18% to 20%”) and then the budget gets cut and work stops. Then things will take their natural course and revert back to the old pattern. Dr. Vida Robertson, professor at the University of Houston, often states “you can not take the foot of the gas or the vehicle will stop.”  In this case, since it is an uphill battle, the car will go backwards once you take your foot off the gas!

5) Enforce with incentives. And finally, senior leaders and boards of directors need to spend more effort in measuring diversity statistics and even tying part of executive pay to diversity metrics. But do be careful that the incentives don’t drive leaders to haphazardly promoting underrepresented groups to simply get their bonuses, but need to be accountable for doing the real work if grooming diverse, competent leaders.

The business world as a whole needs to invest much more to deliberate building more diverse talent and senior leadership that truly reflects the demographics of our country and individual communities.

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Blog author Stan Kimer is a diversity consultant and trainer who handles all areas of workplace diversity and with a deep expertise in LGBT diversity strategy and training and with a unique program for long term career development.  Please explore the rest of my website and never hesitate to contact me to discuss diversity training or career development for your organization, or pass my name onto your HR department.  [email protected]