Article: ‘Organizations should have Chief Diversity Officers at board level’


‘Organizations should have Chief Diversity Officers at board level’

Vikki Leach, the Global Head, Inclusion and Diversity at Kantar, shares intriguing insights on the larger picture of D&I, the business case, and instilling inclusion into organizational strategy, in an interaction with People Matters.
‘Organizations should have Chief Diversity Officers at board level’

Vikki Leach is a senior professional with extensive experience in engaging business leaders and delivering cross country change programs in inclusion and diversity, culture and engagement, behavioral change, communications and corporate social responsibility. 

Vikki has over 15 years of experience in the technology industry driving change programs with diverse and complex challenges, taking into consideration the local business needs, and the company’s global vision. What drives this is a diverse mix of people, with different backgrounds and experiences.

My passion in life is equality. This is representative in my professional career and my personal career in sport. Everyone has a talent, it’s about unleashing it, and the talent is more likely to be unleashed in a supportive, inclusive and equal environment. Teams that work together outperform those that don’t. Success feels better when it’s shared with others.

Here are the excerpts of the interview.

How do you see the gender diversity landscape in Europe? Do you see some progress in that direction?

Across Europe, the landscape in gender diversity is making slow progress. Legislation has either been or being introduced to help nudge the progress. But it’s slow. However in some countries across Europe, there is progress, because of local societal differences, local leadership and focus.

D&I should be central to any business strategy and since organizations are made up of people and serve their clients and customers, it simply makes business sense

Research shows that companies that are more diverse are more productive and give better returns to shareholders. What's your take on this?

It absolutely is and there is enough research to prove this point. Inclusive behavior and leadership is critical as well. Leaders who are more inclusive also provide better results. This is just good leadership. Any leadership programs should incorporate inclusion otherwise, we are not addressing a critical component to leadership development.

Organizations pursue diversity and inclusion not just for ethical reasons, but also to realize enhanced financial performance. How do you see this?

The business case is solid. Organizations ought to by now move on from considering whether this is good for business. It should be central to any business strategy since organizations are made up of people and serve their clients and customers, it simply makes business sense. The ethics of diversity and inclusion should just be a given.

How can boards ingrain inclusion into their organizational strategy?

While D&I Managers can guide, coach, implement initiatives, set targets and much more, they cannot take the responsibility on for every leader. Leaders need to be accountable for D&I and hold the conversation at board level, integrate inclusion into business models and strategy, to enable the D&I managers to continue to spearhead and be the catalyst. If accountability and buy-in is not held at leadership level, there is a problem.

What are the driving factors for the huge D&I gap? Why are we failing? 

We are not failing, but there are top challenges. I would recommend any leader to have a D&I expert as their “CDO” (Chief Diversity Officer) at board level, someone who is part of the conversation right at the top (this will help close the gap). Too many organizations have a ‘D&I Practitioner’ at the wrong level, and expect this one person to change the culture of the whole organization. That is not sustainable and it contributes to why progress is slow. An organization wouldn’t have a CFO or CTO sitting lower down their organization, so I urge leaders to recognize CDO role as critical.

What are some challenges in creating a culture of inclusion?

We are diverse by default, but are we inclusive? We are talking about behavior change, stripping out traditional mindsets and updating them so those who lead organizations understand how different it is today to when they joined the workplace. There are different expectations now, different issues that need to be addressed, but can’t if leaders don’t update their mindset. Education and coaching around behavior change should be on the agenda. We all must admit that we don’t know what we don’t know, have a growth mindset and embrace change, even if it is uncomfortable.

How can businesses get the most from the diversity dollars?

Women in leadership programs have their purpose, as long as the content includes business strategy components. The danger of WiL programs being set up, it can be seen as “fix the women” rather than what we should be focusing on which is – “fix the organization”. Any non-dominant group will be navigating their way around a dominant group, so it’s important to have a support mechanism in place, but be careful of the perception (what it looks like), i.e. setting up a mentoring program with men mentoring women. That’s just an own goal and will get women and men’s back up. One of the greatest dangers that has also slowed progress down, is that we don’t engage the men in the debate.

While D&I managers can guide, coach, implement initiatives, set targets and much more, they cannot take the responsibility on for every leader.  Leaders need to be accountable for D&I and hold the conversation at board level

How can companies ensure they have leaders who can create impact in a diverse workforce?

I am currently studying an MSc in behavior change and the research is fascinating. Inclusive leadership, in my view, truly unlocks the key to creating an inclusive culture. I have implemented inclusive leadership workshops for just men, men and women, at various leadership levels. It is critical to start at the top and create a ripple effect of change. When an open discussion is held in a safe and trusted environment, leaders begin to work through how their behavior impacts others. Then we can move more toward creating psychological safety and coach managers on leading and behaving inclusively. 

Where do you see diversity and inclusion five years down the line? 

I do think there will be a significant rise in inclusion. A lot of this is also down to generational diversity, just look at the diverse talent coming into organizations, which is a significant difference to years ago, when leaders entered the workplace. Go for experiential learning, walk in someone else’s shoes, move people from being aware of this to starting to care about it.


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Topics: Diversity, #EachForEqual

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