Role of a leader in implementing diversity programs in an organization
The corporate world of today leads way to workplaces that are constantly evolving, dynamic and boiling pots of cultural interactions, where incorporating Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) effectively is integral for any organization to run successfully. Earlier, the view of diversity was only limited to race and gender. However, organizations now have started to realize that diversity is a much broader umbrella term that includes all the differences an individual brings to the table. It then becomes imperative for leaders in organizations to draft policies that help in sensitizing employees on the importance of diversity in an organisation, thereby leading to a more inclusive working environment. The role of a leader in implementing D&I is like embarking on a journey. This journey goes through a few distinct phases: -
- Compliance Phase - The first step being the leader’s desire for a change in the organization’s workplace culture. A lot of initiatives in this phase are driven by legal factors.
- Committed Phase - The second component is to understand where the organization currently stands and, using this baseline to initiate the desired changes. This desired state should be clearly achievable and in line with the organization’s vision. Supporting D&I actions and processes amidst other priorities, becomes the pivot during this stage.
- Action Phase - In this phase, implementation of the change is in progress. There are metrics, policies and processes put in place to enhance the organisation’s D&I culture. It is important to engage committed leader(s) to drive this transformation. Metrics drive behaviours and I personally think that in this phase for most of the organization, the mind is at work rather than the heart.
- Embedded Phase – By the time the organization progresses towards this phase, D&I should become a part of the way the business operates. There is constant collaboration with other organizations who are also on this journey. There is compliance to policies and demonstrated progress on metrics, showing the commitment towards the organization’s goals. The leaders should persist through this important cultural transformation and promote it through steps big and small to achieve the objective. The organization then consciously practices D&I, recognizing it as integral to business goals.
- Maturity Phase - The implementation of D&I has now become a conscious and accountable factor for the leaders. The Organization has by now evolved several best practices of its own and is recognized for the practices in the community. At this phase, the organization as a whole celebrates and recognises the success of D&I implementation. D&I is now optimized to support growth and is incorporated in the daily way of how a business is run.
A leader plays a significant role right from the strategic implementation of the plan to delegating responsibility to others, thereby creating a more effective working environment for the entire organization. An agenda of D&I should not be viewed as a CSR factor or a feel-good factor. Research shows organizations with high diversity on an average have 15 – 30% higher financial results than their industry segment. There is enough data that establishes that there is a compelling business imperative to invest in a diverse workforce to gain a competitive advantage. Like any cultural transformation initiatives, it goes without saying that Diversity and Inclusion will not be a successful agenda unless sponsored and supported by the executive leadership of the organization.
This being the case, it is necessary to have the right person to the lead the D&I journey, a leader who is committed and passionate and truly believes in the merits of a diverse workforce. An effective D&I leader must not be an accidental leader .i.e. not somebody who stumbled into the role without due consideration. This agenda needs a leader who is consciously and constantly practicing the values of D&I in their daily life, someone who is willing to push boundaries and break down barriers to foster a thriving D&I culture. Effective D&I policies and the right set of metrics become the cornerstones that support the D&I Leader in effectively breaking down barriers and solving potential conflict of agendas and interest. The right policies and metrics will then positively influence various decisions across the organization including influencing hiring, career development, performance evaluation and promotion and pay practices. Although slowly changing, it is an unfortunate fact that some form of discrimination continues to exist in the corporate sector. While we don’t need activism in the workplace, a D&I leader who can be vocal and can demonstrate zero tolerance towards discrimination will go a long way in building a thriving culture of Diversity and Inclusivity.
In conclusion, the charter of D&I in an organization is not optional. It can be the difference between being market leaders and market laggards. While an effective D&I leader can help set the frame for an engaging culture, ultimately the business of D&I must be the priority of every organization and its employees. In my opinion, this materialises when investing in a diversity program, which aligned with your company’s vision will help your business rise and soar.