The critical nature of tackling diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues in the workplace continues to receive widespread attention, and for good reason. The ability to attract and retain top-notch employees requires an inclusive culture where all feel valued and welcomed—and where they trust that they will be treated equitably regardless of any personal traits or characteristics that might make them feel different.

Most organizations are committed to creating this type of environment. But it can’t happen without the buy-in, support, and reinforcement of leaders and managers. Leaders need the right diversity resources to be effective. It is a must-have for organizations that want to create an environment that will boost engagement, retention, and loyalty.

One misstep—and it’s a big one—that organizations often make is assuming that leaders and managers somehow just “know” how to be inclusive. They don’t.

Providing dedicated training, diversity training resources, and the opportunity to practice appropriate management behaviors can ensure your leaders have a solid understanding of your expectations and the skills they need to be inclusive leaders. So, what does it take to foster inclusive leadership?

Fostering inclusive leadership

The term “inclusive leadership” doesn’t really mean much until it’s backed up by specific behavioral expectations. To be most effective in training managers on how to foster inclusiveness, training should focus on explicit expectations for how to hire inclusively, how to hold inclusive team meetings, and how to avoid disruptive and disrespectful interactions like microaggressions

Specifically, certain desired traits should be addressed, modeled, and coached. For example, inclusive leaders are intellectually curious and seek out feedback from all employees, give serious consideration to that feedback, and make sure their teams know that their contributions are recognized. While the term “leader” is often closely affiliated with those who have management responsibilities, emerging leaders or those who are organizational influence in other ways can leverage their positions to enhance a culture of belonging. There are some distinctive processes that those with managerial responsibilities should approach as inclusive leaders. 

How Can You Support Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Today’s Workplace?

This guidebook provides discussion resources and exercises to help you promote a culture of respect and inclusion in the modern workplace.

Ensure inclusive hiring 

Leaders are responsible for helping to attract and retain top talent. Doing so equitably and with an intention to enhance diversity is a foundational step in building a culture of inclusion and belonging.

But hiring candidates who bring a differentiated perspective does not come naturally. As people, we are drawn to others who behave, think, and reflect other similarities to us. Without addressing that bias, hiring managers may miss the opportunity to bring in team members who can enhance the diversity of experiences, perspectives and approaches the team needs. This underscores the importance of training managers as advocates for inclusive recruiting practices and developing their skills to create standardized and equitable interviewing experiences, as a part of the organization’s DEI strategy. 

Build and develop inclusive teams  

Leaders also play an important role in building and growing inclusive teams—teams where everyone’s contributions are solicited and welcomed. In small group interactions and larger settings, a leader within the organization has the ability to set expectations and influence how teams engage with each other. Committing to actions like proactively inviting feedback and creating space for a colleague to speak who has been interrupted creates the expectation, and the permission, for employees to model your behaviors and be ambassadors of inclusion in everyday scenarios. 

Another important aspect of being an inclusive leader is engaging in the performance management process through a lens of equity. The intentional work to cultivate diverse teams can be undermined if biases aren’t mitigated in critical processes like employee evaluations, providing clear expectations and regular feedback, advancement or promotion decisions, and distributing professional development opportunities evenly. While these decisions in critical processes may seem singular or individual, they have a direct impact on progress toward an organization’s DEI goals, which should be measured and shared as a part of an ongoing commitment.   

Measure what matters 

We can’t manage—or improve—what we don’t measure. Equity in the workplace is under a magnifying glass as businesses are being called to operate with a deeper level of transparency around compensation reporting, board representation, harassment reporting, advancement, and other talent management practices.

There are a variety of means that organizations can put in place to measure how their DEI efforts are making a difference:

  • Critical lagging indicators in the talent management process like hiring, promotion, advancement, and attrition trends
  • Employee engagement and climate surveys can help assess the culture and offer an opportunity to compare across divisions or departments to discover best practices and areas of opportunity for improvement
  • Trends around employee perceptions, behaviors, and experiences at your organization by different groups or office locations
  • Qualitative data can be gathered via focus groups to help bring context to quantitative metrics
  • Input from Employee Resource Groups (ERG) can help identify nuanced differences based on employees’ lived experiences

Importantly, measurement must be ongoing and serve as a means of tracking performance across time, measuring trends, identifying areas of opportunity for improvement, and taking steps to close gaps.

Share your results

To sustain a strong DEI culture it’s important to share results frequently and broadly. Consistently communicating the value of, and the demonstrated progress toward, a diverse and inclusive work environment provides reinforcement to employees that their personal actions and decisions, over time, have helped to make a difference in workplace culture and business performance. It also demonstrates to your organization that the commitment is ongoing and prioritized, not a point in time response. 

Leadership training is a critical component of any organization’s journey toward building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. But it needs to be the right kind of training and it needs to be ongoing, not a one-time or once a year effort to exhort leaders to manage inclusively.

Diversity & Inclusion Training

Diversity, equity, and inclusion training for the modern workplace can be challenging. EVERFI presents unique experiences of real people to explore key concepts such as identity, power, privilege, and communication.