Observations on Inclusive Cultures: Inclusion Starts with “I”

December 6, 2017

Inclusive cultures

When shown research that identifies the importance of the role leaders play in advancing diversity and inclusion (D&I), senior executives are, unsurprisingly, unsurprised. Most understand that D&I strategies are a necessary step toward future-proofing their businesses. Some have appointed D&I experts to lead the charge. But after the tone has been set and the budget allotted, many are still failing to take an active role in the process of enacting change.

Our conversations with D&I #GameChangers have shown that standout leaders think of D&I as a holistic, long-term, and organizational-level effort. They envision D&I as a journey, rather than an end goal. And like all transformational journeys, this one is nuanced and nonlinear and comes with the need to be inclusive and open, yet unwavering and insistent.

Leaders must be able to embody what may be perceived as competing competencies spanning across the continuums of heroic yet vulnerable, disruptive yet pragmatic, and galvanizing yet connective leadership. The ability to span not only differentiates the leaders themselves but also their effectiveness in transforming cultures and institutions.

4 Steps to encourage a diverse and inclusive culture

There isn’t a simple solution to the challenges associated with D&I, but it is becoming increasingly clear that there are steps senior leaders can take to point their organizations in the right direction:

Go public. Once leaders commit to the journey, they must visibly hold themselves accountable to meeting D&I goals. We’re proud to share that our CEO, Clarke Murphy, recently became the first CEO in our industry to sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge, committing to an open dialogue on D&I, implementing unconscious bias education, and sharing best practices. He has also been active in creating a dialogue and sharing D&I strategy with other global leaders.

Simultaneously, leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to D&I in the form of actions and results. As a starting point, Russell Reynolds Associates has implemented unconscious bias training as part of consultant onboarding to reduce bias in the search process.

Enable and empower. In addition to showing support for ongoing D&I initiatives, leaders must also build a platform that brings new ideas to life. This requires leaders to build diverse teams, insist on the involvement of diverse stakeholders in decision making, create safe and supportive environments in which diverse voices are heard, and empower diverse leaders to execute against their visions.

For instance, Home Depot, led by diverse leadership at the board and executive level, has empowered its sales associates in stores to wear aprons displaying their spoken languages to allow customers to seek assistance in their preferred language.

Get uncomfortable. Leaders who are driving change must have the courage to have uncomfortable conversations, ask questions, and act on the answers they receive. This may mean tackling tough situations with executives who refuse to get behind the D&I journey.

Go first. Leaders need to model authenticity and inclusion to give their teams “permission” to do the same. Mark Zuckerberg’s participation in Facebook’s family leave policy sends a clear message to his thousands of employees. Not only does the company support a culture in which new parents feel comfortable taking maternity or paternity leave, but more broadly, it believes that parenthood is a part of public life during a career with the company.

D&I impacts the bottom line. However, to truly move the needle, leadership must approach D&I work with authenticity, humanity, resiliency, resolve, courage, and above all else, action.

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About The Author

Jamie Hechinger is co-leader of the Diversity & Inclusion Practice and leads high-profile executive searches for the Nonprofit Practice at executive search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Amy Hayes is co-leader of Russell Reynolds Associates’ Diversity & Inclusion Practice and a core member of the Global Leadership and Succession practice.

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