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How to improve diversity: Look inwards first, build a vision second
Diverse leadership teams can make better decisions and create better businesses. But some are struggling to change. Charlie Grubb, Managing Director at Robert Half’s executive search practice, explores how to tackle one of the most talked-about trends in business today.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) – a headline trend in modern business – is increasingly familiar to executive leaders. Some are criticised for having all-male, all-white, boards; others are following quotas to improve their gender and ethnic representation.
This groundswell of attention has created advocates in the business community and many leaders are actively developing their approaches to DEI. But there is also a group treating it as an aspiration, and well-meaning words haven’t yet translated into concrete action or evidence of meaningful change.
The key to addressing this gap: boards or directors as well as the executive committees need to look inward first, to understand themselves, their employees, and their recruitment methods. The journey doesn’t start with requests for diverse shortlists; it starts with internal reflection, planning, and then action – to avoid token appointments and the benefit of a long-term view.
Building the vision by asking the questions
DEI is a broad topic, of course. Most businesses explore gender and ethnicity, but the definition extends well beyond these measures: Neurodiversity, a balance of thinking styles and approaches to learning, is important; diversity of interests and backgrounds is often overlooked; widening gender to include non-binary, also matters.
We should therefore encourage executive teams to think broadly at the outset. This will help them to see the linkages between areas of diversity and put processes in place to explore them. If they can understand people’s backgrounds, interests, and experiences – and combine them with other areas – they will stand a better chance of delivering the change they want to see.
Here are ten questions that executive leaders should therefore ask themselves:
- What is the demographic of our current workforce and how well do we know that?
- How well do we understand DEI and can we – and our employees – positively influence it?
- What are we currently doing to promote DEI and how well is it working?
- What’s our vision for the business in five- to ten years’ time?
- What will we need to change, or do differently, to deliver this vision successfully?
- What are the skills sets we can be flexible with, and what will we really need?
- How does that allow us to work with, and combine, more under-represented groups?
- How will we communicate our plans with potential recruits and current employees?
- How will we know that any new approach to DEI is working?
- Are there organisations with experience that can help us on this journey?
Looking to the future – DEI in action
DEI is thankfully moving into the mainstream language of boardrooms. But looking ahead there is still plenty of work for executive teams to do. By starting with themselves, being honest about what they find, and developing a long-term plan, they will be able to embrace the practical steps and experience needed, to improve DEI in the future.
Clear intentions, combined with communication and practical examples, will help them build momentum. By promoting women into leadership roles, for example, potential candidates become self-selecting because they can see the evidence for themselves; the same is true for ethnicity and other areas of diversity. And once momentum is building… there are many organisations willing to help others bridge the DEI gap and make the journey a success for everyone.
Executive Search with Robert Half
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We advise and accompany our clients beyond the mere search assignment – both the company and the candidate – because we are convinced that finding the right candidate is just the beginning of building a future-oriented and sustainable company management and leadership approach.
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