Leadership as a Catalyst for Organizational Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Leadership as a Catalyst for Organizational Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Lisa Dolan - 06.27.2022

Today’s people-centric landscape calls for businesses to leverage on extensive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs to effectively support its diverse clientele and workforce, publicly and privately.

But even with the great strides in cultivating DE&I within organizations, it still isn’t as widely practiced. Many companies are still falling behind in providing the proper support for their own employees from underrepresented communities. In fact, 76% out of 800 companies surveyed by global Industry Analyst Josh Bersin in 2020 said they did not have any diversity or inclusion goals at all.

It takes more than a signatory sign off from senior members, VPs, and C-suite to mobilize a change in DE&I culture. Diversity and culture are lived experiences. Therefore, companies should be able to truly live and understand DE&I for it to make a difference in the real world.

Diverse and Inclusive Leadership

A very important aspect of a successful organizational culture is the leadership. When looking at leadership at this stage, it is ideally transformative, empathetic, and informed—but it must also be diverse.

Trickle-down effect can also be applied to the case of disruptive leadership. DE&I efforts can crumble when leaders don’t walk the talk, have first-hand experience, or express support and effort for DE&I programs. Any effort will be reduced to simply being a front with no bite. In reality, 75% of companies surveyed don’t include DE&I in training curricula, much less for leadership development. 

As leaders, it is important to ask these questions:

  • If the leadership is unable to grasp the necessity of DE&I programs, how can they lead positive change within the organization?
  • What can leaders from marginalized sectors contribute to the enrichment of the organization’s initiatives? By and large, their lived experiences can help determine what employees and consumers from similar backgrounds want and need.

On the other hand, we need inclusive leaders who actively engage and understand different perspectives from consumers, employees, and other stakeholders. Belongingness can make the workforce feel more engaged with their job. Inclusive and empathetic leadership can lead to informed decision-making, communication, and collaboration because people feel like they belong with an organization.

What to Watch Out For

Most businesses consider only two common factors for diversity: culture and gender. However, both must exist within an intersectional approach for DE&I. This includes other factors such as gender orientation and expression, age, religion, education, disability, and ethnicity. These factors won’t have real value if the workforce, the audience, and the leadership aren’t diverse, too.

Another consideration that brands must be wary about is minimizing DE&I efforts into marketing ploys, such is the case with Pride, also known as rainbow capitalism, and Breast Cancer Awareness marketing.

  • Nowadays, big and small enterprises worldwide partake in celebrating and promoting Pride Month. When done right and supported by initiatives throughout the year, Pride becomes more than just rainbow capitalism, or the tendency of businesses to use it as a chance to sell more items or make their brand seem more relatable and inclusive without doing the legwork.
  • The same pitfall is suffered by cancer awareness months, more specifically October’s Breast Cancer campaign. Much like with Pride, paid promotions, employee engagement campaigns, and more, are utilized to gain attention, increase sales, and even donations. However, many businesses have been accused of not only of pink washing, but also not working with reputable cancer organizations where donations are used for research or supporting underfunded cancer programs.

In Conclusion

Within this digital age, it’s easier for companies to magnify how diverse and inclusive they are. But, on the other hand, it’s also easier for employees and consumers to factcheck these claims. We’ve seen many companies get exposed online for jarring and isolating company culture. There’s certainly a bigger challenge for leaders who publicly support DE&I programs but don’t do much for their employees behind closed doors.

Fortunately, we can learn and be more, especially when we amplify voices from underrepresented communities within and outside our organizations. DE&I programs are not overnight projects; they take many years of shared experiences, research, and staying on top of developments to create a program that works for your company. As leaders, we can steer the conversations we have around diversity and inclusion, and allow it to enrich our organizational culture and sustainable business model.


Visit our News & Insights page to watch insightful videos featuring Ian Williamson on Disruption: Shifting Threat into an Opportunity and Indra Nooyi on Diversity’s Fundamental Role in Companies to enrich your knowledge on transformative and diverse leadership.

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