If your diversity strategy relies on presentations and workshops, it’s probably failing. About $8 billion a year is spent on diversity training in the United States. Yet diversity programs have produced minimal improvement in terms of racial composition in the tech workforce. It all points to the fact that demonstrations of microaggressions — packaged into three-to-five minute clips and presented every six months — aren’t working. Corporate leadership has failed to take the proper steps to prioritize this issue by addressing it at its core. If you want to win the war for talent, you need to take responsibility for the results.
Executive Leadership Must Invest in Building a More Inclusive Culture
The benefits of an inclusive workforce include increasing employee retention, recruiting through brand awareness, and even customer acquisition. You should own these efforts because it’s both the right thing to do, and what’s best for your business.
It’s no coincidence that McDonald’s set competitive annual diversity goals for 2025 that are directly tied to the compensation of executive vice presidents — that way it becomes clear and pressing that failing to invest time and energy in improving organizational DEI negatively affects the executive themselves (not to mention the company’s performance). Putting it simply — the solution starts with a visible commitment to developing diversity-related KPIs for other leaders to own.
Senior leaders, if you want to attract talent, start with building trust. Be directly involved in DEI efforts. Without your involvement and influence, your diversity strategy is bound to fail. To start, acknowledge that your company lacks diversity. Then talk with executive leaders about ways they can own the process of helping to fix the problem. To get you started, here are six ways executive leaders can create a more inclusive culture.
6 Actions Executives Must Take to Improve DEI in the Workplace
- Sponsor a DEI-related initiative.
- Mentor underrepresented employees and ensure they have visibility.
- Join executive forums that champion diversity and use them to recruit underrepresented leaders.
- Ensure diversity-related initiatives are represented at all-hands meetings.
- Participate in diversity and inclusion training along with employees.
- Hold VPs and directors accountable for building diverse teams.
1. Sponsor a DEI-related Initiative
Choose one thing that you are passionate about or a professional skill you have to invest in within your organization. Maybe it’s investing in something that’s missing within the company. Are there enough support programs? Are there any at all? Are there skill-share opportunities? You have the power to create programs for those gaps. Sponsoring employee resource groups (ERGs) is a great way for senior leaders to connect with their employees.
2. Mentor Underrepresented Employees and Ensure They Have Visibility
Support sponsorship and mentorship programs. This will help create more genuine connections between employee and employer direct reports and managers and lead to building trusting relationships. Set up consistent skip-level meetings with underrepresented employees, or ask your managers to introduce you to high performers who may be able to help you with a special project.
3. Join Executive Forums That Champion Diversity and Use Them to Recruit Underrepresented Leaders
Oftentimes, leadership teams sit far away from the process of owning diversity recruiting strategies at their company. You should be involved in finding partnerships and platforms that recruit underrepresented talent. One of the best things you can do is expand your network to include underrepresented executives. Joining communities that champion underrepresented leaders will help you gain a broader perspective, and put you in a position to recruit leaders from different backgrounds. Some useful forums are:
4. Ensure Diversity-related Initiatives Are Represented at All-hands Meetings
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion in your companywide all-hands and strategic discussions is a simple way to include these plans in company KPIs. Similar to how sales updates and revenue discussions should be approached, progress on your diversity strategy should always be on the agenda.
5. Participate in Diversity and Inclusion Training Along With Employees
Participate in diversity training with other employees, not just executives. Encourage your executive team to take these trainings with their direct reports to avoid creating an internal hierarchy. You’ll increase psychological safety, and learn more about how individual employees feel about the culture.
6. Hold VPs and Directors Accountable for Building Diverse Teams
The spear of influence within an organization starts from leadership. If your organization wants more diversity, your leadership team should reflect that. Hold yourself and your direct reports accountable for building a diverse team by setting aspirational targets. Similar to how the McDonald’s executive team tied diversity goals to compensation, it’s up to you to figure out what will motivate your peers and direct reports to take diversity seriously.
Ultimately, the solution is to create safe and productive work environments that essentially keep employees motivated and candidates eager to join your organization. Start with these six steps and build momentum from there.