What is a CEO’s role in driving diversity and inclusion at work?

Is this how companies can achieve real change?

What is a CEO’s role in driving diversity and inclusion at work?

In a global study by Russell Reynolds Associates, top directors and senior execs highlighted the CEO’s and board leader’s roles in driving genuine DEI in the workplace. The study found that companies can only achieve real change if:

  1. Leaders role modelled the ideal culture by ensuring a diverse and inclusive boardroom, and including critical issues on the board agenda.
  2. The CEO and board chairman were aligned on DEI issues and embedded it into the business strategy.
  3. The CEO ensured they delivered tangible results, like meeting DEI targets across the business.

Read more: ‘Role models are essential to change perceptions’

How can the C-suite drive diversity and inclusion?

The study made clear what needs to get done, but how can C-suite leaders go about driving change? In a webinar by the Singapore HR Institute (SHRI), panellists shared tips on how to make DEI a strategic business priority at the organisation. To truly walk the talk, Parag Arora, Vice President, Cloud Workspace, Networking & Security at Citrix – Asia Pacific & Japan (APJ), said leaders must build on their empathy and compassion to create a conducive environment for change. “Empathy and compassion needs to be in the business vocabulary,” Arora said. “For many years, these were ‘soft’ words, but now in the [corporate world] conversations, empathy and compassion are coming up in very important discussions.”

At the same time, leaders must set clear and concise metrics for the organisation to follow. “That’s again from the top down,” he said. “How do you have the right metrics and ensure accountability with executives – [so that they] hold DEI as an important practice within the company?”

Read more: IWD 2021: Why are women underrepresented in the C-suite?

Once the top rank are on board with the agenda, the next step to sustain momentum and drive change is to have ongoing coaching or framing sessions for senior leaders. This is necessary as DEI is a sensitive topic that requires an investment of both “the mind and the heart”, said Arora, which is why it’s important to ensure that leaders genuinely understand the concept at every step of the way. Since DEI is an evolving concept, he believes that leaders can “get lost” while the organisation embarks on the long journey of change. Keeping leaders connected with the agenda can thus help the company going.

Rachel Ong, Chief Executive at ROHEI added that as leaders work on driving change, there is a responsibility to build trust about their intentions by sustaining conversation on the topic. However, before anything else, leaders need to acknowledge whether the organisation is doing well or failing in terms of DEI. “The number one responsibility of a senior leader is to recognise reality,” she said. Assessing “realities” would require a reflection on the organisation’s existing habits and practices in the area. “I do feel that we need a reality check of where we are at and to be honest,” she said. “[Then] we role model and drive the change that we want to see.”                                                                                                                      

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