Are execs just paying lip service to diversity?

Many leaders admit they don't know what inclusion means, but they know that it's important

Are execs just paying lip service to diversity?
Most business leaders see diversity and inclusion (D&I) as crucial to the success of a company, but less than a quarter can explain what inclusion means.

This is what global search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates found in its Diversity and Inclusion Pulse survey of over 2,100 executives.

Diversity is defined as a number of attributes including gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, veteran status, political affiliation, education, experience, work style, communication style, socio-economic background, cross-cultural competence and perspective.

Inclusion is defined as the establishment of an environment that creates opportunities for all employees to realize their unique potential.

The study also found that only half of business leaders make a visible effort to support D&I. Only 38% feel accountable in creating inclusive cultures, while 27% have no D&I strategy at all.

Despite the general consensus that D&I is important, company strategy and leadership commitment fail to position their organizations to realize the full benefits of their diverse workforce.

An inclusive culture is what unleashes the power of diversity and instills a sense of belonging – the extent to which individuals feel they can be their authentic selves within the organization.

"In spite of the clear advantages of committing to a D&I strategy, many companies still struggle to execute it effectively,” said Amy Hayes, a leader of the Diversity and Inclusion, Assessment and Succession Planning Practices.

“In order to ensure real progress toward these goals, leaders need to evaluate policy and processes, and be public in modeling inclusive behaviors."

Because the success of a D&I strategy is primarily dependent on committed leadership, Russell Reynolds Associates recommends six steps for companies to maximize the benefits of a diverse workforce.
  • Agree on the meaning of D&I. Ensure that all executives understand the organization's specific definition of diversity and inclusion so that they can act as informed advocates.
  • Develop a D&I strategy. Establish a strategy to fully realize human capital benefits, such as increased employee engagement and creativity.
  • Publicly commit. Transparently commit to D&I and hold leadership accountable for results.
  • Use D&I to attract top talent. Demonstrate commitment to D&I to attract top talent, which is increasingly seeking out companies that "walk the walk."
  • Incorporate D&I into talent strategy. Understand how the absence of an overarching process or strategy will ultimately obstruct talent attraction, development and retention.
  • Lead by example. Personify the organization's D&I agenda and philosophy to influence others to do the same.
"Companies with a proactive and authentic approach are better positioned to compete globally, understand their customers and innovate," said Jamie Hechinger, one of the leaders of the Diversity and Inclusion Practice and global leader of the Social Justice and Advocacy Practice.

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