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August 11, 2021


5 min read

How businesses can promote greater diversity in leadership

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As diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace continues to be top of mind for many businesses, the lack of diverse representation in leadership positions is at the forefront of the discussion.

To date, only 19 out of 1800 CEOs from the list of Fortune 500 companies have been Black and just 6.6 percent of current Fortune 500s are led by women. These stark inequities make it clear that although many organizations have made promises to further DEI in the workplace, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to hiring and developing diverse talent for leadership positions.

After all, company culture is largely influenced by the people at the top. If your organization is truly committed to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, this commitment needs to be reflected in all aspects of the business — including among the C-suite staff and other levels of management. This goes beyond just hiring diverse candidates, but also putting processes in place that develop employees to take on leadership roles in the future.

Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of diverse representation and share how your organization can evolve it’s DEI strategy to take diverse leadership development into account. 


Understanding the importance of leadership diversity

In recent years, systemic and social barriers faced by minority groups have become more visible in the public sphere. As a result, many people have called on corporations and their leaders to make diversity, equity and inclusion a top priority.

A number of organizations have made significant strides in the right direction, but many still struggle to make progress on DEI. You can point to a variety of reasons for this, but one leading cause is lack of diverse representation among executives. It can be difficult for those in decision-making roles to relate to the struggles of their marginalized employees — especially if the leadership team is made up entirely of people who look and think the same. Diversity flourishes most when those making decisions are of diverse representation themselves and can offer up a different perspective.

It’s equally important to have diverse representation in leadership because it’s a powerful driver of employee motivation. If your employees don’t see others who share similar identities as themselves represented across different levels of management, it can make them feel like those higher up positions are unattainable. This can lead to unmotivated and disengaged employees that don’t see a future for themselves within your organization.

The business case for diversity in leadership is equally as significant. A McKinsey report found that highly diverse organizations are as much as 36 percent more likely to outperform monocultural competitors and data from BCG shows that diverse management teams can lead to 19 percent higher revenue.



How to promote diversity in leadership positions

Increasing diverse representation across your organization first requires a recognition of the lack of diversity that exists, followed by accountability for practices and policies which enable homogeneity. Although you likely have existing processes in place to address this, it might look a bit different at the management and leadership levels.

Here are some additional considerations and actions items that can help drive your efforts forward. 


Diversity and inclusion leadership competencies

Cultural leadership and diversity literacy necessitate specific skills and attributes in the individuals who take on management positions. When looking to hire or promote someone to leadership, here are the four key competencies to look for in prospective candidates:


  • Practice deference
    This soft skill is critical, especially if the individual comes from a more privileged background or cultural identity. Inclusive leaders must be able to trust their employees when they say that there is an aspect of the workplace which is harmful to them and take action to swiftly address concerns.

    This also means that this person is willing and able to defer to an expert when there is a DEI issue that lies beyond their expertise.


  • Uplift other perspectives
    A hallmark characteristic of an inclusive leader is their ability to recognize the importance of different perspectives in the workplace. This means recognizing points of view that might be missing from a team and finding ways to uplift those individuals to ensure their voices are heard.


  • Commitment to action
    As DEI practices shift within your organization, so will company culture. Inclusive leaders must be willing to embrace those changes and take steps to accommodate ever-evolving ideas of how to support diversity, equity and inclusion within the company.


  • Holds themselves and others accountable
    An inclusive leader is one that’s willing to acknowledge when they participate in oppressive or harmful practices and call out this behavior if it’s observed among other members of the organization.


Strategies for increasing diversity and inclusion in leadership positions

  • Provide diversity training that’s designed for managers and executives
    Many organizations require employees to take some type of diversity training throughout their tenure with the company. What’s often overlooked, however, is the importance of leadership-specific training. Employees at different levels of management have varying levels of job responsibility — this means they also have varying levels of responsibility when it comes to promoting DEI across their respective teams.

    When evaluating your existing training efforts, consider offering training courses or workshops that are uniquely designed for people in managerial or executive roles.


  • Utilize employer-sponsored education
    A lack of access to quality education often means that employees from underprivileged backgrounds don’t have the qualifications that are typically required for leadership positions. Consider implementing a workforce education program that provides employees with the opportunity to earn degrees, certifications or other credentials while they work. This type of program can help you to attract diverse hires and develop dedicated career education paths that equip employees with the foundational skills needed to take on a future role in leadership.


  • Revisit mentorship programs
    Mentorship programs are not a new concept, but they’re often overlooked or underutilized. When implemented correctly, a mentorship program can be a powerful tool for promoting diversity within your organization — especially for employees who aspire to take on leadership roles.

    Pair current executives and managers with junior employees to help them develop attainable career paths and build soft skills and competencies which prepare them for positions in leadership. Prioritize giving these mentorship opportunities to the employees who need them most. 


The case for greater diversity in leadership has never been stronger. As with any DEI initiative, attracting and developing diverse leaders across your organization takes time and resources to be successful. What matters most is putting forth effective processes and systems in place now that will help to mold the future of your organization in the years to come.

Ready to unlock more workplace diversity insights? Download this infographic for more data on the critical need for greater diversity in leadership.