As organizations continue to focus on increasing diversity within their workforce, the importance of fostering an inclusive environment cannot be overstated. To harness the power of diversity, it is crucial for corporate CEOs and senior leaders to ensure that employees from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities not only feel safe bringing their whole selves to work but also valued and appreciated for the unique perspectives and qualities they bring to the table.
Here, 18 Forbes Coaches Council experts offer key strategies corporate leaders can use to promote inclusivity and foster true appreciation for diversity within their organizations, creating a thriving workplace where differences are truly celebrated. From fostering more open dialogue to implementing more inclusive policies, these practices can help cultivate an environment where all employees feel a sense of belonging and can contribute their best work.
1. Lead By Example And Set Clear Expectations
It starts with leading by example, followed by setting clear expectations around the importance of psychological safety. Then, coach other leaders to meet those expectations. Policies are helpful but will never be as powerful or pervasive as personal examples spread by leaders throughout the organization. – Kevin Eikenberry, The Kevin Eikenberry Group
2. Model Psychological Safety For Employees
Creating a safe psychological space is required for employees to feel the freedom to be emotionally expressive without negative repercussions. This must be embraced and modeled by the executive leadership team in order to succeed. The emotional intelligence skill of empathy is critical in creating a safe space. Top leaders need to appreciate the richness that different points of view create. – Roberta Moore, The EQ-i Coach
3. Self-Assess Using These Three Questions
Leadership is what we emanate! To ensure your stance on diversity and inclusion emanates genuine care, assess yourself using three key questions: To what extent do I really tolerate discourse from those who are underrepresented? To what extent do I take on board alternative opinions from those who are not alike? To what extent do I care about the well-being of the minorities affected by my decisions? – Albana Vrioni, Vrioni Consulting
4. Actively Learn About Different Cultures And Backgrounds
If employees are holding back, it’s likely that the organization’s culture does not value certain qualities. Senior leaders can foster inclusion by actively and sincerely learning about different cultures and backgrounds. The simple act of inviting someone new to lunch each week to get to know them, instead of eating with the same “in” crowd, can help unlock feelings of belonging. – Wendy Fong, Chief Gigs
5. Be Intentional About Opening Safe Spaces
Senior executives need to recognize that psychological safety depends on far more than an “open-door policy.” Being curious and intentional about inviting whoever is in the minority to join the conversation, creating safe spaces that acknowledge the power differentials at play, listening deeply and communicating openly about the decision-making process itself will be worth the extra time and effort. – Quentin Finney, Pause i/O
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6. Create A Small Group For Sharing And Bonding
Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be an important part of leadership development. However, taking it a step further is key. Belongingness is the ultimate goal. The journey can be accomplished by creating a small group made up of managers, team members, senior leaders and staff to encourage social interactions and bonds and share stories about their families, successes, failures and future goals. – Deborah Hightower, Deborah Hightower, Inc.
7. Implement Impartiality Initiatives
Impartiality is important because it helps ensure that decisions are fair and equitable and that individuals are treated equally and without prejudice or bias. Impartiality means that the organization is neutral and unbiased, and is not influenced by personal feelings, prejudices or external pressures. – Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience
8. Adopt Inclusive Thinking Companywide And Off-Site
CEOs and senior leadership must adopt inclusive thinking companywide, on-site and off-site. Rather than establish rules to enforce diversity, the CEO should outwardly make people feel comfortable by demonstrating that they value everyone and their ethnicity, culture and heritage. A leader sets a tone of ease and acceptance when they act respectfully and genuinely in business and social interactions. – Rick Itzkowich, Vistage Worldwide, Inc.
9. Share Power And Money
Fostering belonging can’t happen without paying close attention to which people and behaviors are rewarded. So often, leaders profess to have an inclusive culture but fail to back it up through truly inclusive investments in promotion, compensation, recognition, leadership development and other engagement practices. Back up your words by sharing power and money. – Chris Gaither, Regenerous
10. Walk The Talk
Besides strategies implemented on team and organizational levels, it is important that CEOs and executives actually walk the talk. This could involve, for starters, refusing to participate in non-diverse panels; getting a reverse mentor (junior staff member from an underrepresented group); being transparent about their own learning curve and saying “I don’t know”; and not shying away from discussing privilege. – Micha Goebig, Go Big Coaching & Communications, LLC
11. Apply The Feedforward Process
Corporate CEOs and senior leadership can apply the feedforward process by focusing on nonjudgmental and supportive feedback that leaves the employee feeling empowered, which combines a recognition and rewards system. All in all, Corporate CEOs and senior leadership must be role models, providing employees with emotional safety and producing sustainable results. – Dr. Wasit Prombutr, Life Alignmentor By Dr.Wasit Prombutr
12. Check In With All Employees Regularly
Corporate CEOs and senior leaders who recognize how important it is to their success to have diverse voices and perspectives often check in with their people to ensure they are doing well. They make themselves visible and accessible. They demonstrate how much they care by seeking answers from diverse talent in meetings or during strategic planning as they make final decisions or company directions. – Izabela Lundberg, Legacy Leaders Institute
13. Show Commitment To DEI And Be Open To Feedback
A leader must demonstrate their commitment to DEI by setting an example for employees. Exhibit inclusive behaviors and use languages that promote inclusivity. Additionally, be open to feedback, and make an effort to learn about different cultures and perspectives. This will help create a culture where all employees feel respected and valued for their uniqueness. – Temitope Olukunle, Outnovately Africa
14. Don’t Allow There To Be An ‘Elephant In The Room’
This takes some work because the group in the majority often has no idea that others feel unsafe being themselves at work. Don’t let this be the “elephant in the room”—proactively talk about it. Ensure you create space for people to ask questions to learn about each other’s non-work lives, interests and backgrounds. Then, teach people about psychological safety and require that it is practiced. – Kathy Bernhard, KFB Leadership Solutions
15. Address Challenges With Team Leaders
While words and policies can be helpful, authentic inclusion requires meaningful action. Senior management must be willing to address challenges with team leaders and staff who do not create psychologically safe environments. Company values and policies mean nothing if the leaders who are entrusted do not embody them and create inclusive cultures at all levels. – Tonya Echols, Vigere
16. Align Leaders Around Purpose, Identity, Values And Beliefs
Leadership teams have an oversized impact on culture, so role modeling here is key. Leaders must lead by example. Aligning around purpose, identity, values and beliefs in this respect is key. Now, find and close integrity gaps—where skills, capabilities, behaviors, processes and even the physical environment get in the way. Psychological safety can be measured, starting with the leadership team. – Duncan Skelton, Duncan Skelton Coaching Ltd
17. Promote The Sharing Of Cultures At Work
As more companies adopt DEI strategies, CEOs and leaders can help their diverse workforces feel safe and valued by encouraging conversations about their unique cultures during team social events. These events can be as simple as having a day when someone brings something that reflects their culture to work or shares about their heritage. This will build a stronger bond within teams. – Eno Eka, The Business Analysis School
18. Understand And Respect The Diversity You Have
The need for diversity in the workplace is a given, yet many workplace practices are not inclusive, meaning they do not respect or represent the diversity they have. Take the time to understand the diversity represented in your company and consider whether you should acknowledge important holidays, translate certain documents, update hiring practices or customize benefits and rewards beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. – Shane Green, SGEi
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