In an earlier blog entry, we focused on the role of training in an effective D&I process. In this entry, we take a brief look at the importance of leadership, i.e., what are some of the competencies leaders must possess to champion a D&I process? It has long been accepted that executive support and commitment are critical to the success of D&I initiatives. But what does that mean in practice?

First, the leader must understand the concepts of D&I, and how they differ from EEO and affirmative action principles. Critically, there must be an understanding that D&I goes far beyond legal compliance, and that achieving a diverse workforce can be more difficult than avoiding discrimination claims. (A related question is the leader’s awareness of his or her own biases, and willingness to undertake self-development such as training or coaching to overcome them).

Leaders also must be able to articulate the business case for diversity as it relates to their organization and industry. Employees may resist supporting D&I efforts unless leadership makes clear that diversity is a bottom line issue critical to company (and personal) success. (Some related questions for leadership: what is the company culture? How does it operate? What aspects of the culture help or detract from diversity efforts?)

Leaders must participate in the D&I strategic planning process. In addition to conveying their vision, they must make clear that accountability for implementing the vision resides at all levels throughout the organization; it is not the sole responsibility of one person or one department.

Proactive leadership may also involve taking a stand against inappropriate behavior, championing employee involvement in D&I initiatives, sponsoring affinity groups, and being part of the diversity dialogue by providing feedback and offering ideas. It can extend to making sure that there are diverse candidates in the succession pipeline. Whatever its form, to be effective, leadership action must be persistent and consistent.