We recently hosted a webinar on “CQ and Inclusive Leadership.” Over 1100 people registered. It was clearly a hot topic. Part of what motivated having the conversation was the Deloitte study on The Six Signature Traits of an Inclusive Leader, one of which is cultural intelligence (CQ®). CQ is foundational to inclusive leadership.
While a one-hour webinar barely scratches the surface on the subject, the diverse team of panelists had a very robust and informative conversation. At the same time, the Q&A box was exploding with comments and questions from the audience. There were, of course, too many and too little time to respond to all of them. However, I wanted to follow up and address a question asked by one of the participants. How do you create and maintain diverse leadership teams?
Here are three non-negotiable strategies to consider:
Check Your Motives
I’ve had plenty of instances throughout my career when I’ve been the only person of color in the room or the only woman on the team. Those lived experiences were frustrating, and often felt lonely. Each instance caused me to question leadership’s motivation and commitment to diversity. Rather than feeling like I was part of a diverse team, it felt more like tokenism.
As leaders, ask yourself, What’s my motivation for creating a diverse leadership team? Is it for optics? I’m going to assume the answer is no. But, beyond that, research from the Deloitte study demonstrated that to successfully create and maintain a diverse team, leadership must be motivated by both the business case for diversity and a personal belief that it is the right and equitable thing to do. One without the other limits your effectiveness, and you risk having others questioning the value of diversity and your level of commitment to the work. These same findings emerge in our research on cultural intelligence. Intrinsic and extrinsic drive are critical. Once your motives are understood, you can begin the work of creating a diverse team.
Make Inclusion the Priority
I was recently one of the speakers at a large D&I Leaders Conference in the UK. The roster of expert presenters represented a wide range of large global companies. Many different insights and ideas were shared. However, one common theme was the intentional shift towards the work of inclusion. I wasn’t at all surprised. So much focus has been on attracting diverse talent, but if we can’t retain and support them, our efforts are in vain. Yet, we continue to see evidence that organizations around the globe are still struggling with creating inclusive work environments. For example, The Unmistakables, a UK-based consulting firm, recently released the Diversity and Confusion study. The report revealed that 27 percent of people in organizations feel excluded from conversations about D&I in the workplace because of their cultural background and identity. In essence, the people that diversity and inclusion are meant to support are those most likely to feel excluded. These groups include blacks, young working professionals, non-binary and neurodiverse working professionals, just to name a few.
Making inclusion the priority means that the organization understands that diversity alone is not enough. The research is clear. A diverse team doesn’t necessarily equal high performance. In fact, homogenous teams outperform diverse teams when they lack CQ. But when CQ is added to the equation, homogenous teams don’t come close to the performance of diverse teams. As it relates to inclusion, CQ helps leaders leverage the diversity and skills of the team. It allows the diverse members of the team to be included on their terms, not terms dictated by the dominant group or culture. For example, if you invite a leader with small children to the team, consider meeting times that don’t conflict with them getting their children off to school or childcare. Or consider if any of your team members have accessibility needs. If so, be sure to build in disability-inclusion practices in your team meetings and overall work together. We sometimes assume that only frontline employees have disabilities, or we simply don’t feel comfortable discussing this issue at the leadership level. That’s not healthy, and it undermines your inclusion efforts. The bottom line is that you cannot maintain or expect high performance from a diverse team if certain members don’t feel valued or included.
PRO TIP: Are you new to Cultural Intelligence? If so, watch this short video explaining Cultural Intelligence.
DEI Transparency Reports are becoming the norm. Starbucks, Twitter, KPMG, PwC, and other major global companies are sharing their diversity and inclusion data with the public for a few years now. In education, universities such as Stanford, NYU, and UMass have joined the ranks. These reports are an effort by organizations to openly and transparently share a snapshot of the progress made and their DEI plans going forward. But it’s risky. Last year when PwC publicly released their diversity data, including racial and gender representation, at all career stages, they were disappointed in some of the data. For example, the representation of women and racially and ethnically diverse people at senior levels was not where it needed to be. In addition, they wondered how many people in communities that self-identify as non-normative such as LGBTQ+ or veterans with disabilities, felt comfortable doing so. Given that top leadership positions in many organizations still lack diverse representation, many reports include specific representation goals for leadership, and they are attaching compensation to the requirement.
Being transparent is another strategy that creates an opportunity for the organization or the leadership team to reflect on their progress and hold themselves and their DEI work accountable to others, including the public. It is also key to providing equitable experiences for all team members. Not only does data reveal diversity numbers, but it can also expose the experiences and opportunities provided to different team members. If those experiences appear inequitable, efforts can be made to close those gaps. Those efforts can include flexible team meeting hours, managing unconscious bias during meetings and in the decision-making process, rotating who gets to lead projects, providing equitable resources and support to each team member, especially underrepresented team members. In the end, transparency can significantly contribute to better functioning and sustainable, diverse teams.
The bar continues to rise on diverse and inclusive workplaces, and that certainly includes diverse leadership teams. Wise leaders understand and are driven by both the impact on the organization and the broader society. The one-year anniversary of the George Floyd killing was a reminder of the work that still needs to be done. It also created a renewed commitment by organizations to invest more and work harder to create inclusive organizations. The commitment has to start at the top, and you need a dedicated and diverse team to make it happen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandra Upton, DSL serves as VP, Global Diversity Practice, and provides strategic direction for applying Cultural Intelligence (CQ) to DEI work across all segments and industries. She previously worked with schools and universities through her role as Vice President of Educational Initiatives. In addition, she’s a regular speaker, trainer, and consultant on cultural intelligence with companies and non-profit organizations. As a former business school dean and organizational consultant, Sandra understands how to effectively integrate CQ with organizations’ D&I initiatives and global leadership programs. She has also facilitated study abroad experiences in places such as China, Europe, Israel, and South Africa. Sandra finds her greatest pleasure in spending time with her husband and two children. She also enjoys travel, reading, watching a good film, and long walks.
About the Cultural Intelligence Center
The Cultural Intelligence Center is an innovative, research-based consulting and training organization that draws upon empirical findings to help executives, companies, universities, and government organizations assess and improve cultural intelligence (CQ) – the ability to work effectively with people from different nationalities, ethnicities, age groups, and more. We provide you with innovative solutions that improve multicultural performance based on rigorous academic research. More information about the Cultural Intelligence Center can be found on our website located at http://www.CulturalQ.com.
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