How leadership can drive diversity and inclusion in the company

Numerous studies confirm that commitment from senior leaders is key for the coherent implementation of diversity policies in organisations.

Carlos Cortés

This article forms part of the report 'Policies and Practices for Diversity and Inclusion: a Special Study on Functional Diversity' by the Esade Institute for Social Innovation and Randstad. 

Leadership has a decisive effect on the implementation and coherence of diversity policies. Numerous studies coincide on this, all of them pointing to the huge influence leaders' behaviour exerts on their teams. 

According to a study by ISS Denmark, leaders of teams built with diversity in mind unleash, in order to adapt to the different competencies of their members, greater potential to develop relationships and greater empathy, and are better at harnessing the team's competencies. The added value of the leadership of diverse teams is confirmed by Forbes magazine in this recent article, on noting that “teams that are unable to manage diversity will have trouble coping in disruptive times such as the present.” As we stated in our Esade study on CSR and people management, it is a matter of finding “the exercise of a responsible leadership that connects purpose, the achievement of results and caring about the people in the team.” 

Leadership is key for the implementation and coherence of diversity policies

The positive effects are clear. According to this study by DDI, those who exercise their leadership in companies with a strong diversity and inclusion culture foster more trusting relationships, devote time to recognising the members of their teams, and encourage them to express their concerns and challenge the status quo. When leaders behave this way, employees multiply by seven their sensation of inclusive culture. Along the same lines, according to Deloitte, in this type of organisational culture willingness to change increases by 1.8 times, there is 1.7 times more innovation, and the probability of generating solid leaderships is almost tripled (2.9 times more). 

For Cegos, one in three employees – and the same proportion of talent managers – states that commitment from the management team is a necessary factor to bring these inclusion values to the highest level of the company. Thus, 44% of employees and 37% of talent managers believe that their line manager is aware of the impact of these issues, and a similar percentage consider him or her to be a reliable partner in this regard. In fact, only one in six thinks that his or her immediate superior fails to acknowledge the impact of his or her prejudices on decision-making. This is undoubtedly an encouraging sign. 

As regards the exemplary function of leadership, according to an ILO report, when senior leaders act as role models in diversity and inclusion, the result is 11% more well-being and 10% more courage to say how things could be done better. Lastly, a publication by the World Economic Forum and Mercer reinforces the idea of senior leaders committing to diversity and inclusion to the same degree as they commit to business demands, and adds the need for training for leaders to overcome biases and stereotypes or tools such as mentorship. 

The incorporation of diverse people into management posts could bring a huge benefit

All these behaviours are examples of walking the talk, as the research reported in this article confirms. The conclusions show that “although statements by CEOs about diversity (for example, stressing the importance of diversity in public speeches or talking to employees about diversity) matter, the actual behaviour of CEOs must reinforce the statements they make in public.” 

Imagine, then, the huge benefit that would be gained through the incorporation of diverse people into management posts. As is the case with gender, having persons with disabilities in the area of corporate representation acts as a real and efficient lever for the effective inclusion of this population group. 

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