According to our diversity and inclusion research at CEB, now Gartner, creating an inclusive team climate is just as important as improving diversity. However, organizations still struggle to determine what inclusion looks like for them. For many of us, the concept of diversity is concrete, but inclusion feels a lot less defined. D&I budgets are increasingly focused on leadership development and D&I leaders are making inclusive leadership a priority, but most employees don’t agree that their manager fosters an inclusive environment, and perceptions of inclusivity are lower further down the organization chart than they are among senior leaders.
In a session on building inclusive leaders at our ReimagineHR conference on Wednesday, we heard from Bob Lennon, VP of Industrial Components Business at Rockwell Automation; Aida Sabo, VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Parexel; and Celeste Warren, VP of HR and the Global D&I Center of Excellence at Merck, about how they are defining inclusion for their organizations and implementing it in their organizational cultures. Here are some key ideas that came up in Wednesday’s conversation for how to encourage inclusiveness among leaders and the entire workforce:
Create a Common Language of Inclusion
The definitions of “diversity” and “inclusion” can vary across organizations and each leader and employee also may have a different interpretation of how these live within the company. The most successful organizations, however, define the D&I narrative for all their leaders and employees globally. By using a common vocabulary to communicate D&I efforts to the workforce, the organization can have a clear understanding of what inclusion means. Storytelling also can be an essential tool for communicating the success of inclusion initiatives, as it is important to know what metrics and success stories to share with leaders, employees, and external stakeholders to create transparency and accountability.
Make Inclusion About the Entire Workforce
Oftentimes employees who do not identify as a part of a marginalized talent segment feel excluded by D&I efforts, but according to our panelists, it is not only important to get these employees to buy into inclusion, they are in fact an essential part of these initiatives. Some employees get stuck because they don’t know where they are in their own journey of inclusion or recognize the significance of supporting D&I as an ally.
At our ReimagineHR summit in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, dozens of heads of HR, HR business partners, learning and development leaders and specialists convened in a peer benchmarking session on leadership, or more specifically, what their organizations are doing to improve the effectiveness of their leadership in the future.
When we talk about leadership, different people and organizations have different ideas of what the word “leader” means. Most of the organizations represented in the room define “leader” as anyone who manages other people, while about 20 percent said it referred specifically to the top three to four layers of management, whose decisions affect the entire company. Other participants noted that while they have a specific definition of “leader” as manager, they expect all of their employees to demonstrate leadership, or identify employees who are not managers themselves but still lead their colleagues through their influence.
When we talk about leadership development, though, we are usually talking about identifying the people who will succeed the current generation of senior managers and executives at the organization. Here are some of the topics that came up in Wednesday’s discussion of what HR professionals are thinking, worrying, and getting excited about as they try to identify the leaders of tomorrow:
Developing Leaders for the Future Is the Primary Concern
The majority of participants said this was their biggest challenge at the moment. In the conversation that followed, several people attributed this challenge to the rapid pace of change in today’s business environment. Developing people within an environment of constant change is tricky, they said, as it becomes harder to be sure that what leaders and prospective leaders are learning today will still be valuable to the business when the time comes to use it. Even more importantly, the consistency of change means that leadership development becomes an ongoing journey. An employee can no longer acquire a single set of “leadership skills” and believe they will always be ready to lead with that skill set.
As one of the most powerful and visible women in corporate America, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has already had a great deal of influence on how the business world thinks about gender equality and women in leadership. Yet Sandberg’s approach to leadership has itself been influenced by events in her own personal and professional life, as Backchannel’s Jessi Hempel notes in a review of her new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, coauthored with Wharton management professor Adam Grant. Indeed, Hempel observes, the leadership lessons Sandberg distilled into Option B were learned in the aftermath of her husband Dave Goldberg’s untimely death in 2015:
Sandberg never intended to grieve publicly. Whether driven by intuition or the smart counsel of friends like Grant, she simply did everything she knew to feel better. And because it’s the way she operates, she felt compelled to share what she’d learned about the hardest thing that has yet happened to her. The more she shared, the more people — Facebook’s employees; random strangers who’d experienced their own loss — reached back to her, and their messages (often posted on Facebook) made her feel less alone. …
It took Sandberg falling apart completely for her to come up with Option B. She had to survive a loss that briefly seemed insurmountable to bring us her next big idea. In the process, somewhat by accident because she felt she had no other choice she found a way to bring even more of her whole, messy, sad, intelligent, demanding, heartbroken self to work.
In the past Sandberg has written candidly about how losing her husband had changed her as a person, a mother, and as a leader: Last Mother’s Day, she posted a personal message to Facebook describing what she had learned about the unique challenges of being a single working mother, which had helped her understand some of the blind spots in her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. And of course, the new bereavement and caregiving leave benefits Facebook rolled out earlier this year were directly informed by Sandberg’s personal experience. But these were more than just policy changes, Hempel adds; with Option B, Sandberg is advocating a business culture that embraces employees’ and leaders’ humanity rather than trying to transcend it or push it aside:
The executive order issued by President Trump on Friday, which temporarily barred refugees and citizens of seven designated countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—from entering the US, has been met with some criticism from the ranks of America’s corporate leaders. In statements to employees and to the press, many CEOs have expressed concern that either the order itself or the new administration’s more restrictive approach to immigration in general will be disruptive to business and harmful to their ability to hire and retain talent, as well as their diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor gives an overview of corporate America’s reaction to the president’s polarizing order:
“Employees do hold their CEOs and leadership accountable for defending those values when the line has been crossed,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber-Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist. After years of communicating and focusing on diversity and inclusion as a corporate value, she says, CEOs “do feel under a lot of pressure right now, and are trying to figure out what to say about Trump’s ban and how to speak to their employees. They’ve set a high bar and an expectation that diversity really matters. That is adding a lot of firepower to getting CEOs to speak up.”
Some of the statements from CEOs have included not only concerns but personal reflections. “I am deeply concerned, as many of you are, with this fracture in our society,” wrote MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, who was born in India. “I am an immigrant into this wonderful country. I came here midway through my career and have over the past years made this my home and pledged my allegiance to all that the Constitution stands for.” …
CEOs are human beings and have their own political beliefs, but they also oversee employees whose politics can vary widely and differ greatly from their own. Emotions have run particularly high throughout the US presidential campaign that concluded in last Tuesday’s election, and we are now hearing from the companies we work with that many of their employees were stunned by Donald Trump’s victory and have had extreme emotional reactions to it. This Chicago Tribune feature on how local employers have been handling the aftermath of the election gives an indication of what leaders are dealing with:
Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, the law firm’s Chicago-based workplace consulting arm, said some Clinton supporters were calling company employee assistance programs and “reporting depressing thoughts or even sinking feelings of doom” after nights spent in a “Facebook-fueled sadness spiral.” One marketing firm, he said, reported that employees were experiencing stress reactions such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and sweaty palms.
On the victorious side, some Trump supporters were celebrating, Weiss said. He described a cargo hauler based south of Chicago that reported “high-fives and cheers as well as some over-the-top gloating,” including terms like “losers.”
Given these extreme reactions, many CEOs are now deciding how to communicate with their workforces about the employees are experiencing. But before any communications are sent, CEOs need to realize that what they say either has the opportunity to refocus their workforce and move them forward or to alienate their workforces and create a productivity drag.
The past few days have given us a couple of high-profile examples to learn from. GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney attracted some controversy with an email to all employees on Wednesday denouncing some of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric and seemingly urging employees who agreed with it to resign. As Ross Kelly explains at Chief Executive, that email prompted some backlash:
Hard times—specifically, a succession crisis—sometimes prompt boards of directors to appoint two or three individuals to play the role of CEO after a leader steps down and a permanent replacement can’t be found right away. That sort of arrangement can work out, particularly on a short-term basis, as long as it’s properly planned for. More permanent dual-CEO arrangements are rarer; Whole Foods has had two CEOs for the past six years, but last week, the supermarket chain announced that founder John Mackey would continue in the role alone while his former co-executive Walter Robb would shift into a senior advisory role and remain a member of the company’s board.
As Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor explains, Whole Foods’ decision to abandon joint leadership comes as it deals with heightened competition and dwindling sales—a situation that many organizations have found calls for the kind of decisive action that a unitary chief executive can take more readily than a team:
With that news, the number of major U.S. corporations that have two co-CEOs were just slashed by a quarter. Just three other companies in the S&P 500 — Chipotle, Oracle and Torchmark Corporation — have co-chief executives who share the company’s most powerful role, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. The unusual leadership structure is one that management experts say can work well in certain circumstances, but is also fraught with potential problems, from personal infighting to slow decision-making.
Amid a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers this year, the attack on police officers in Dallas in July, and the recent mass protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, we’ve noted before how corporate leaders in the US can’t afford to ignore institutional racism, police violence, and the social movements that have arisen to address them. These are emotionally fraught and politically sensitive issues for executives—especially white executives—to wade into, and striking the right tone in talking about them isn’t easy.
With that in mind, take a moment to watch AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s recent remarks at his organization’s national Employee Resource Groups conference. Stephenson hits a number of concordant notes in this speech, acknowledging his own erroneous assumptions and blind spots when it comes to race, enumerating the lessons he learned by listening to black people talk about their experiences of racism as individuals and a community, and not only affirming the need to carry on this conversation at AT&T but also stressing that “it probably ought to start with me.” He then goes on to praise the Black Lives Matter movement and explain why he believes “all lives matter” is not an appropriate reaction to its rallying cry.
Stephenson may attract some controversy with this speech, but he nonetheless leaves no doubts in his employees’ minds about where he stands on these matters of great urgency to black Americans.