All Articles Leadership Strategy Not sure how to promote inclusion? Go all in

Not sure how to promote inclusion? Go all in

It's time to think differently about diversity and inclusion. Here's how

5 min read



By now, most organizations realize inclusivity and diversity are essential to long-term success.

Case in point: A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with above-average leadership diversity outperformed their less-diverse competitors by 19 percentage points in regard to innovation revenue. The report shows that adding just a few women or minorities into the management mix can reap real rewards: A 2.5% increase in female representation on the manager level equals one full percentage point in added innovation revenue, for example.

Even without hard statistics, smart leaders instinctively know the world has changed thanks in part to the millennial mindset. Young and mid-career workers want to invest their efforts in organizations that include everyone regardless of background, ethnicity or any other differentiating factor. Make no mistake: Superstars will quickly take their talent elsewhere if they feel their current workplace’s corporate culture is falling short of inclusivity approaches.

In this environment, diversity rules, yet it can be tough to nail down.

True inclusion must take into consideration context to determine whether it is successful. For instance, the Harvard Business Review looked at the failed attempts of big corporations to improve inclusion. They could prove they had hired a certain number of employees from particular backgrounds, but they weren’t necessarily allowing those workers to participate fully.

In fact, a “filling the seats” diversity focus often led to increased bias and related behaviors among colleagues. Though they looked diverse on paper, they acted quite the opposite.

Without a doubt, companies must put an end to this “illusion of inclusion” and begin fostering workplaces that respect and recruit talent from the whole pool, not just the shallow end. Leadership can start by investing in a few strategies to improve real, honest-to-goodness diversity and inclusion:

Promote on the basis of talent, not always tenure

The parameters you use to determine promotability are indicators of cultural inclusivity. Do you actively look at the whole person when promoting, thereby searching for candidates at all levels of the company to gauge ideal fit? Or do you have a hierarchy that may be tough for some workers to navigate? Your recruitment and hiring strategies might be tilted toward employees representing certain demographics. If that is the case, devise a better system to give all workers a chance at managerial positions.

When reviewing your hiring and promotion processes, it’s important that you have a work environment where the opinions of women and minorities are asked for and valued. Give these underrepresented employees roles or tasks that allow them to broaden their professional exposure and perspectives.

Better yet, groom the most talented folks on your team to eventually be promoted — a mentorship program for those with high potential.

There may not be a better company example than BlackRock when it comes to aggressive adaptation of diversity and inclusion measures. The organization has put 2,500 senior-level managers through a training initiative called “Driving Better Decisions,” which aims to educate attendees about unconscious biases and the tools that can mitigate those biases.

In response, BlackRock has changed some HR processes to help foster diversity. The company has promised to have 30% female leadership in senior management by 2020, and 52% of its new hires in 2018 were ethnic minorities.

BlackRock also manages a Founders Scholarship that is available for black, Hispanic, Native American, LGBT, and disabled college students who demonstrate leadership in creating and sustaining diverse communities. The $15,000 merit scholarship and corresponding summer internship helps underrepresented groups get footholds in the global investment industry and helps BlackRock increase the diversity of its new hires.

Other ways to pave an inclusive path

Forget about the corporate ladder and install an elevator that goes up and down without limits. Exposing workers to senior leadership offers incredible opportunities for cross-pollination. Leaders absorb diverse viewpoints, and employees feel valued by management. This can build trust and pique curiosity, too. And curiosity naturally sets the stage for innovation, a trait three-quarters of C-suite executives want out of their organizations, according to a Boston Consulting Group study.

Just make sure to avoid puppet measures. Sitting on a high-powered task force to be a “diverse face” and actually being given a prominent role on the task force are two different experiences. Encourage employees from underrepresented groups to lead special projects, a la board Chairman Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo.

Nooyi instituted programs that offered all workers the chance to showcase and hone their skill sets. Her focus on inclusiveness brought about fresh changes to PepsiCo and ushered in new talent.

Diversity is essential if you want your organization to remain relevant in the coming years. Don’t worry, though: Becoming more inclusive doesn’t have to be hard. Instead of merely concentrating on metrics and documentation, open your culture to the improved sophistication, innovation, productivity and financial return that inclusive businesses enjoy. You’ll be amazed at what your teams can accomplish when you remove the barriers to inclusivity.


Sona Jepsen is a writer and speaker helping people be so good, they can’t be ignored. She enjoys fixing, and growing businesses. Sona is passionate about people and performance with purpose.

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