Diversity initiatives are key to creating a healthy, inclusive, and equitable work environment. Ultimately, they help create a better society, as they give employment to those who need it and are also well-placed to deliver great outcomes for the business. Gainful, respectable employment and boosting diverse suppliers that traditionally employ minorities and spend in local communities are two of the biggest boosts for those who have historically been oppressed. But to achieve such lofty goals, experts must craft, execute, and test diversity initiatives that make sense of their companies.

That can only happen if an organization’s leadership takes the reigns and lead the way in driving the conscious implementation of these policies. That is critically important as even the best intentions can fail to deliver any impact if the implementation falls short. This could be because of a lack of translation of the importance of the strategy down the line or due to policies being deployed poorly.

There must be genuine participation on a large scale throughout the company and a focus on measuring progress and tracking results. Otherwise, how will anyone be able to figure out whether the policies work, how they can be improved, and other important details?

Let’s explore the role that the chief executives and board of directors play in driving these important initiatives.

Spearheading the Movement

The leaders on the board must start by ensuring the board itself is diverse and includes enough minorities and women to offer varied points of view. By creating an inclusive environment in the boardroom, they can help set the tone that DEI initiatives are important to the organization. They must agree to embed these into the business strategy. Then the CEO must ensure that there are tangible results that can be achieved. A partnership between the Chair and the CEO is essential. When all the leaders are on the same page, they’ll be able to drive these policies through the organization – starting with themselves. After all, the leaders of any group are the ones who set the standard in terms of behavior. They create the ideal culture by acting as role models.

To ensure the topmost leaders are prepared, workshops and educational sessions may help. Active participation in these will help show their minds and hearts are invested in it. These coaching sessions must be followed by analysis where the leadership can decide whether their organization is currently failing at DEI and where they must improve the most. Do they need more minority participation in their supplier base? How do they encourage participation of small businesses, a large number of whom have suffered disproportionately in the pandemic, in their procurement process? They must be honest and address the current issues. By assessing and acknowledging the realities, they’ll be able to make real change.

Establishing The Right Metrics

It’s extremely important to have specific performance metrics in place. These generate the data that reveals the effectiveness of all the initiatives. That will show if your policies are working and your money is being spent intelligently to implement your initiatives. It’ll also show where you can cut back, and which areas require more attention. The leadership must define performance metrics to measure how managers and executives are performing in fulfilling the corporations’ supplier diversity goals. For instance, if the corporation has set a goal to use diverse suppliers for 15% of all spend, how will executives and managers be measured and rewarded for achievement of that goal? These metrics must be used in their groups as well as such practices trickle from the top down.

The best metrics include a focus on every stage of the enterprise and employee life cycle. Speaking of supplier diversity, it includes the diverse supplier evaluation and development practices, increased diverse and small business supplier representation in the procurement process, and more. When there is sufficient diversity in the supplier pool, we can say the sourcing and procurement processes have the potential to meet DEI metrics.

This also rings true for selecting board members and candidates for leadership positions. To increase representation, use diversity and inclusion surveys, leverage data, identify which groups are underrepresented in your board room and executive suite, and collect more data.

Asking The Tough Questions

For effective diversity programs, there is no other way but for the board to get engaged by asking the tough questions they need to ask. While some of the questions surrounding DEI can be awkward (after all, even leadership can be prone to subconscious biases), it’s important to address these issues. Ask yourselves:

  • Is the executive team diverse?
  • How diverse is the board of directors?
  • What about your managerial team?
  • What is the makeup of each team?
  • What kind of leadership training programs do you offer?
  • Is your work environment open and communicative?
  • How do you celebrate diversity?

Ask these questions to peers and to multiple other people in the organizations to get a clear idea.

DEI Successes.. and Failures

A good example of a successful DEI implementation, led from the top, can be seen in Johnson & Johnson. The global healthcare group has been listed on DiversityInc’s top 50 a whopping 14 times. They’ve been a DiversityInc ‘Hall of Famer’-er in 2018. They’ve been on the Forbes 2020 list of “The Best Employers for Diversity”, and a 2019 “Leading Inclusion Index” member. In 2020, the group made it to the “Top 10 Inclusion Index Member” from “Diversity Best Practices.”

According to their board chairman and CEO, Alex Gorsky, “Diversity & Inclusion at Johnson & Johnson is not just a commitment—it is the reality of how we live and work. The best innovations can only come if our people reflect the world’s full diversity of individuals, opinions, and approaches.” They’ve put their efforts into advancing a culture of inclusion and innovation, creating a diverse workforce, and enhancing their business results and reputation. Also, with a single person acting as their board chairman and CEO, there is no question of disharmony in leadership. So, it’s no wonder they’ve been able to successfully implement a cohesive DEI strategy across the organization. They’ve also clearly aligned their DEI initiatives with their business results and reputation. That’s indicative of their mindset and how seriously they’re taking their DEI initiatives. Unfortunately, other industries have a way to travel before they can showcase such success stories. In fact, progress is overdue if the stats are any indication. For instance, 83% of tech executives are white and only 37% of companies have at least 1 woman on the board.

No matter how good your DEI initiatives are, they’re doomed to fail if there’s a lack of commitment from leadership, a lack of vision, and the harmful perception of DEI being viewed as a political weapon or a game with winners and losers. Thus, the board of directors and the C-Suite must take charge and lead by example. Their role in driving change is key, and only if they’re ready, will true transformation take place.