Many of our Central PA businesses can point to their diverse hiring initiatives or how they provide regular diversity training to their employees, however, I think about a compelling question that a good friend of mine, Romeo Azondekon, vice president of Student Services at Central Penn College, once asked me: “Who are in your small rooms?”
Throughout my career, as a young professional, diversity and inclusion have been a constant theme in the workplace. I started my career in banking by receiving a Diversity Scholarship award and I spent years working with under-represented entrepreneurs to create a more equitable economy in Lancaster County. Now, working with organizational leaders to create a more equitable culture, we are finding our workforce to be more diverse than ever but not necessarily inclusive.
What Romeo meant by that powerful question is “who are the people in your organization that are making strategic decisions?” Are they reflective of the stakeholders you serve? Many organizations are satisfied with their frontline employees being diverse and reflective of their customers. They may hire a bilingual employee who is able to engage with their Spanish-speaking clients. However, that isn’t a truly inclusive workplace. As we look at the major functions of our business, from finance to marketing, who is carrying out the vision? And do we invite our employees who may offer a different perspective based on their unique background to give valuable insight into a new project, marketing campaign or product?
In order for us as managers and executives to truly be inclusive leaders, we must enhance our own self-awareness through what author, Jennifer Brown, calls the Inclusive Leader Continuum. The ILC is the idea that when it comes to inclusion all leaders are either unaware, aware, active, or an advocate.
Unaware. Unaware leaders conduct business as usual. They make claims that they don’t hire based on color or gender, but rather on performance. These types of leaders are unaware of their own biases.
Aware. Aware leaders know that their workforce isn’t representative of their stakeholders and may be aware of their own bias. However, they have not taken any action to make changes.
Active. Active leaders are aware of their bias and that they can be more inclusive. They have taken action to hire outside of their network and provide training to their employees.
Advocate. Leaders who act as advocates strive to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace by understanding their implicit bias and raising their awareness of fairness within the organization. They update their policies and procedures to reflect fair hiring practices and pay transparency. Advocates provide career development opportunities that are inclusive, and they find a path from the frontline to leadership within the organization.
Being an inclusive leader makes your organization stronger, faster and better. Not only does inclusivity build the bottom line, but it increases creativity and employees are more engaged during the work day. This leads to better customer service and decreases employee turnover.
The Gap Inc. has seen a resurgence in the retail industry after not only purchasing popular B Corp brands such as Athleta and Hill City, but also by investing in diversity and inclusion. The Gap Inc has rolled out unconscious bias training, created a mentoring program for next-gen leaders, and in 2018 signed the Open to All Business Pledge to reaffirm that their workplace is safe and welcoming to all. If you’re looking for a way for your organization to have a competitive advantage, inclusive leadership is a great place to start.
This post originally appeared in the Central Penn Business Journal.