Developing a Pro-DEI Culture Requires Structural Change at the Leadership Level

A Woman Wearing a Business Attire

“Most of us are outsiders. It just depends on where we’re looking in or out from.” – Trevor Noah

It seems that overnight, almost every company has chosen Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – DEI – as its #1 initiative for 2021. In reality, it has been an issue for decades, but its front and center societal acknowledgement has come quickly. Studies on the effectiveness of DEI training reveal that it is often ineffective at changing attitudes and behaviors and can even sometimes exacerbate defensive attitudes.

So, what next steps should leaders take when they want to make impactful change? First, a little background.

Addressing the Unseen Barrier to Change
In the rush to address DEI, organizations may overlook the prerequisite need to address blind spots, such as pre-existing and often unrecognized unconscious cultural and racial biases. These are obstacles to advancing an individual’s perspective and an organization’s culture. While this recognition can come slowly, it must happen if organizations are to move forward and cultivate a culture that embraces DEI. First and foremost, it must first happen for leaders who set the standards for the rest of the company.

Recognition of blind spots and behavioral change do not come about simply through conversations and initiatives, and they don’t change overnight. Created at the unconscious and subconscious levels, behavioral patterns are deeply ingrained. Often, people aren’t aware of their origins, only that it’s the way they think. When another questions an individual’s thinking, conflict can ignite. But blind spots can be uncovered and addressed when done so with purpose.

Cultural Change Requires Agile Leadership
As Gandhi said, “…be the change you wish to see….”
To succeed in today’s rapidly changing business climate, organizations and their leaders must be agile, and while a comprehensive approach is required in order to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture, here are three simple things leaders can do to get started on the right path:

1. Lead By Example. Senior leaders not only influence the culture of the entire organization but are more likely to go unquestioned. Therefore, as a general rule, those with the greatest power need to do the most rethinking. Inspiring individuals who drive positive change lead by example and actively engage in their own development. Working on themselves first before working on others, they develop humility and empathy, demonstrating virtues such as compassion, kindness, and care for their team members.

2. Peel Back the Onion. Once leaders are engaged, organizations must uncover the underlying behaviors within their organization – layer by layer. These are the issues at the very core that could be contributing to a non-inclusive culture. As blind spots are uncovered, people begin to open to the exploration of the origins of their own beliefs and reconsideration of their thoughts about other groups and individuals that they consider different from themselves. This leads to individual breakthroughs and a readiness to accept new tools and discussions.

3. Develop the Culture. Opening individuals within the company to a different way of thinking about others is most effective when carried out one-on-one. Simultaneous pairing of breakthrough, one-on-one coaching with team-centered leadership development is followed by significant, rapid, cultural change within the organization. We think of an effective leadership development program as one which understands the company’s core leadership competencies first, enabling company-wide alignment of language and expectations for higher levels of collaboration and performance.

The Advantage of Taking a Closer Look
While this 3-step process is a great bird’s-eye view, the simple truth is that setting up DEI initiatives for success takes time, and a thoughtful approach. Implementing such initiatives inevitably takes longer and costs more when they are not underpinned first by addressing leadership development needs. A comprehensive approach results in lasting change for individuals across the entire organization, yielding leadership structures that are aligned for DEI effectiveness and bottom-line results.

About Velocity’s Leadership Development Program
Velocity’s Leadership Development Program includes behavioral assessments (leaders’ actual behavior and how it is experienced by others), online skill education, team dynamic work, team project alignment and tracking, one-on-one coaching, accountability tools, and use of leadership competencies for role and performance management. Developing leaders simultaneously through this program guarantees the ability to move forward and achieve initiatives. It will also enable early recognition of leaders that may be falling behind, and the opportunity to quickly adjust to keep leadership teams on track. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the specifics of how Velocity’s Leadership Development Program can transform your organization’s leaders and its future.