C-Suite Agenda

Leaders Can Make Their Teams More Inclusive

As business leaders, we understand the importance of creating a healthy work environment for our employees. At least one-third of our days are dedicated to the roles we play in our professional lives and work often bleeds into more of our personal lives than we anticipate. Particularly as leaders, we know that now, more than ever, work connects us to our greater senses of purpose, our values, and our personal missions. The global calls for justice inspired by Black Lives Matter protests have communicated a clear desire for racial equity in our societies. While police brutality was the central focus of the protests, conversations such as the one started by the “Pull Up Or Shut Up” challenge, a call to action for brands to disclose the racial makeup of employees and their levels within companies, have highlighted the importance of addressing systemic injustice perpetrated by all institutions including those in business. While I do value any actions of businesses expressing support for Black Lives Matter, including statements of solidarity, I also welcome business leaders creating inclusive communities. Here are four tips to help leaders play their parts in creating a more inclusive world.

  1. Hold your staff accountable
    Accountability has become a widely used term when discussing diversity and inclusion practices. But what does it truly mean to hold your staff accountable? First, as a leader, you can reflect on your company’s missions and values. How do you want your business to impact people? What do you want to do that goes beyond revenue? Are there contradictions between your stated idealist values and mission and the diversity and inclusivity of your company? Building on this, create procedures that uphold these mission statements and values. Leaders should also give thought to creating reporting tools that do not endanger the security of those who are willing to speak up. Creating consequences for those in your organization who work against your mission and values will create a supportive environment for people of diverse backgrounds and align your leadership to the company ideals.
  2. Let your team show up as they are
    Make sure your team leaders recognize the positives of diversity by affirming the choices and behaviors that make your employees who they are. This can be done through tactics such as culturally themed social events or flexible dress codes to account for the array of backgrounds people will have. Be intentional when creating these opportunities to praise diversity to ensure your staff understands these instances are not just random fun events. This flexibility will encourage more creativity and trust in your organization.
  3. Provide options to accommodate your staff
    In order to build a diverse staff, company leaders can create an environment in which people are free to prioritize their individual needs. Currently, companies are doing great work finding ways, such as remote work or company provided masks and sanitizers, to adapt to the public health crisis we are all facing. In planning for a post-COVID world, the desire to find ways to prioritize employee comfort with the style of working allowed is a great tool to encourage inclusivity. For example, remote working opportunities could be extremely beneficial for parents, particularly mothers, who may have more flexibility with childcare if they have the ability to create their own working space. Ultimately, the energy saved by parents and mothers could greatly diminish the gender inequalities faced in many workplaces. Another flexibility option is for work schedules to take religious holidays and culturally significant dates into account when creating policies for time off and the payment afforded during those times. Finding ways to allow staff to feel empowered to prioritize the things that matter to them will add to the loyalty and safety felt by your employees.
  4. Have Diversity and Inclusion embedded in the company
    Executive leadership teams have a responsibility to illustrate the value of diversity and inclusion consistently. Leaders should frequently reference language regarding diversity and inclusion into their internal and external communication. As it becomes ingrained in your company’s culture that your leaders value inclusion, you can, in parallel, focus on your staff. Diversity and inclusion measures should be agreed upon by leadership and built into KPIs. At the roots of your business, the wellbeing of people should be a priority. Hiring practices, behavioral policies, and much more need to be intentional in order to minimize the consequences of subconscious, implicit or historical bias.

Discrimination and stigmatization are an unfortunate reality of the world we live in. Fortunately for us, we all have a role to play in creating safer communities for marginalized people. Finding the most authentic ways to integrate these tips will help you build a diverse team. Diversity is not only valuable to aid in changing our world, but it allows your team to be stronger and more creative. We must all play our parts in finding ways to integrate equality into our work lives.

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Jesmane Boggenpoel
Jesmane Boggenpoel is the author of My Blood Divides and Unites, a book that discusses the topics of race and identity as they relate to her life living under apartheid, with a section on technology for good that will help create solutions for marginalized communities. She is a Chartered Accountant (SA). She completed the master’s in public administration at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2012 in the US. Her book tells the stories of herself, and many others, as a call to action toward racial reconciliation during one of the most divisive times in history. The book illustrates ways in which government, media, and businesses can become inspirational leaders that serve as global changemakers. Ms. Boggenpoel is an Edward S Mason Fellow and was a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. She has experience speaking about the Technology industry and is on the board of a large listed technology company in South Africa (EOH), is Chairperson of a fintech company servicing Africa (Sybrin) and is on the Digital Economy working group of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). She would provide a unique perspective on breaking into the industry and the functions of leaders in the industry as it relates to their views on hiring diverse candidates. Jesmane Boggenpoel is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.