Blogs / 10 Mar 2022 5 min

How to get leadership buy in to the diversity and inclusion agenda

We’re often approached by Chief People Officers or Heads of Talent and Inclusion, keen to find ways to help their top leadership team fully buy-in to the equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agenda. They know that without active support from the top team, building a truly diverse and inclusive culture is practically impossible.

In our experience, the reason for senior leader reticence around EDI usually falls in to one of three categories:

  1. They don’t believe it is an issue
  2. They see it, but don’t believe it is important enough to address
  3. They see it and believe it, but are nervous about their ability to provide leadership on this topic

Often there are a mix of these reasons in each senior leadership team.

So how do you get your top team onboard? We offer five steps to building commitment from your executive committee.

1. Get some facts (for those who don’t believe it is an issue)

For those who don’t believe inclusion and diversity to be an issue, you’re going to need some facts. Most ExCos value data, or at the very least are concerned by its absence. You’re going to want to trawl your HR system for gender differences in your key people processes: recruitment, promotion, talent identification and succession planning, salary reviews, performance reviews, employee engagement, labour turnover and so forth. Where are the biggest gaps and issues? Look at the data by grade, function, and location. One client we worked with was surprised when their data showed very clearly a challenge at a ExCo-2 level: up until that point women performed better, stayed longer and were more engaged than men. But at a specific grade level all these data points were reversed and women simply weren’t progressing. It was a powerful data story to share with their top leaders. For another client we backed up the hard data with quotes from focus groups and played audio recordings back to the executive team. It helped create some powerful aha moments.

2. Clearly articulate the pressure points (for those who don’t think it is a priority)

Identifying the pressure points the organisation is facing around EDI can help build a powerful platform for change. For some industries it is increasingly savvy consumers who want more transparency and progress. For others it is client pressure – we have heard stories from several clients of bids lost because the pitch team wasn’t sufficiently diverse. For others it is investors. For example, Legal and General have made it clear they will vote against the re-election of any Chair whose board consists of fewer than 25 per cent women. In other industries, such as financial services in the UK, regulatory pressure is increasingly requiring organisations to take inclusion and diversity seriously. For many organisations, talent attraction and retention is very real pressure. In an age where candidates can quickly and easily source data on an organisation’s diversity track record and gender pay gap, reputation challenges loom for those organisations who don’t take this seriously. The resultant inability to recruit from the broadest possible talent pool will leave some employers short of talent as the Great Resignation plays out. Build a narrative around the pressures facing your organisation and be sure to link this to the business strategy.

3. Build their skills (for those who have the will but not the skill to champion the work)

EDI leadership doesn’t come with a neat rulebook, and senior leaders who have never experienced exclusion personally can be nervous about championing diversity and inclusion. In our work with senior executives we often find fear to be at the heart of much inaction. Some are afraid of saying the wrong thing, or inadvertently causing offence, and as a result can be hesitant to actively lead the agenda. Senior executives may find it uncomfortable to ask for help so some awareness-raising of EDI basics around language, terminology and key principles can be helpful. At the same time, providing tailored support via coaching or mentoring can accelerate skills building and confidence in leading inclusion more actively.

4. Identify champions

Building inclusive cultures is a journey for most organisations, with senior leaders themselves at different stages of the journey. You don’t need everyone to be at the same level of readiness to get started. Go with where the energy is in order to get things off the ground, engaging those who have the highest will as early champions. This can sometimes generate some healthy curiosity and competition with others later following suit. For one client we are piloting activities in the part of the business that has the strongest champions, to help drive momentum and establish an approach that can later be deployed elsewhere.

5. Don’t try to boil the ocean

A common trap is to let enthusiasm overtake realism, and to try to do too much. The most effective EDI plans focus resources wisely on the two or three things that are likely to have the biggest impact against goals. All too often we have EDI leaders come to us with a self-diagnosis of the underpinning challenges, only to find that when we ask employees their views, that the actual barriers are quite different. Having a clear understanding of what the real issues are means that efforts can focus on solving the right problems. This enhances your reputation and credibility with your executive team as progress becomes evident and helps you to engage their support for subsequent activities.


If you’d like to discuss how Shape Talent can support you on this journey do get in touch.


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