Leading Diversity From the Front

It is commonly understood nowadays that organizations must have a diverse workforce. However, a deeper question remains: Who is responsible for ensuring a company has — and maintains — a diverse workforce?

Even when it is not part of their job, leaders from every part of an organization must make it their responsibility.

At Accenture, for instance, training is central to how the company runs its business. It spends more than $850 million a year on training, much of which focuses specifically on leadership and diversity. For example, the company offers training on how to lead a diverse workforce, on helping women progress to senior roles and helping leaders to better understand how unconscious bias influences hiring, promotion and talent management.

Achieving and maintaining diversity is a group effort, and no matter where an employee works or what a company culture is, the person responsible for leading diversity efforts in an organization can’t simply wave a wand and make all the necessary pieces come together.

There are, however, steps leaders can take to make the effort more effective.

First, of course, is commitment and leadership from the top. Leaders must step out in front and demonstrate their commitment to diversity, not just by hiring a diverse workforce, but also by making the day-to-day decisions that keep people engaged.

Second, leaders must communicate with — and engage — people at all levels in the organization. Everyone has to have a role in the culture, and leaders have a responsibility to make the decisions and communicate the messages that encourage diversity.

Third, leaders must be coaches and role models for the rest of the organization, no matter how large or small. People love to learn about best practices, and what succeeds in one area of a company has a good chance of succeeding in another. Bring new people on the journey and make them advocates, team players and success stories.

Diversity is crucial to any successful business. The question is how to get on that road to diversity, keep going and make sure you reach your destination. Education about unconscious bias and how it impacts decision-making about talent is a key part of the answer. It provides the information and perspective.

Steve Rohleder is the group chief executive for Accenture’s Health and Public Service operating group. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.