It’s common knowledge that women and minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions. Less obvious, however, are viable solutions to increase representation.
Steve Scheier, founder and CEO of Scheier+Group, believes the only way to build diverse leadership is to empower women and minorities to be decision-makers in their organization. Determining who makes the decisions at an organization, Scheier argues, is the best way to target bias. When the decision-making process is inclusive, then bias can be avoided and diversity can be achieved.
Below are edited excerpts from Scheier’s interview with Diversity Executive.
How can empowering minorities to be decision-makers with an organization contribute to more diverse leadership?
By explicitly empowering minorities in our organizations to be decision-makers, we’ll grow more diverse leadership. You can’t become a leader unless you’re making decisions. If we encourage more people to make credible, well thought-out decisions, we’ll be creating more potential leaders.
We do ourselves and our organizations a disservice when we explicitly or implicitly divide our employees into “implementer” and “decision-maker” categories. There is an implicit bias that many can implement but few can decide, and we need to challenge these limiting beliefs. We all have biases with regard to who is best equipped and whom we can trust to make decisions in our organizations.
Think about it. If you look at your organization’s leadership team, what does the composition of this group say about the implicit biases that may be manifest in your organization? If your leadership team is composed of mostly white men, what does that say about who in your organization is trusted to make decisions? If women are on your leadership team but they’re not trusted to make the big decisions, what does that say about who has power and true decision-making authority? If you have diverse staff but they are clustered in the lower echelons of your organization, what does that say about your organization’s willingness to use their decision-making abilities?
Everyone in your organization knows who makes the big decisions and who is relegated to the sidelines. We’re just not encouraged, or provided with the tools, to talk about it. There are no accidents and while the biases that put these frameworks in place may be ready to fall, they will not unless we question how decisions are made and by whom, and then take stock of and use all of the decision-making talent in our organizations. If we give diverse people the power to make more decisions, we will get more diverse decision-makers.
Why is it important to have diversity in leadership and decision-making?
Because it’s what we need to do to build a just and even more innovative society where all people have the ability to express their talents and add their insights and creativity. Why would we want to limit our decision-making capabilities by restricting decision-makers to those who went to elite schools or have money or a particular skin pigment? We live in a global and very complex world, and to successfully compete, we have to take into account and make maximum use of our human capital resources. It can’t be an option. It’s not something we can do when we have the time. We have to do it now. So diversity in leadership and decision-making is important because it will bring more and better answers to the questions that confront us and feed an optimistic vein in our society that needs significant replenishment.
What can companies do to achieve more diversity in decision-making?
The most important step that companies or nonprofits can take is to encourage people to self-advocate for the decisions they want to make or support. How? By opening our minds to the possibility that decision-making does not have to be held by the few actually, with the right process and language, can be offered to others. This can happen without chaos, and people will be amazed once it begins. People who have been silent will speak up, and they will offer innovations and ideas and a level of commitment that once seemed impossible.
How might bias affect the way decisions are currently being made?
Bias can limit us in choosing which people we involve in our decision-making processes. Bias can lead us to ignore or dismiss pertinent data. It also affects which decisions we focus on and which ones we avoid.
In our culture the word “bias” is loaded because it’s often equated with hate. So we’re unwilling to talk about our biases or even acknowledge we have them. But we do. And our fear of examining these creates an environment that perpetuates the silence. If we can’t examine our biases, then we can improve neither the quality of our decision-making nor how decision-making occurs in our organizations. If we can bring our biases to the surface and examine whether or not they are valid, we’ll all be better off.