EY: Driving DEI Progress: 5 Inclusive Leadership Behaviors to Adopt Today

The spotlight on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts at companies isn’t going to fade anytime soon. Expectations have changed and demand is growing from both internal and external stakeholders for companies to operate with greater transparency, accountability and measurement around their DEI progress.

At the same time, companies have become more vocal in their commitment to DEI, sharing insights about their people and programs publicly in an overall movement to drive further and faster change. Those efforts aren’t going unnoticed by their employees – three-quarters of white-collar workers believe that their company’s commitment to DEI is authentic, according to the 2022 EY US Generation Survey.

For DEI to be successful, the tone needs to be set at the top and at all levels of leadership or management in an organization. Leaders need to talk the talk and walk the walk, meaning they need to be inclusive in their decision-making and equitable in the experiences and opportunities available in order to provide equal outcomes for all employees.

Is this a tall order? Absolutely. It requires ongoing and close looks at assignments, feedback, on-the-job coaching, sponsorship, mentoring and more.

The leaders who I speak with regularly at companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and professional organizations are eager to flex their inclusive leadership muscle. They’re inquisitive learners who continue to step up, lean in, learn and grow.

Here are five behaviors the most inclusive leaders tend to model:

  • Seek out diverse perspectives and opinions. This is particularly important in a hybrid work environment, when some people are in person and others are remote. In meetings, make room for different voices by balancing “airtime” across people, not just letting the most vocal or loudest contribute.
  • Check in. This is a powerful tool and contributes to an overall sense of belonging at work. Be OK with asking the question: How are you doing? And don’t take the initial response: I’m doing great. Instead, follow up with: No, how are you really doing? That’s how you will get to the real answer and open the door for true dialogue.
  • Be equitable with opportunities. Our brains tend to gravitate toward those who are like us or those that we are most familiar with. Don’t just pick the same people time and time again. When it comes to building teams, staffing projects or assigning tasks, consider the skills needed for the job rather than the person.
  • Challenge the status quo. Use the framework: preference, tradition, requirement to help find new ways of working. For example, rather than making decisions based on people’s preferences of traditions – that is, this is the way things have always been done – be sure decisions are fair and equitable, not one-offs or special exceptions.
  • Create a safe space. Allow people to share their experience and ask questions. This helps people feel “heard” and offers an opportunity to learn what’s on people’s minds – from pain points to areas of growth.

The world is increasingly complex and staying ahead of the curve takes innovation, teaming and flexibility. We need all of our people to be engaged. In order to do that, they need to feel like they belong so they can thrive and be their best.

We have the power to create an inclusive and equitable culture. My question for you is: What role will you play? The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

Looking for a book to assist with your DEI Journey “Navigating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Professional Settings” available on Amazon.

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