Nothing disruptive has ever come easily – the movements that have changed the world, the public policies that have changed the meaning of human rights, the awareness that has reshaped the way society thinks. None of this has ever been easy.

Global movements for change continue to transform our idea of ​​what individual identity means, what race, religion, language and color mean – what is culturally relevant and important, what holds us back, what frees us and what we need to reinterpret. Change is happening on a massive scale and the world is slowly but surely waking up to all that is limiting.

But none of this has been easy.

Still, if we were to rely on diversity ratios and company statistics on some hand-picked metrics, much of it seems easy. Maybe because none of this is really happening? Because transformation on paper does not translate into transformation in conference rooms, in offices, in sales conferences, in factories.

Filling money orders is the easy way out

Labor laws and standards around the world dictate the exact percentage of underrepresented sections that should make up an organization and, ultimately, the entire workforce. Now, this is essential because unfortunately in many cases companies need mandates to even start prioritizing inclusion. However, this is by no means the ultimate solution or the end of the road. In fact, simply relying on the numbers can often lead to confining underrepresented sections of society to the lower rungs of the ladder, often hired on behalf of a diversity mandate without being offered real opportunities. equal growth and flourish. What’s the point of having a ‘diverse’ workforce that only includes privileged sections in the C-suite, but has a large pool of women, LGBTQ+ members, and minority communities in junior positions? ? What’s the point of promoting diversity when everyone in a decision-making position thinks the same way?

An overview of a Gartner survey from last year will explain why this is a symptom of a larger, deeper problem. This study found that a majority of talent managers say that only 10% or less of their company’s successors were women from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. And if you think DE&I is a buzzword, then here’s a surprising fact: in another survey, it was found that 90% of HR managers believe their company is either inefficient or neutral in terms of of diverse representation.

In a world where the status quo is maintained due to inequality, policy makers often believe that equality is the answer. But equality assumes that everyone’s challenges and experiences are the same, which is far from reality. For people from privileged generations, their vast networks and access to resources mean that opportunities are easier to seize. For those fresh out of centuries of oppressive systems, the race is all the more grueling. In short, equality can do little if the chances are unequal.

Diversity in leadership is just one step of many

Building on the concept of equity, the key to true inclusion is not to be blind to differences, but rather to recognize differences without using them as a means of judging competence, skills or people’s intellect, while understanding that the obstacles they face are unlike those faced by others. The challenges faced by minority sections are, more often than not, systemic in nature, and this is an extremely important distinction to make.

In leadership, if you have a cohesive group tasked with making key and critical choices for the entire organization, there will be no one to question decisions that may be underpinned by bias or simply by ignorance. When making a business case for DE&I, leadership buy-in is important, and the sooner the C-suite understands how diversity impacts the bottom line, the better. True inclusion drives growth, fosters innovation, fuels creativity, and helps organizations constantly push boundaries by taking the leap at every step. A greater breadth of experience, more varied perspectives, broader awareness, greater ability to think outside the box, an extensive network – these are just some of the strengths that a diverse leadership team brings. at the table.

In fact, the way leaders speak, behave and interact with others in the organization can make up to 70% difference in how individual employees feel included. This sense of ownership helps reinforce ownership, ultimately propelling productivity and business performance. Reaching the top echelons of a company no longer relies solely on business acumen. Leaders who last are those who give meaning to the work.

But it can’t stop there. It is imperative for companies to ensure that inclusive policies extend beyond senior management to trickle down the hierarchies, ultimately creating a pool of successors armed for the future. Your middle management team could be a game changer by performing a transformation on the ground.

The responsibility for inclusion does not rest solely with underrepresented groups

And that brings me to my next point. I believe we are at a stage where we need to start thinking beyond the simplistic “business case”. Yes, it’s important for DE&I to be good for business, but there’s so much more at stake here. Overall, as a society, we are on the cusp of a major transformation – in terms of beliefs, sensibilities, awareness and consciousness. Movements that were previously restricted to specific parts of the world are now creating ripples across continents. People identify in another culture what they thought were isolated struggles that only they faced. In the face of alienation, discrimination and division, the world is coming together, and the corporate focus on DE&I is only part of the whole picture.

Through this lens of global and pervasive impact, let’s focus once again on the workplace. Often, companies believe that the bare minimum of minority representation is sufficient. For this reason, the responsibility for ensuring that diverse groups of people feel included often falls heavily on those who belong to those groups. This makes it easy for companies to overlook the need for widespread and consistent awareness. For example, in an interview panel, you may have ensured that a diverse group of people are responsible for your next round of hires. However, you left it up to underrepresented groups to focus on diversity, allowing less aware recruiters to continue in the same vein of talent acquisition that created the problem. So while representation matters a lot, what also matters is that people are educated and made aware of what representation means and why it is non-negotiable – not just in terms of hiring a range of diverse candidates at all levels, but also learning to leverage their knowledge and experiences related to identity so that the company can perform better.

So, going back to the question we started with, why is diverse representation in leadership important?

Because the responsibility to train the leaders of tomorrow rests with the leaders of today.

Monaz Todywalla is the CEO of PHD India.

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