Why diversity and inclusion leadership is about more than meeting numbers

President & CEO, HP Canada Co. Fostering a work culture that emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, not just a moral or ethical one. A more diverse work force will put any company into a stronger position to grow and innovate. It will attract top industry talent and help businesses connect with customers. And, of course, it’s the right thing to do. As part of one of the most diverse countries in the world, business leaders in Canada need to act now and embed diversity and inclusion practices throughout their organizations and leadership teams. How can organizations reinvent the standard for diversity and inclusion and truly lead on this front without embracing and valuing the differences – including race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation – of their work force? As business leaders, we know that exceptional storytelling is the central underpinning of effective leadership and the way customers see your brand. All good storytellers agree you must first understand your audience. Who they are, where they come from, what experiences have shaped them and what matters to them? How do they want to be spoken to, what vernacular is comfortable, what cadence captures their attention? You can’t tell an effective story or brand narrative to your customers if you only value select points of view. This is why a commitment to diversity and inclusion leadership means more than just a number, a department or even an objective. Diversity and inclusion efforts must be embedded into the very DNA of an organization so that its brand narrative can be authentic, meaningful and distinctive. A McKinsey study shows, “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” Another study showed that diverse companies had 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period than non-diverse companies did.

If we don’t embrace an inclusive culture, it is impossible to speak genuinely to our customers. To lead from the top on inclusion and reinvent the standard of diversity, here are a few best practices business leaders should drive toward.

Get unapologetically real.

Unconscious bias is alive and well. Instead of treating it like the proverbial elephant in the room, it’s time to acknowledge that our personal experiences inform how we see the world. Recognizing the reality of unconscious bias is a critical first step in working to reduce it in the workplace. Providing diversity and inclusion training, using technology to eliminate biased language in job listings, ensuring that underrepresented colleagues have a voice and that there are opportunities at all levels of the organization are all ways to build a more inclusive, less biased work environment.

Establish unimpeachable credibility.

Your talk must match your walk. I’m proud to be a female leader at a company that is reinventing the standard for diversity and inclusion efforts. HP has the most diverse board of directors of any technology company in the United States, including five women among the 13 board members – almost 40 per cent. Several are from South Asia. In Canada, our leadership team is more than 60-per-cent female with diverse backgrounds across the entire team. Your commitment must shine through in everything you do.

Invite and empower vocal diversity champions.

Give your most passionate and active employees the resources and tools to bring diversity leadership across the entire organization at the grassroots level. Equip them to have sensitive conversations and make it safe to discuss what matters to them. Then reward and celebrate them. Give your employees meaningful benefits, such as work-life balance programs, diversity and inclusion awards, an open and collaborative workspace, employee resource groups to share like-minded experiences, goals and values. Highlight how the organization values and directs diversity efforts to drive new business, fuel innovation and attract and retain top talent.

Lead by bold precedent.

 If you want to change how things are being done, take big, brave leaps. For instance, challenge your partners: our chief marketing officer asked each of our advertising and PR agency partners to submit a plan to increase the number of women and minorities in key creative and strategy roles. He also announced that HP would donate $100,000 to #FreeTheBid, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of female directors in advertising by pledging one in three competitive bids will go to a female director. Our global legal leadership team launched a “diversity holdback” requirement that allows HP to withhold up to 10 per cent of all amounts invoiced by our law firm partners for so long as the firm fails to maintain diverse staffing in our legal matters.

Embracing diversity of ideas, perspectives and experiences has the potential to unlock innovation and growth. Business leaders must reinvent the standard of diversity and inclusion to make a difference in their organizations, marketplace and community.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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