Fi Dei Leadership

The Importance of Leadership Accountability in Driving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategies

By Marty Belle, Therese Procter and Viona Young

Chris Rainey’s latest HR Leaders podcasts featured Stephanie Murphy (People Analytics Leader at Dell Technologies), and together they discussed the topic of accountable leaders through the use of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data.

In response to being asked some of the biggest challenges she is solving with DEI analytics, Stephanie answered, “I think the biggest thing has been accountability…it’s about making sure that if you bring people in they’re going to stay in.”

She goes on to outline how in the context of Dell, they added a separate category into their annual survey to be able to measure inclusivity in different teams, and then set up a system which would flag potential causes for concern if leaders scored below a certain point.

This completely aligned with our thinking and prompted us to consider the importance that accountability plays in the DEI space, and how holding oneself accountable can sometimes be a daunting thing, but inevitably is a strategic imperative. 

In terms of leaders and line-managers, understanding the importance that their roles play in driving DEI throughout the company and holding themselves accountable for that can be the difference between a successful and non-successful business dynamic. There has to be zero tolerance for ignorance on DEI and the spotlight has to shine on awareness, education and training where the necessary leadership skills are weak or nonexistent entirely. 

We turned our attention to a global report published by Lee Hecht Harrison which found that despite 72% of business leaders and HR professionals recognizing that leadership accountability is a critical business issue, only 31% are satisfied with the level of accountability they see from leaders in their organization.

There can be a number of reasons for this accountability gap, and one that we have noticed on numerous occasions both in the US and the UK is the fact that the DEI space is continuously expanding its parameters to include much more than it originally did a few decades ago. 

While it is fantastic that more multidimensional diversity attributes are being addressed in DEI strategies, this does pose the potential risk of diversity efforts being diluted if organizations do not take into consideration the research conducted by Bailey Jackson, who was one of the first to identify that some differences matter more than others. Specifically, she found that the diversity attributes that make the biggest difference are ethnicity, gender, marital status (and children), race, sexual orientation, language, physical ability, socioeconomic status, religion and mental ability. From this perspective, it can be challenging to identify accountability when the scope of DEI feels like it is still being determined.

Another reason for this gap could be the fact that DEI can sometimes feel like a difficult / sensitive topic to discuss as a leader – especially if this leader is white and male. There is a tendency to stray away from uncomfortable conversations, as well as avoid topics that they may not have a deep understanding of and/or insights into. This can lead to avoidance of accountability, which can have a negative snowballing effect on the company culture as it perpetuates values that do not align with the organization. 

This is why accountability is so important when it comes to DEI, and why Stephanie’s data-driven method of measuring this has been so successful for Dell. Executives must ensure they are being very clear with leaders and managers about their DEI responsibilities, and then find the best way of tracking and enforcing these practices for their company. 

What we can conclude, therefore, is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for cataloguing this, but we need to ensure as leaders we step up and hold ourselves and others accountable for acquiring, practicing and improving the grasp of new DEI competencies. By doing so, we can begin to perpetuate a culture of belonging at work and see true inclusion in action – one study even found that having a strong sense of belonging at a job was linked to a 56% increase in productivity, a 50% drop in turnover, and a 75% reduction in sick days.

We know that having a diverse workforce has been proven to improve profitability, and so establishing accountability for DEI in your organization is the first step towards embedding this into the fabric of your company and reaping its rewards (from an economic and environmental, social and governance perspective).

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