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The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Top Leadership Positions

The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion in Top Leadership Positions

Maria Mac Andrew's blog on diversity and inclusion in the workplace

You’ve heard the adage “diversity is strength” before, but what does that mean?

Diversity is defined as the combination of differences, whether cultural, individual, or by any other grouping. This includes gender identity or sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, educational background, religious beliefs, age groups. Although diversity has long been linked to race or gender, true diversity requires more than one or two types of individuals working together successfully.

Diversity, in leadership terms, is all about inclusion. It’s about having a team with members from different backgrounds, experiences, and cultures, people who can bring diverse perspectives to your organization. This isn’t limited to gender or ethnicity either; cognitive diversity has proven to be an asset, too. It means including people who think differently than you in key decision-making roles.

When leaders value diversity and inclusion in their organizations, they position themselves to work smarter and faster through collaboration between teams and employees who have different ways of thinking about things.

It’s no secret that diversity and inclusion are growing more and more critical. Despite recent leaps in diversity, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. That said, it’s important to note that there have been significant strides for specific groups. For example, according to McKinsey & Company, 50% of U.S.-based entry-level management jobs are now held by women—up from just 15% three decades ago! These advances will likely continue as more diverse teams perform better.

Here’s why diversity in leadership is essential. It creates inclusive cultures, improves our businesses, and makes us better as people. Diversity makes you stronger, more productive, and more successful as an organization by bringing together people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Diversity also helps reduce unconscious bias in leadership positions, which helps to create an environment where all employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas—and where your business can benefit from those ideas. Diverse leadership teams make decisions based on multiple perspectives, giving employees different ideas to share than they would if they were only hearing thoughts from one perspective.

Apart from being a more ethical business decision, diversifying your leadership team will also give you a competitive advantage. The reality is that people are still far more likely to trust an organization whose leadership includes people who look like them, sound like them, or share their cultural experiences. In other words, diversity increases public trust in businesses and technology companies—and when consumers trust a brand, they tend to buy from them over their competitors.

A study performed by Catalyst found that companies with greater levels of diversity were 35% more likely to outperform others in profitability over five years than companies without women at top management levels. When companies have leaders that represent all parts of their customer base, they tend to perform better financially in the long term because they understand their customer base more accurately, resulting in better products and services that appeal to all groups.

Diverse leadership teams have been shown to create an environment where employees feel safe taking risks, voicing concerns, and offering new ideas. This enhances creativity, productivity, morale, innovation, and engagement among employees—all factors that can improve a company’s bottom line. A 2015 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians

One problem that plagues modern business leaders is groupthink, which occurs when team members develop similar worldviews due to spending so much time with each other. This can result in poor decision-making. Fortunately, diverse team members encourage differing points of view among group members—leading to more productive outcomes.

It’s easy to see how having a diverse team on your executive team could help your company better prepare for current and future challenges. There’s no time like now to begin recruiting diverse leaders into critical roles. After all, what good is being future-proof if none of your leaders remember tomorrow?

The world has changed dramatically over the past decades. With such dramatic changes occurring so rapidly within countries, “cultural sensitivity” becomes increasingly essential without inadvertently appearing ethnocentric or culturally biased towards specific groups. Cultural norms differ widely across nations and societies. Like biology (which determines genotype), culture influences behavior.

Diversity tends to bring a variety of experiences and insights into a single conversation.

We need to act today rather than wait until later because implicit bias issues cloud many decision-making skills. Often, including diversity among leaders makes excellent business sense since different viewpoints generally result in superior outcomes (at least).

Nature teaches us that diversity is vital for survival. Though it’s easy to think about diversity as a human concern, it holds true for many species as well. If we look at nature, we see that diverse ecosystems are resilient. If you live on planet Earth, then chances are you agree that diversity is key to life on our planet: We need a wide variety of plants and animals to keep our planet alive and thriving. There are different types of butterflies, birds, fish, and mammals that it’s difficult to see how they could possibly coexist. Yet they do. Diversity promotes balance. There is beauty in diversity that makes everything function together harmoniously. Diversity is just as important in business as it is in nature. Diversity is crucial for innovation and may prove essential if we hope to solve our most pressing societal issues.

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