Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a column each Wednesday for WRAL TechWire, focusing on management issues, diversity, equality, and much more.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Converting a goal into daily behavior is no easy task. Whether you are launching a new business, designing a new product or process, or simply committing to a new fitness plan, this act of translating an intangible goal into daily reality is a critical piece of your success. It’s a reminder that, while strategy is important, implementation is where the magic happens. 

In that vein, one of the most common concerns I often hear from my executive colleagues is how they can translate the big ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into daily actions. Transforming the abstract into tangible outcomes is part of what we do at The Diversity Movement — we work to listen, set measurable goals, and provide partners with feedback and suggestions that will add up incrementally over time. This work is most certainly a marathon, not a sprint, yet it’s work that business leaders, board members and executives are engaged in every day that can transform a business. After all, culture lives in the seemingly-small daily moments that accumulate throughout our weeks, months and years in a community.

Photo courtesy of Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

In other words, each meeting, presentation, and interaction that you have at work is not simply an opportunity to convey business imperatives but a platform upon which to reinforce your values. Each activity is an opportunity to practice inclusive leadership and grow your inclusive leadership skills. Why should you? Because inclusive business practices are key to successful organizations, and because we know that today’s executives need specific proficiencies to lead effectively: giving constructive feedback, building awareness around biases, and engaging in both sponsorship and mentorship, among others.

In sum, the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion can sound vague and unattainable if organizational leaders don’t know how they contribute to a more inclusive environment and how inclusive cultures create better business results. Below, you’ll find a list of 10 things you can do today to practice inclusive leadership. The list came out of a vibrant panel discussion with a partner organization last week, and I spent some time honing these suggestions to provide some clear takeaways for both my C-suite colleagues and for all employees who want to take inclusion into their own hands. 

  • Listen and learn. The most important thing you can do to be more inclusive is educate yourself about other people’s experiences. Commit to your own continued education, and don’t underestimate the value of your example. Inclusion is a continuous practice.
  • Use respectful language. Inclusive language shows that you respect and value the person you are speaking with. Learn best practices for inclusive language, and when you have a question about their identity, remember that it’s ok to ask. 
  • Run more inclusive meetings and work sessions. Give every person a clear opportunity to share their ideas, concerns, and solutions. Some people speak up easily, while others do so only when called upon. Some will need your explicit direction to share their comments and questions by email afterward. However, taking the time to ensure everyone is heard enhances creativity, making space for new ideas and greater innovation. 
  • Stop interruptions. When you notice one colleague interrupting another, say “I’d like to hear Sam finish their thought” or “Jack, let’s hear what Sam thinks, and then you can continue.”
  • Give credit where credit is due. Thank people for their specific contributions, and share those contributions with others, using phrases like “Here’s what I learned from Jordan” and “That’s a point Alex made earlier.” Also, when someone asks for your opinion, but another person on your team is more qualified to answer, make sure that person leads the response. For instance, if you’re head of marketing and someone has a question about a specific brand asset, redirect their question to the specialist on your team by saying something like “Pat’s the one to ask about this issue.” Share the spotlight and the credit. 
  • Give direct feedback. Remember, you’re not doing anyone a favor by holding back on feedback that could help them do a better job. Real respect means honest, actionable feedback and a high expectation for every person’s success.
  • Volunteer to be included in interviews. A diverse team makes better hiring decisions. By participating in the interview process as an employee, you’ll learn to unpack your own biases and help to mitigate unconscious bias on your team. And, if you are in a leadership position, ensure a diverse team for all interviews. If everyone in your organization comes from the same demographic groups, partner with diverse outside experts to make your interview team more robust. 
  • Disrupt office housework. Office housework is routine work that isn’t part of someone’s job description, distracts from their career trajectory, and makes no real impact on business outcomes (like making coffee, straightening up the board room, ordering lunch, or organizing another person’s meeting schedule). When you see one person always assuming these tasks, volunteer yourself, or disrupt the flow by establishing regular rotations for administrative duties. 
  • Interrupt microaggressions. Use micro-interruptions to respond in the moment and to act as an ally to fellow employees who may not have the confidence to speak up yet. By interrupting these small moments of exclusion, we draw each other’s awareness to them and start to create momentum for both individual and cultural change. Don’t dwell in the moment, but do raise your voice when you witness non-inclusive language or behavior.

This list could easily be more robust, and I’d love to hear your suggestions for practicing inclusive leadership as part of every day. There are many ways we can create avenues for collaboration and spaces that encourage every team member to contribute. If there are specific actions you take to be inclusive, leave a comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn

To reiterate, a continued commitment to inclusion also means a continued commitment to learning — perhaps by practicing the tips and strategies for inclusion found in the beta edition of our new MicroVideos platform, or by seeking out historic texts and resources that will help illuminate the context of today’s spotlight on justice and equity. Our roles in leadership make those strategies key to the success of our initiatives and cultural values. In brief, it’s important that you lead by example. 

Business leaders, board members and C-suite executives have tremendous capacity to positively impact their organizations and their employees, not just in terms of output but also outcome. When collaborative work starts with thoughtful leaders committed to inclusion at the helm, productivity and positive growth are sure to follow. The first step is committing to change. The second — and perhaps most important step — is converting your commitment into everyday action.

About the Author

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Connect with him on LinkedIn and at donaldthompson.com