Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The New Year gets many people thinking about positive changes – from personal goals related to exercise and health to larger measures toward improving their workplaces and communities. Two crucial steps toward success are assessing goals and then dedicating time to reaching those objectives. C-suite leaders can create positive change in their organizations by applying similar thinking to culture-change. 

In a recent study, Julie Coffman, Elyse Rosenblum and the team at Bain & Company outlined the fundamental challenge with diversity-led initiatives: “Many businesses neglect to tie DEI efforts to specific, measurable efforts, goals, and outcomes. Many also lack dedicated resources – leaders, teams, budget – to drive critical DEI programs…Any business strategy without mechanisms to measure progress and the appropriate resources to prop up initiatives is likely to stall or move slowly; DEI is no different.”

As a diversity, equity and inclusion leader, my focus is on keeping cultural transformation at the forefront of executive conversations. Those of us on the frontlines have seen firsthand that organizations committed to change via a diversity lens have benefited across talent management, innovation, creativity and profitability. These gains have occurred despite rumblings of “diversity fatigue” in the mainstream media and by some pundits. Rather than actual fatigue, what has been labeled “diversity fatigue” is more often a cover for reluctance to change or fear of having to share power. 

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Aine Doris, a writer at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia, outlines the difficulty, explaining, “Change of any kind is almost invariably challenging. But it is almost always necessary.” Doris links organizational DEI strategy with change, seeing it as “a mainstay – a fundamental pillar of business as usual.” Her view is that “diversity and inclusion are not just the right thing to do morally, they are the right thing to do for business.”

From this perspective (change being necessary while also a bottom-line benefit), let’s examine three management ideas via a diversity lens that leaders can begin to implement in 2023: 

  • Accountability
  • Inclusive Language
  • Adaptation


The belt-tightening taking place in 2023 will exert pressure on every department to prove its worth. Regardless of the function area, when outlining ways to demonstrate value to others throughout an organization, that discussion is fundamentally addressing culture change.

People are tired of squabbling and disunity. The media might latch onto a term like “diversity fatigue,” but when things get serious, people want to work for organizations they believe in and feel that they are doing something great in their workplaces and communities. Customers, clients, vendors, prospects, future employees and other stakeholders are asking: How do we do better, be more inclusive and solve societal challenges in this ever-evolving environment? 

It is clear to me that employees – particularly younger professionals – are demanding that their leaders authentically work toward more just and equitable workplaces. Executives who commit to real transformation via a DEI lens are going to be more appealing employers and attract more consumers. 

Your role as a leader who understands accountability is to search for strategies that reimagine how your organization operates, for example, aligning marketing and diversity functions so that employees and stakeholders understand how cultural transformation benefits everyone. Another point of authenticity could focus on keeping resources flowing to points within the organization that are showing how the company is committed to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards. 


Few traits are more fundamental for success than communications skills. Yet, we know that this is an ability that managers and executives are continually building or honing. In coaching leaders about how they talk to their teams and direct reports, I am constantly emphasizing inclusive language as an instant way to break down barriers

The benefit is direct and immediate. Leaders who use inclusive language in an authentic and empathetic manner demonstrate to listeners that they care. Jackie Ferguson, author of The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication & Transformational Leadership explains, “Using inclusive language honors each person’s diverse identity, making them feel welcomed, valued and empowered to do their best work.” The bottom-line gain is in trust and teamwork. 

“You’ll clear the path for everyone in your organization to do their best work,” Ferguson says. “Inclusive language will strengthen and transform your entire company culture.”


The scientific definition of “adaptation” is a useful guide in looking at the term from a business standpoint: “change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” The key here is “better suited.”

As leaders, how do we implement change that guides the organization and its people toward an objective or outcome within the constant transformation taking place in the marketplace and our communities? My recommendation – derived from conversations with hundreds of C-suite leaders and countless frontline managers – is this: When we place culture change via a diversity lens at the center of our management style, we demonstrate adaptability to employees and role model the leadership we expect at both the individual and collective level. 

An immediate “process of change” we can implement as leaders is to recognize that rigid decision-making is gone for good. Command-and-control has been replaced by the need to create high-performing teams that collaborate for the good of the whole, regardless of hybrid, remote or in-office environments. Organizations consist of employees who view themselves as individuals, each approaching, assessing, investigating and analyzing challenges from different viewpoints. 

In this “deskless” workplace, the manager who fosters collaboration, high-performance and adept problem-solving is not only valuable but essential in creating a culture-centric workplace. The emphasis on diversity of thought is critical; more voices making decisions then creates a stronger collective outcome. 

Most people are not intuitively adaptive, and even the best leaders can slip into a rote way of dealing with challenges, particularly when pressure intensifies. The move to adaptability needs to be deliberate and takes practice to implement. 

Obviously with words tossed around like “fatigue,” some observers may think that DEI’s time has come and gone, and arguments about what is and isn’t “woke” has turned the word into a political football. This kind of blather undermines diversity-based efforts to create workplace excellence. Smart executives, however, realize that the structural underpinning of DEI – which is cultural transformation – is at its initial stages. Even when looking at DEI efforts explicitly, the results have been underwhelming. 

As the great American author James Baldwin said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Turning the calendar to a New Year gives us the opportunity to create positive change, if as Baldwin counsels, we are willing to face it head-on.

About the Author 

Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement and author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success. As an executive coach and board member, he focuses on goal achievement, culture change and driving exponential growth. Donald hosts the “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” podcast and is an award-winning entrepreneur, keynote speaker and Certified Diversity Executive (CDE). Connect with or follow Donald on Linkedin to learn more.