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. Thompson of The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award winner.
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Inching closer to a presidential election year, political factions are going to continue spewing rhetoric with culture-based issues at the point of attack because they know these topics divide voters. While the volume of the noise is certainly going to increase over the next year, what I am hearing from folks trying to manage their daily lives is just the opposite: “We’re tired of politics and just want to get back to business.”
As a leader, you may feel squeezed. On one hand, you’re hearing a lot of criticism about diversity initiatives in the media and reading about state politicians passing bills to fulfill ultra-conservative agendas. At the same time, people are looking at business leaders and corporate executives to lead.
No one expects their manager or boss to cancel out the noise they are hearing on social media and every time they turn on the television, but they do want to feel respected, safe, and fulfilled at work. My advice is to “show, don’t tell.” At The Diversity Movement, we focus on showing that diversity initiatives should be linked to real-world, bottom line results – just like every other aspect of a business. I counsel clients that the best thing they can do to create workplace excellence is show their employees their commitment by tying diversity programming to business outcomes.
Of course, if you’re distracted by the rhetoric and anger on the political scene, it may be difficult to accept, but the fact of the matter is that organizations that are more diverse, equitable and inclusive are also stronger in areas that have direct consequence on the business: innovation, creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and profitability.
SHOW THE BENEFITS OF WORKPLACE EXCELLENCE
What I have viewed at organizations that prioritize diversity as a business-led function is inclusive policies that go beyond simply helping individuals or companies. These businesses thrive because they have created spaces where everyone can feel safe, get what they need to succeed and do their best work. In other words, inclusion isn’t just for the elite few, it helps everyone.
For some executives, the challenge of inclusive leadership might seem daunting. Ensuring a person who uses a wheelchair has access to a ramp not only makes sense and is in line with workplace laws, but also is the right thing to do for another human being. However, creating pay equity across divisions and ensuring that your hiring and retention processes are inclusive can be more problematic.
As a leader, doing the right thing is an easy win for you and the organization. But, it is easy to get distracted by the challenges that arise in a tough economy and political culture so focused on fear and divisiveness.
In recent discussions with business leaders, we have framed diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) not as a social justice issue, but as a way to create stronger teams, which naturally leads to more efficient and successful organizations. From this perspective, business-led DEI is a demonstration of on-the-ground team-building training and development, whether it is at the frontline employee level or among members of the executive committee.
Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Places to Work, outlines the benefits, saying, “We need people who can transform, grow, and add more value to the organization…We need people who are learning and asking questions so they can alter their points of view. We need people who bring out the best in others. We need people who believe in themselves and believe in teams. We need people who have things in common with our buyers and customers, and their needs.”
DIVERSITY IN ACTION
Jay H. Bryson and Nicole Cervi, economists at Wells Fargo, recently examined the effect that the LGBTQ+ community has on economic growth rates at the state level. Based on the available data related to growth rates of real gross state product (GSP), the authors conclude, “States with higher concentrations of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender had higher rates of GSP growth over the past decade, everything else equal.” The authors fix this benefit to the entrepreneurialism and innovation demonstrated by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As a corporate executive or board member, this research is immediately important because it is a benchmark for the organization. From a marketing viewpoint, for example, is your company using inclusive language in its public-facing materials? Even more importantly, does your team have diverse voices at the table? And, as a business leader in the community, the Wells Fargo research demonstrates that being pro-LGBTQ+ has significant positive consequences, so if your town or city comes up short, then the wider area may suffer.
This example is just one of many you and your teams need to consider across different demographic segments. The point, though, is clear: If you’re not moving toward culture-centric leadership and building a culture-centric organization, then you’re leaving money on the table or giving consumers, clients, job applicants and others a reason to go somewhere else.
Getting back to business is a natural response, particularly after the last handful of years we’ve experienced. By showing employees and teammates the value DEI programming delivers, you make culture change more real and authentic. As Bush explains, “Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and more commitment from their employees.” Imagine – “deeper trust” and “more commitment” – exactly what you and every other smart leader is trying to create, build or strengthen.
Bush’s point from an organizational culture perspective alone should be enough to prompt leaders to do everything in their power to implement diversity-led initiatives that result in workplace excellence. If it is still not enough, empower your team to look at what a lack of DEI programming is costing your organization in real dollars or lost opportunities.
Dollars talk…everything else walks.
About the Author
Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics.
Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at email@example.com for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.