Why is it important to have a diverse senior leadership team?

If the past 12 months have proven anything, it’s that successful organizations are ones who show a willingness to adjust and adapt in response to changes in society. And, in the US, further change is coming.

On November 3rd 2020, by being named as the Vice President elect of the United States of America, Kamala Harris made history as the first woman elected to the White House, as well as the first Black woman and first South Asian woman to achieve the role. Harris has since been dubbed ‘a symbol of a new America’ – a beacon of hope and courage for young women across the country.

As one of the most visible women role models in the country – or indeed the entire world – Harris has demonstrated that climbing the ranks, right to the very top, is possible, despite facing so many invisible barriers along the way. Such representation can be seen within individual organizations too, with diverse leaders opening doors and inspiring those who will follow in their footsteps.

Discussions surrounding boardroom disparities often focus solely on gender, with 47 per cent of directors saying gender diversity is very important on their boards, according to PwC’s 2020 Annual Corporate Directors Survey. For comparison, just 34 per cent say the same about racial diversity. Ethnicity, disability socio-economic status and sexuality are all underrepresented areas, with the importance of rectifying this often being overlooked.

As we look to diversify our workforces, it’s crucial that we tackle all aspects of diversity and take an intersectional approach to inclusion.

Embracing new perspectives

Naturally, diverse workforces welcome diversity of thought, allowing for greater innovation and an environment where employees feel more comfortable with expressing their true selves. As a majority of our waking hours are spent at work, the latter is crucial for our wellbeing and motivation levels.

94 per cent of directors believe diversity brings unique perspectives to the boardroom. The boardroom is where policies are established and agendas set thus having a wide range of diverse perspectives is vital. Outside of your own company policies, embracing different viewpoints enables you to have a deeper understanding of your clients’ needs too. It’s unlikely that you have a homogeneous client base, and the more diverse your workforce, the more likely you are to be in tune with understanding clients’ needs.

Empowering employees

Visibility is hugely important, as diverse leaders act – often unintentionally – as role models for those around them. When an employee witnesses a colleague overcoming the same barriers they’re faced with, it’s a powerful signal that the organization actively supports the progression of diverse talent, opening up a wealth of future possibilities.

In the earliest stages of our careers, we often look to others for inspiration, guidance and reassurance – evidence that we’re on the right path. Mentors can provide invaluable support here, allowing more junior employees to build confidence and better establish their voice within the business. In doing so, this strengthens the company’s internal talent pipeline, saving considerable investment of time and money on recruitment further down the line.

Leveraging long-term gains
McKinsey’s ‘Diversity Matters’ report, published in 2015, made it clear that racially diverse companies outperform their competitors by 35 per cent, with gender diverse ones doing so by 15 per cent. A combination of the two would suggest that a truly diverse organization could expect to see a 25 per cent net increase in performance.

Placing an emphasis on narrowing disparities in pay, promotions and the treatment of different lived experiences, backgrounds and cultures will not only begin to remove some of the obstacles faced by underrepresented employees, but to establish a more open, accepting company culture where all team members feel valued and accepted.

When successfully executed, inclusion policies increase awareness of your ambition to increase representation of minority groups, as well as ensure all team members are aware of your organizations’ stance on inclusion and diversity, efforts to eradicate unconscious bias and commitment to developing talent from within.