04/11/2024 • 4 min read

Empowered Leadership and People Improve ROI

How equitable businesses succeed, part 3

by Haworth, Inc.

When leaders participate in fostering an inclusive culture, teams respond. According to research from the Harvard Business Journal, teams led by inclusive leaders exhibit remarkable performance gains, highlighting the tangible benefits of fostering diversity and inclusion.

The Impact of Inclusive Leadership

The study reveals compelling statistics: teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to engage in collaborative behavior. In addition, they also found that a 10% improvement in employee perception of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.

So, how can leaders bridge the gap and foster an inclusive culture within their organizations?

Strategies for Cultivating Inclusive Culture

Organizations that are more successful with cultural inclusion tend to take three actions that help provide a safe place for employees to speak up and leaders to spearhead changes that inspire all members of the workforce.

1. They build a diverse leadership team. These bold leaders are more in tune with the workforce and recognize the importance of cultural factors like pay transparency, the availability of family leave, and the freedom to be creative in helping employees thrive. They identify change as a personal goal and reward their people for building a more inclusive culture.

In a broad cultural transformation, part of which addresses diversity and inclusion, Microsoft has seen a rise of 56% in women executives, and the number of women executives in technical positions has doubled since 2016. Additionally, they reported that in technical roles alone, there were 49% more women, 48% more Hispanic/Latinx, and 67% more African American/Black employees than just three years ago.

Myriad experiences and insights from diverse thinkers led to some of Microsoft’s most creative solutions, including:

  •  An Xbox Adaptive Controller, which allows wounded veterans with a wide range of physical disabilities to play the games they love
  • The Blur feature on Microsoft Teams and Skype, developed by a deaf-from-birth employee who found it hard to read lips on video chats when bright lights were in the background
  • Seeing AI, which reads menus and documents, identifies currency, and recognizes people for users with impaired vision, literacy issues, and other disabilities

2. They take comprehensive action, creating policies and practices that are family-friendly, support all genders, and are bias-free in attracting and retaining people. Leadership sets, shares, and measures equity targets openly.

Management services company Sodexo set a goal of having 40% of its top leadership positions occupied by women by 2025. To get there, they created the “SoTogether” Gender Advisory Board which drives the company’s gender equality strategy (one of their top five global priorities, which also include disabilities, sexual orientation and gender identity, cultures and origins, and generations) and provides development opportunities to increase the women’s leadership pipeline through mentoring, sponsorship, HR processes, internal programs, and active advocacy.

In the US, Sodexo has also developed a Balanced Scorecard for Diversity, which links a Diversity Index with an annual incentive. The scorecard’s quantitative measures focus on the distribution of women and people of color within hiring, promotions, and terminations. The qualitative section measures managers’ inclusion behaviors, such as diversity training attendance and mentoring of diverse employees.

3. They create an empowering environment—one that trusts employees, respects individuals, and offers the freedom to be creative, as well as train and work flexibly.

In a 2019 equality report, customer relationship management company Salesforce set a new goal of 50% of their workforce to be made up of Underrepresented Groups (Women, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Multiracial, LGBTQIA+, People with Disabilities, and Veterans) by 2023. The report is highly transparent, laying out numbers as well as opportunities for improvement. They were able to achieve this goal ahead of their planned timeline.

Salesforce notes that to move forward they are taking a comprehensive data-driven approach to build strategies that empower their people. Senior leaders are provided a monthly scorecard, detailing headcount, hiring, attrition, and promotion data by gender and race to inform decisions. Their largest organizations are paired with an Equality Board made up of their Recruiting, Employee Success, and Equality partners, as well as senior leaders to drive prescriptive actions based on data.

Salesforce also empowers employees to drive equality. Through employee-led Equality Groups, colleagues build allies, empathy, and understanding as they support underrepresented communities. Employees are provided with 56 hours of paid time to volunteer, as well. The Equality Mentorship program helps to ensure the success of future diverse leaders; and the company is committed to Equal Pay for Equal Work, Inclusive Leadership, and Inclusive Marketing programs.

No two people are the same—and neither are their experiences. Inviting the richness of those experiences into the workplace, embracing differences, and supporting an inclusive culture can have unbounded benefits for all. It starts with hospitality—the willingness to listen. How will you improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within your organization?

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