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5 Steps CEOs Can Use for Successful Inclusion Initiatives

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign

By Andrea Hoffman

Astute CEOs know we will be living in a vastly different America by 2020 due to rapidly changing demographic shifts. What some of them don’t know is that understanding how to leverage these shifts to increase revenue growth and product innovation is a key to success in the global economy. Numerous studies show that having a diverse and “inclusive” leadership and boards are good for profitability, but what does “inclusion” really even mean?

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As a confidential advisor to CEOs with more than 20 years in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) space, I can tell you it means listening to, valuing, respecting and supporting diverse employees: including diverse employees in important meetings, and providing them with the same opportunity and access as other employees. Moreover, it means focusing on the needs of “diverse” employees and ensuring that the right conditions are in place for each of them to achieve his or her full potential. Inclusion should be reflected in a company’s culture, practices and relationships. Hence, if diversity means being asked to the party, inclusion means being asked to dance.

While Uber is an uber example of how inclusion was done incorrectly (and thankfully the company is now working hard to change that), SAP is an example of how it is being done right. For example, SAP recently hosted a celebratory Autism at Work Summit for employees, partners and advocates of neurodiversity. The company aims to hire 1% of its workforce with persons on the Autism spectrum. Such cutting-edge initiatives and events send a clear message to all ─ including highly talented prospective hires ─ about where a company stands on its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

So if you’re a CEO who wants to be deliberate about your intentions to move the needle on leveraging diversity and inclusion for greater profits, how do you get it inclusion right, where do you even begin? How do you create a winning team/company where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

Start by answering several questions: Do you think of inclusion as a business imperative that will allow your company to become or remain competitive? Do feel inclusion is a moral imperative because of your principles? Are you really ready to put well-intentioned words into action, e.g., fully funding a comprehensive inclusion initiative? Are you ready to be ultimately accountable for the success of your inclusion initiative? If your answers are affirmative, then the first project required is a diagnostic of your company, which will include:

  • Analyzing the status of organizational factors that influence inclusion and assign a level of importance to each
  • Understanding which factors need improvement, which require evaluation, which should be maintained, and which can leveraged

This diagnostic will allow you to assess the current state of your company’s inclusion practices and what problems must move be addressed to close the gaps and create a culture of inclusion.

The second step is to share that diagnostic data with a cross-functional team, who will then develop a multi-faceted, multi-phased strategic plan and budget. The plan will provide solutions to the problems identified in the diagnostic. The strategy should include:

  • Developing a communication and engagement plan for the key managers, departments and verticals involved
  • Establishing a quarterly timeline and managing expectations
  • Formulating tactical and long-term objectives, action steps, primary stewards and check points
  • Identifying measurable indicators for each goal

Third, create a leadership team that will implement the plan and report on its progress directly to you on a quarterly basis. The fourth step is to link the leadership team’s bonuses to measurable results.

The fifth step is to create new board seats reflecting individuals with expertise in cyber security, technology, innovation, and brand reputation management. Ensure the slate of candidates are diverse, drawing from all of the proven experts and pipeline partners.

There’s been a great deal written about the lack of pipeline for entry-level STEM candidates. A proven partner for tech firms seeking such candidates would be GEM National Consortium, which is a network of leading corporations, government laboratories, universities, and research institutions. GEM has a 40-year track record of providing scholarships to Masters and Ph.D. students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate-level STEM education, and then placing them at leading organizations such as NASA and Intel.

Beyond your inclusion initiative, you may want to also examine the role corporate venture diversity can play and explore open innovation. The above-listed steps must be sustained across the business cycle to truly generate structural change and lasting results that become a part of your company’s DNA. In taking ownership of this initiative, it will be critical that you hold the leadership accountable to report the results created—not the problems, not the challenges—but the results, as if your inclusion initiative were a P&L.

In today’s era of rapid demographic change, be proactive, be deliberate and be consistent in your quest for excellence through inclusion.


Andrea Hoffman is an event speaker, author and CEO of boutique management consulting firm Culture Shift Labs, which advises companies, cities and philanthropists on growth and innovation through diversity and inclusion.

Ms. Hoffman’s second book, 50 Billion Dollar Boss: Stories from African-American Women Entrepreneurs on Leadership and Success (Palgrave Macmillan) was published in 2015, and nominated for a 2016 NAACP Image Award. She has been featured or quoted in a wide range of media outlets, from Bloomberg and the Christian Science Monitor to Fast Company and Ebony.





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