Written by Kevin Wood. 5 min read.
If you’re in HR, how do you get your leaders and senior managers to buy into a diversity and inclusion program?
After all, it might be seen more as an HR initiative. But it absolutely needs leaders’ buy-in—and not just to approve a program. Building a culture of inclusion is every leader’s responsibility, which means they need to be committed from the beginning.
They need to lead inclusively. It starts with them.
Get the data—and connect it
Research by McKinsey & Company (How Diversity and Inclusion Matters, 2020) seems to be cited in almost every article you care to open, and with good reason. Their research found that:
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profits than those in the lowest quartile.
- Companies in the top quarter for ethnic diversity on their executive teams are 36% more likely to have above-average profits than those in the lowest quarter.
Similarly, Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? author Juliet Rourke concludes that organizations with inclusive cultures are:
- 2X as likely to match or exceed their financial targets
- 3X more likely to be high performing
- 6X more likely to be agile and innovative
- 8X more likely to achieve better business outcomes
You may find our own research, Personality type and organizational inclusion, is useful if you’re an MBTI® practitioner with a working knowledge of MBTI type. Keep it handy.
Compelling as the above evidence is, ask yourself: is it enough?
Some leaders might find it too detached or distant to convince them to act with any urgency.
So, to push it along a little, find data from your business. Bring it closer to home. What are your leaders talking about? You can tie inclusion to a (relevant) current goal or initiative, or think about:
- Current business problems and challenges (e.g., staff retention, morale)
- Future aspirations for the organization (e.g., customer satisfaction, employee well-being, becoming an employer of choice for younger demographics)
Combining this globally topical issue with a specific, relevant business need could make the difference with your pitch.
Leaders aren’t as inclusive as they think they are
Here is some data that’s probably best saved for a time when it feels right to share it.
Our research found evidence of a self-perception trap among leaders: they think they’re being more inclusive than they are. Two-thirds of our respondents had inaccurate estimates of their own inclusion efforts. And a third of respondents believed they were more inclusive than other people perceived them to be.
Further evidence of a gap in perception comes from McKinsey. Their report found:
- Employees’ feelings about inclusion in their organization were 61% negative
- Employees’ feelings about leadership’s accountability in diversity and inclusion (D&I) were also strongly negative
Leaders need training on inclusive behaviors, which we’ll come to later. In the meantime, download The Inclusion Delusion for more information on leaders and perceptions of inclusion.
Know your leaders’ decision-making style
How do your leaders make decisions?
In MBTI personality type theory, people make decisions in two ways. One is by using objectivity (logic and reason). The other is by using subjectivity (personal values and the feelings of the people affected). People use both but tend to prefer one over the other.
In Myers-Briggs® terms, these are the Thinking and Feeling preferences, respectively.
But it doesn’t matter if you aren’t familiar with MBTI type. What matters is knowing that people have different ways of making decisions—and it might not be the same way as you make them.
If you know more about how your leaders make decisions, you can present the data so it aligns with their style. What are you appealing to, primarily?
Moral framing v business framing
A Harvard Business Review article (Get the Boss to Buy In, 2015) notes that framing the issue is key to building a persuasive argument. It’s a technique that top sellers use.
It also says that moral framing tends to be less successful than business framing.
This relates to the above point about Thinking and Feeling preferences in decision-making. Research shows that most organizations are led by people with a Thinking preference. There are numerous reasons for this, and many are further evidence of a lack of diversity in leadership. But that’s a topic for another day.
The thing about inclusion is that it has a huge moral component. It feels like the right thing to do, but this might not be the best tactic for winning an argument. It could end up sounding judgmental or critical.
Key point here? Check your audience. See which data and which approach is most likely to help you get the result you want.
Play the long game—and be inclusive from the start
Building an inclusive culture is a long-term process. Getting widespread buy-in also takes time, so don’t expect to get everything. Instead, start with a conversation.By listening to what your leaders say about inclusion, you can gauge where they are. This means you get valuable feedback that you can use to refine your pitch and improve the chances of it being approved.
This approach worked well for Bosch Rexroth recently. It wasn’t to get DEI on the agenda—they were looking to get emotional intelligence training on the agenda, but the challenges were the same. Read the case study, and if you’re short of time, scroll down to page 8 to see how their series of information sessions helped build support for the project.
Be consistent with training
Another reason for a long-term approach is because one-off training sessions aren’t as effective, as Asif Sadiq writes on LinkedIn. They don’t create lasting behavioral change and they definitely don’t change workplace culture, which is what we’re aiming for. Unconscious bias, which underpins behaviors that aren’t inclusive, takes a long time to unpick.
As we saw earlier, leaders do need training in inclusive behaviors. The self-perception trap is real. How do you address this potentially sensitive issue? One way is to bring experts from outside your business to help leaders assess their skills and develop a plan of action. Check our Inclusive Leadership workshop for more information on this approach.
We’ve said before that our contribution, as people development professionals, to the DEI landscape is best focused on inclusion. Understanding diversity of thought (the unseen side of diversity) and helping people develop inclusive behaviors is where we can make a difference.
This could be to your advantage when you try to secure leadership buy-in. It might appear more approachable to people who don’t yet know the diversity, equity, and inclusion arena.
This doesn’t lessen its significance—far from it.
Diversity is difference, but inclusion is the accepted and welcomed presence of difference.
When it’s implemented successfully, inclusion allows both the presence and flourishing of difference so that everyone’s perspectives, approaches, and experiences enrich an organization’s culture.
This is the new normal we’re aiming for.
Summary—3 keys for your inclusion pitch to business leaders
- Get the data on the benefits of inclusion and connect it to your business. Make it relevant locally
- Know your leaders’ decision-making styles and tailor your data accordingly. Does it need to be objective or subjective? Business or moral?
- Play the long game. Consistency is key to behavioral and cultural change