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  • Candice Reimers

The Role of Leaders in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

We had the opportunity to join a CEO round table last week to discuss the leader’s role during these unprecedented times. The events of these last few months have shown, more than ever before, how critical people are to the business, and how important it is to build and lead companies that put people first.

Much of our conversation focused on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and the increasing expectations of leaders to rise to a higher standard. How leaders show up in support of creating a diverse, equal and inclusive organization will have long lasting implications on their ability to hire, retain and motivate the best and brightest talent, and impact business results.


Below is a summary of our conversation along with questions and resources for leaders as they move forward in building their DEI strategy and roadmap. DEI is multi-faceted and there are numerous important points that we did not cover during this discussion. However, we are very encouraged with where we started, the passion, intention and energy of the group, and we look forward to further, deeper conversations.


Why it is critical to develop a diverse, equal and inclusive organization:

  • As companies grapple with urgent needs such as employee safety and furloughs, longer-term commitments to workforce equity can be difficult to keep on the forefront and may be pushed to the side.

  • With the recent protests and calls for social justice, we are seeing many companies take a bold stand to show, not only their solidarity, but also their plans for increasing awareness and action. Employees everywhere are looking to their leaders to see how their company is standing up to and addressing these issues.

  • Diverse, equal and inclusive organizations are good for the business, the employees and the community.

  • Diverse teams are more innovative, better problem solvers, and drive better financial performance.

  • Psychological safety at work is an integral element that drives an inclusive culture. Research shows psychological safety impacts trust, performance, and innovation.

  • Employees of color often feel the need to adjust their behavior to navigate interracial interactions at work. This need for “code-switching” can come at a great psychological cost.

  • Companies that align business strategy with community needs can create a shared value that has mutual, long-term benefits.

Building a diverse and inclusive organization where there is true equality across team members will not happen with a simple statement of solidarity, nor will it be solved with a one-day training on unconscious biases. A true commitment to tackling social inequities within companies will require time, money and focused attention.


Questions leaders should ask themselves:

  • How am I creating an inclusive tone and culture?

  • What actions am I taking to ensure every team member feels psychological safe and included?

  • What practices am I instituting to ensure that we are hiring people from diverse backgrounds?

  • How can I help to broaden our circles and networks to be more diverse?

  • Do we have meaningful levels of diverse representation on our leadership team and board?


Recommendations and resources for leaders:

  • Start today. Don’t let fear about how to talk about diversity hold you back.

  • Recognize that you are responsible for setting the tone for diversity, equity and inclusion in your organization. Articulate your position and build a roadmap for improving DEI in your company.

  • Hold your team accountable to hire from a diverse talent pool. This quick self-assessment can help leaders reflect on and role-model hiring best practices.

  • Conduct focus groups or “listening tours” to hear first hand accounts of personal experiences from different populations.

  • Hold every team member accountable for creating a safe and inclusive environment regardless of their position or time with the company. Here are tools on how to foster psychological safety.

  • Create clear processes and multiple channels to gather feedback and raise concerns. If leaders aren’t hearing anything, this could be a signal that people aren’t comfortable sharing concerns.

  • Invest in DEI programs. These should be well-funded, resourced and focused on results. Don’t delegate DEI initiatives to women and people of color which can often place additional responsibility on the shoulders of already overloaded employees.


The DEI strategy is integral to the business strategy. In today’s context, as businesses are adjusting to the current realities of work and business, there is an opportunity to reset how we do business. The opportunity is ripe to do the right thing, for employees, customers and society. Our conversation at the CEO round table made it clear that they get it. The time is now.


If you are interested in learning more, or would like help with your DEI strategy, whether you are beginning your DEI journey or want to take it to the next level, reach out to us at LetsTalk@peoplerunway.team.


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