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ATD Blog

Five Big Things to Help You Grow Inclusive Leaders in 2021

Friday, February 12, 2021

Flashback to Elvis Presley’s 1968 hit, “A Little Less Conversation,” which made the case for less talk and more action. It was popular then, and while the implication is entirely different, it is needed now as organizations work to move beyond good intentions and strong words to build cultures of inclusion and diversity. It’s time for action. And your leaders—not just in the C-suite, but your people leaders as well—must be part of this movement if there is to be meaningful change.

Here are five ways to help your leaders build their inclusion skills and become active participants in your diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.

1. Help Leaders Discover Their Personal Connection to D&I

Science shows us that emotions are more powerful than logic or reason when it comes to motivating people to act. Tapping into leaders’ personal reflections about what exclusion feels like and the long-lasting impact it can have is a strong place to start in building inclusive leaders.

Challenge: Hold a discussion session focused on exclusion with leaders. Encourage personal stories in which leaders have seen or felt that someone was treated unfairly based on deliberate or unconscious biases. Discuss the ripple effects of those moments and ask questions that help your leaders flex their empathy and allyship muscles.

2. Identify Tangible Tasks

Lecturing to leaders, whether via mandatory training or online compliance courses, is a recipe for low engagement and even pushback that will likely activate a threat response. Instead, when leaders are asked to take on a specific task, if even just for a short period of time, they are more likely to elevate I&D from an abstract concept to a tangible to do. From there, their actions and behaviors can begin to shift as well.

Challenge: Ask leaders to join an employee resource group to help in a specific way or to serve as a mentor to individuals from an underrepresented group within the organization.


3. Ask Important Questions

Leaders who have expressed the importance of inclusion and diversity but have yet to act need a compelling nudge. Ask them what their plans are to make their aspirational words of inclusion take shape. Speak with confidence and genuine interest when asking these questions.

Challenge: Send individual emails or schedule time with leaders to help them align their intent with their actions. “I see how important bringing in more diverse talent is to you, yet we aren’t changing our approach. How are you thinking about what needs to be done next?”

4. Position D&I as a Business Imperative, Not a Program

Too often companies make the mistake of creating initiatives as if they are a bolt-on to the actual strategic work. When D&I is assigned out only to HR or to a committee of volunteers, it’s positioned to fail. Imagine if a company’s risk management was relegated to a group that got together monthly in addition to their day-to-day assignments.


Challenge: Point out the need to position these efforts differently to senior leaders. Offer to help leaders collect benchmark data, create a roadmap, and set measurable goals as they would with any other business imperative.

5. Put Learning in Their Path

According to HR industry giant Josh Bersin, the modern learner has approximately 24 minutes a week to focus on nonmandatory training. Leaders are no different. They are consumed with long lists of priorities and people management challenges. Inject learning into their natural flow of work. Drip out fresh, relevant, digestible topics to bolster their knowledge and skills in key areas like fostering trust and belonging on teams, overcoming common meeting biases, and the important difference between equity and equality.

Challenge: Design a high-quality learning journey for leaders and position that learning so that they have easy access. This may include microlearning lessons in their inbox, quick videos or learning moments via your instant messaging platform, or inclusion moments dropped into regular meeting agendas. These tactics for helping your leaders bump into learning may seem simple but are actually using Nudge Theory to drive learning engagement.

Like everything with inclusion and diversity, building new advocates takes time and requires a flexible approach. Experiment with these five steps and chart your progress. Celebrate success along the way and keep pushing forward. Let’s make 2021 a year of action.

About the Author

Claire Herring is a well-known writer and international speaker on topics related to the art of leveraging science to optimize employee performance and build workplace cultures of inclusion and diversity. A former Deloitte executive in their national advisory practice, Claire has spent her career serving Fortune 500 companies and large organizations as a consultant, strategist, and business advisor.

As CEO of pioneering microlearning provider Blue Ocean Brain, Claire drives their solution strategy, bringing 21st century learning to companies of all sizes and industries in over 50 countries around the globe.

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These are very solid and easy to implement suggestions. Thanks!
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