Article · 6 minute read

Supporting Better Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Outcomes Through Leadership Activity

By Katie Herridge 22nd August 2022

“Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we have to put out the message that we embrace and not just tolerate diversity.”

Nellie Borrero – Senior Global Inclusion & Diversity Lead at Accenture.

Our previous articles ‘Supporting Better DEI Outcomes Through Hire Activity’ and ‘Supporting Better DEI Outcomes Through Build Activity’ have looked at ways to support organizations employ a diverse mix of talent into the organization and strategies that help them feel valued, developed and included.

Supporting DE&I through leadership activity is perhaps the most important component. An organizational culture that supports diversity, equity and inclusion is heavily reliant on good leadership. Quite simply put ‘without good DE&I in your leadership team, without leadership being the role models and advocates for inclusion, DE&I strategies will fall short’. 

Leadership and DE&I

When we start to think about leadership and DE&I, there are two main areas of focus. 

  • How to lead and manage others in a fair and inclusive way.
  • How organizations build more diverse leadership pipelines and teams.
A recognized problem

Over the course of the last decade, the issues with diversity of leadership in boards has been subject to targeted initiatives in the UK. 

In February 2011, Lord Davies of Abersoch set the target that FTSE 100 boards should have a minimum of 25% representation of females by 2015. The Hampton-Alexander Review then further looked at increasing female representation at the executive level to FTSE 350 companies. More recently, the Parker Review Committee has recommended that each FTSE 100 board should have at least one Director from a minority ethnic group by 2021. FTSE 250 boards should meet this requirement by 2024. 

This has helped build representation of gender and race at senior levels. However, the FRC Board Diversity Report (2020) found that most Directors see diversity targets as an activity that doesn’t grow their businesses. Some types of diversity, such as sexual orientation were found to not even by on the radar of most boards. 

It’s clear that although the picture of diversity is starting to improve, there is still plenty of ways that DE&I in leadership can be further supported.      

Top tips for better DE&I in leadership
Fair and consistent development

Studies have found that representation alone does not equate to inclusivity. People can underestimate their own biases and those with more pre-disposed bias often underestimate it. Research has shown that feedback and development tips provided can vary greatly between genders. For example, Harvard Business Review recently demonstrated how men receive much more actionable feedback than women. 

Examples of developmental feedback provided to men and women



Men are encouraged to…

Set the vision

Focus on being visionary and think about ‘the big picture’

Forget the details and look to the longer term

Put more focus on national and regional agendas… leading to a strategic rather than operational review

women are encouraged to…

Focus on delivery

Focus on operational tasks; execute other people’s vision and develop expertise in narrow specializations. 

(Develop) broader knowledge of finances and how they work… (and) of the procedures

Needs to have better analytical abilites with complex issues.

Source: Elena Doldor, Madeliene Wyatt & Jo Silvester ©
  • How are you ensuring that your leaders are aware of unconscious bias?
  • How are you integrating DE&I principles into leadership programs?

To better facilitate inclusivity, specific training is needed. Organizations also need to integrate DE&I principles into leadership programs and raise awareness of the biases that exist.

Leadership development coaching can help managers to enhance their relationships with those that they might find it more difficult to build relationships with. Often this is those with different characteristics to themselves. Sessions that specifically talk about biases and demonstrate examples of where they can easily occur can help to raise awareness of this. 

Implementing processes that enable managers to provide consistent and fair feedback to all is important for DE&I. Structured Development Reports and Coaching Reports can be generated from Wave Focus Styles or Professional Styles and will assist managers in being able to provide this.  

Make diversity part of the employee experience

The Gallup Center on Black Voices found that Black employees in the US are significantly less likely than White workers to say the leadership of their organizations includes people of the same race as themselves.

Furthermore, only 42% of US managers strongly agreed that they are prepared to have meaningful conversations about race with their teams. If organizations want to build a more inclusive employee experience for all, then supporting leaders to be able to talk openly about diversity must be on the agenda.

  • What do your employees feel about the diversity of your leadership teams?
  • What can your leadership teams do to build on the employee experience of different groups?

Cross-organizational surveys can provide qualitative and quantitative data for the leadership team on the current state of organizational inclusivity. Sessions which openly talk about diversity and train managers how to listen all tap into providing a better employee experience. 

Be transparent!

Transparency is crucial to alleviating bias in how employees progress through the organization. Lack of transparency results in bias, influencing the identification of high-potential and future leadership pipelines. Without transparency, unconscious bias often results in leadership teams simply creating clones of what has come before (the ‘similar-to-me’ bias). 

  • How clear are the requirements for progression in your organization?
  • Is this information widely available to all?
  • Is there a range of diverse mentors/coaches available to help guide and support minorities through progression?

Take time to implement processes for succession that are well clarified. Be clear on what the requirements are for progression in your organization. This can be done through validation which provides data to correlate performance data with individual behaviors, helping to build a clear picture of what the requirements are for success. Creating visible pathways for leadership development will provide encouragement and inspiration for others.

Look to see where you can implement mentoring or coaching. This is especially useful for minority groups when the mentors/coaches belong to the same group.  Mentoring and coaching relationships can be supported through the use of Wave Coaching and Development Reports which help build strengths and provide clearly actionable advice.

Build more diverse leadership pipelines

With clear transparent processes, the route through to senior leadership becomes visible to all. However, there is little point in having a clear process that is still prone to bias. We know that leadership choices suffer from similar-to-me bias, yet half of organizations in a recent Saville Assessment survey still relied on manager-only nomination to join high-potential programs.  

  • Does your process pinpoint potential in a fair and equitable way?

For true diversity to flourish in leadership pipelines, what’s needed is a process that is able to pinpoint potential in an objective way.  A process that has structure, rigor and objectivity. 

We recently developed Wave-i to be able to do just that. Wave-i provides organizations with a well-researched, data-driven solution for identifying potential that has been fairness tested and is underpinned by uncompromising reliability.

The resulting dashboard is able to provide organizations with a way to pinpoint potential based on the criteria for potential in their organization. This is free from the distraction of individual characteristics that are unrelated to performance, and therefore maintains diversity. 

Wave-i dashboard
Be forward focused

Strategies to increase diversity in leadership must be maintained over time.

  • Do you have a clear line of sight around the chances of your leadership diversity being maintained over time?

Taking a forward-focused approach to overall strategy will help ensure in situations such as when your only female board member retires, you’re not left without representation in your leadership pipelines. Building more diversity into your pipelines using objective data as highlighted above will help avoid loss of diversity over time.

Supporting DE&I through lead activity

With the right initiatives and processes in place, organizations can create diverse leadership teams, lead others in a fair way and create leadership pipelines designed to maintain diversity in the long term. The critical components to this are:

  • aligning hiring and development strategies to DE&I
  • coaching leaders and managers on how to manage in a fair and objective way
  • identifying future potential in a transparent way that utilizes objective data 

Find Out More

For help ensuring that your lead activity is best supporting DE&I and for more information on our suite of leadership assessments or Wave-i, get in touch today.