8 Ways to Use Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Leadership Development Program

by Julianna Hynes, PhD, PCC

Knowing how to hire, develop and retain a diverse workforce is an increasingly important talent for leaders. While many organizations are making significant efforts to reduce bias in their hiring processes and increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups in leadership, progress has been slow. In response, more leaders are using diversity, equity, and inclusion principles as central tenets of their leadership development programs.

8 Ways to Use Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Your Leadership Development Program

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles help create a culture where everyone can thrive. They also give employees greater visibility into what the organization stands for and what behaviors it values most. Programs that integrate DEI principles improve retention and build trust among all employees so they are more willing to share their ideas. Here are 8 ways you can use DEI principles in your next leadership development program:

Ensure that your program is inclusive

The first step toward creating a culture that embodies DEI principles is ensuring your leadership development program is truly inclusive. Make sure you’re inviting everyone interested in participating in the leadership development program to apply and that you meet their reasonable accommodation requests. 

Also, consider making individual requests to those from underrepresented groups. Many women and people of color don’t know how to ask what they want. Or, they’re penalized for speaking up. 

Finally, ensure you create a safe space where everyone can freely share their experiences and concerns.

Build a diverse talent pipeline

HR leaders have traditionally focused primarily on hiring and retaining employees. Still, more and more, they are now also actively pursuing ways to increase diversity and the representation of women and people of color in their hiring processes. Some companies consider racial and ethnic makeup in their hiring processes and build a diversity pipeline. 

Look at your organization’s hiring process through an equity lens. How does your organization recruit potential employees who come from different backgrounds? Do you have strategies to reach out to diverse groups of people deliberately? Partner with organizations that support the hiring of people from underrepresented backgrounds. Depending on the leadership program you’re running, you can leverage your organization’s internship program to increase the number of students and young professionals from diverse backgrounds.

Incorporate DEI principles in your hiring process

In addition to being aware of how your organization’s hiring process includes people from different backgrounds, you can also use diversity, equity, and inclusion principles to create a more inclusive hiring process. To do this effectively, you can use both blind and semi-blind hiring methods to remove the emphasis from just one aspect of hiring. For example, if your hiring process over-emphasizes the candidate’s previous experience, you can use a blind interview process to remove that emphasis. How? 

Make inclusion and collaboration a central part of your culture

Before you bring new people on board, make inclusion and collaboration a central part of your onboarding process. If you’re working with a company experienced in building and managing development programs, they’ll likely have a wealth of information on how to do this. 

If you’re starting your program from scratch, here are a few ideas to help your program reflect DEI principles:

  • Hold a welcome dinner where you invite diverse leaders across the organization to join you.
  • At the dinner, ask each new hire briefly introduce themselves and share what they’re most excited about in joining the company.
  • Create a buddy system where new hires partner with a “buddy” who can help them navigate their new job.

Allow team members time to participate in employee resource groups (ERGs) and attend other networking events

An ERG is a collection of employees who identify with or are allies of a particular underrepresented group (e.g., women, veterans) who come together to support each other’s professional and personal growth. They also collaborate with senior managers to help the company with initiatives that support diversity and inclusion. 

Other networking opportunities, especially with senior leaders, allows your team members to gain visibility and practice their interpersonal skills. 

Coach managers on developing effective working relationships with diverse colleagues

Managers and other leaders play a huge role in shaping a company’s culture and setting the tone for following DEI principles daily. Help your managers identify opportunities to get better acquainted with colleagues from different backgrounds. 

If you’re working with a company that offers coaching or leadership development programs, they’ll likely help your managers learn how to navigate the challenges of working with a diverse team. 

Ensure that you recognize and reward behaviors that reflect DEI principles

While an essential part of every organization’s culture, performance management can also be a great vehicle to highlight behaviors you most want to encourage among your employees. If you’re working with a company that offers performance management services, they will help you incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into your performance management process. If you don’t work with an external organization, there are many aspects of performance management that you can implement, including:

  • Creating opportunities for employees to build their interpersonal (non-technical, a.k.a “soft”) skills through training on communication, influence, and negotiation, for example. Workshops on cultural awareness and sensitivity training for managers are also options. 
  • Partnering with external organizations that offer leadership and development programs. They can help you design programs that teach the above skills while helping your employees feel more comfortable in the workplace.
  • Assisting employees to develop critical skills that will help them succeed in their careers.

Incorporate activities and processes that will help employees feel more comfortable speaking up about issues or concerns related to diversity, inclusion, and equity

Diversity training, testimonial dinners where employees from different backgrounds share their experiences of working at the company, and roundtable discussions on current events affecting people from diverse backgrounds in the workplace are examples. 

These activities aim not to solve particular problems or issues but to create a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up about issues and concerns related to diversity and inclusion. This allows individuals to solve problems on their own before becoming more severe and helps them feel more comfortable sharing their ideas with others.