In Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she suggests, “In the future, there will be no female leaders, there will just be leaders.” As I walk through Grand Central Station in New York City, a place that naturally evokes ideas about possibility, I can’t help but pause to reflect on the power of that statement and what it will take to get there.
I’m participating in a leadership panel for the incoming class of our Global Development Program to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) as colleagues launch their careers with Willis Towers Watson. Sitting in front of 50 high-potential individuals from around the globe, there’s a great energy in the room.
Hands shoot up with questions as soon as the panel begins:
- “How many women and minorities are in leadership roles today and how do you plan to grow that number?”
- “Legislature is changing in Europe, how are we responding? What role do we play across the globe in shaping policy?”
- “How can we become more comfortable discussing diversity in the workplace and with our clients?”
It’s clear the next generation entering the workforce expects answers to these questions, raising the bar to push beyond rhetoric and test organizational commitment to D&I in the workplace. I would love to have all the answers. Instead, I share my own personal story for why D&I matters to me, where Willis Towers Watson is in our journey as a company to promote a diverse and inclusive culture, and ways to get involved and make a difference.
I have often been the only woman at the table and almost always the youngest. Working hard, achieving results and supporting others along the way has opened doors and created new opportunities for me. Thanks to exposure and opportunities provided by sponsors and mentors, I have earned a seat and voice at that table.
My sponsors and mentors – both men and women – have served as lighthouses, tough coaches, and even silent observers, advocating behind closed doors (something I didn’t discover until later). I continue to preserve my seat by supporting others in their career goals and development, challenging the status quo, remaining humble and living a learning mindset. I’m passionate about paying it forward and offering to help clients advance in their journey.
What can employers do to promote diversity and inclusion?
While research substantiates that diversity and inclusion is a business imperative, it’s still challenging for many companies to put it into practice, often due to competing priorities, limited accountability or resources, or difficulty identifying where to start. Here are four things companies looking to take the next step in their D&I journey should consider along the way:
- Measuring and defining your baseline is an important starting point. Establishing metrics for the employee lifecycle (e.g. applicants, hiring, engagement, retention, and promotion) of underrepresented populations can help you measure progress, understand challenge areas, and be able to demonstrate ROI and improvement through programs and initiatives. While many companies are challenged by data gaps and discrepancies, if leadership is committed, there’s a way to move forward.
- Diversity and inclusion needs to be addressed throughout the talent management lifecycle. Once you bring diverse talent in, how will you engage, develop and retain them?
- If you’re committed to transparency, your employees will expect you to share commitments and progress. Many companies are making public commitments to employee and supplier diversity. Are they ready to fulfill that promise to their employees and stakeholders via communication, continuous measurement and change management?
- Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Companies that get it right embed it in their culture and benefit from unlocking its potential (to learn more on the linkage between diversity, inclusion and engagement, check out this article based on our employee insights research).
What can employees do to promote diversity and inclusion?
So how do we lose the qualifiers – gender or other dimensions – before the term “leadership”? How do we contribute to realizing Sandberg’s vision? Here are a few ways we can make an impact:
- Educate yourself on the issues and work to reduce your own judgement and biases.
- Share what you learn with others and engage in meaningful discussions about diversity and inclusion.
- Get involved!
- At your company: Join or start an employee resource group to connect with others. Identify ways these groups can add business value to gain leadership support and company commitment.
- In your community: get involved with organizations that are committed to embracing diversity and developing an inclusive culture.
- Through your daily interactions: Pause to take note of when you’re committing to an unsubstantiated judgment about someone else’s or even your own abilities.
I’ll wrap up with another insight from Sandberg: “Talking can transform minds, which can transform behaviors, which can transform institutions.” Please join the conversation – what can you do in 2018 to move from rhetoric to commitment when it comes to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace?