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Leaders Believe They Value Diversity, But Direct Reports Don’t Agreeby Zenger Folkman October 15, 2017

How important is a leader’s commitment to creating a culture of inclusion?  How important is it that leader’s embrace and deliberately act to create a diverse organization?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article my colleague Joe Folkman and I shared our analysis of assessments from over 1.5 million raters describing 122,000 leaders from data collected over the last decade.  We were searching for new competencies that may have become more relevant and critical for leaders today than they had been in the past.  One of the most noteworthy competencies to emerge was the ability to value diversity and practice inclusive behavior.

Leaders were assessed on this capability through 360-degree feedback, collected from their manager, peers, direct reports and others with whom they worked.  Two of the items used to evaluate the effectiveness of leaders on this competency were:

• “Takes initiative to support and include people of different backgrounds and perspectives.”

• “Actively builds a climate of trust, appreciation and openness to differences in thoughts, styles and backgrounds.”

Note that the items evaluate a leader’s ability to create an inclusive environment.  The items take a broader view of diversity than merely  gender or race; and asked about diversity in background, perspectives, thoughts and styles.

(While our general conclusions come from our global database describing this competency, we  will  highlight results from one large global company.  The results shown below are based on data regarding over 4,000 leaders from that organization.)

Impact Of Valuing Diversity

We first sought to answer the question regarding the value and importance of this competency.  We can recall the time in years past when many saw this as just a “nice to have capability.” Is this now a critical competency that will impact the effectiveness and future success of a leader?  To answer that question objectively, we turned to the data.

In our first analysis, we conducted a “differentiation analysis” examining which behaviors would most effectively separate the best from the worst leaders.  We found that the two “diversity and inclusion” items were among the top 30 items.

We then analyzed the correlation between how a leader was rated on the diversity competency and their rating of their overall leadership effectiveness. The graph below shows the results.  Note that leaders who were rated very poorly on valuing diversity and inclusion were only rated at the 15th percentile on their overall leadership effectiveness.  Those who were rated in the top 10% on those two items were on average rated at the 79th percentile. This confirmed the strong correlation between a leader’s perceived overall effectiveness and their perceived inclusive behavior and actions that signaled that they valued diversity.

Correlation Between Valuing Diversity/Practicing Inclusion With Overall Leadership Effectiveness

It appears that displaying inclusive behavior and being perceived as valuing diversity is a key factor in elevating a leader’s overall perceived effectiveness.

Differences By Management Level, Gender And Ethnicity

Since the impact of valuing diversity and practicing inclusion was so significant, we were interested in conducting a demographic analysis of the data to understand which groups were more effective in practicing inclusion and valuing diversity.  We had demographic data on 1,628 of the leaders.  (It should be noted that this organization had an excellent track record around their practice of valuing diversity and practicing inclusion.)

In the demographic analysis, we compared the executive population of the more senior leaders to managers and supervisors.  We further analyzed the data by gender.  Not surprisingly, we found  that the executives and senior leader were rated significantly higher on their ability to value diversity and practice inclusion than were the middle managers and supervisors.

There were also absolute differences between males and females, but those differences were not statistically significant.  Repeatedly we have seen how prejudicial behavior by a senior executive can have an extremely negative impact on the culture of an organization.  Ensuring that senior leaders are perceived as being effective at valuing diversity and inclusion is a key factor today in organizational success.V

In this third analysis, we analyzed ratings of practicing inclusion by management level and by ethnicity.  We do not believe that these results are representative of any global or national trends but the analysis did bring out three especially important points.

1. Because a leadership team is itself diverse does not necessarily mean that they will be effective at valuing diversity and practicing inclusion. Valuing diversity is an attitude and mindset.  Practicing inclusion involves a set of behaviors that can be developed in leaders.  They are not automatically inherited simply because their current group is diverse.One of the authors was coaching a leader who was responsible for building the Japanese division of a global company and making it extremely successful.  After looking at his rating on valuing diversity the author thought, “There must be some mistake in the data,” because of the very low ratings.  Inquiring if the leader thought that this was an error the leader responded by say, “Oh no, it’s perfectly accurate. I have spent the last 10 years forcing our organization to conform to the Japanese culture and approach. I have been very inflexible.”

2. Self-perceptions in this arena are not highly accurate. Many leaders, especially the less effective ones, assume they are better at valuing diversity and practicing inclusion than they truly are. Conversely, those who are among the most effective leaders rate themselves as being less effective than others rate them.  It could be argued that individual leaders may know best about what’s in their heart, but others are in a far better position to objectively evaluate whether and how they practice inclusion in their day-to-day work.

3. Ideally senior leaders serve as role models and lead the way. If their behavior fails to convey valuing diversity and advocating inclusion then their direct reports will often emulate their leader. They absorb their attitudes and mimic their behavior.

Valuing Diversity And Practicing Inclusion Are Critical

The most progressive organizations throughout the world recognize the importance of this competency in their leaders.  Global organizations know this is a strategic advantage. Leaders who are less ineffective at this create significant problems that will haunt them and their organizations.   Fortunately, awareness and honest feedback bring change.  Intolerance and prejudice are not set in concrete, but can be modified.  Inclusive behavior along with valuing diversity can be developed.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

 


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