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December 26, 2018 Article 4 minute read
You know that diversity is good for business. But is your organization diverse? Inclusive? Are you moving the needle in the right direction? Here are a few thoughts on how to drive diversity and inclusion from a leadership perspective.

Boardroom meeting

Studies overwhelmingly tell us that diversity is good for business. In fact, according to a National Organizations Survey, a one percent increase in diversity can mean as much as a 9 percent increase in revenue. So if there’s such a strong business case to be made for increased diversity, why are so many organizations failing to improve — especially among top management?

Plante Moran explored this topic during our inaugural Make the Mark Executive Forum for Business Leaders. I moderated the panel “Diversity’s impact on decision-making,” which brought together industry leaders Dr. Darienne Driver, president and CEO of United Way Southeastern Michigan; Linglong He, CIO of Quicken Loans; and Chris McCoy, Plante Moran group managing partner of firm administration.

Over the course of the panel, a few themes began to emerge. To drive diversity and increase inclusion in your organization, consider these four tips.  

Remove barriers at the entry level.

Management teams should look critically at entry points in their organization. Perhaps there aren’t qualified diverse candidates to move up because they haven’t been invited in on the ground floor. Why does this happen? Because often people can’t imagine what they don’t see.

Take Dr. Driver’s experience, for example. At one point, she was one of 50 black female superintendents out of 17,000 school districts in the country. That gap can’t be overstated. It’s hard for minority populations to see themselves at the top when so few minorities make it there. So, what was different for Dr. Driver? She was mentored by a black female superintendent — because she saw it firsthand, she believed it was possible.

Today, inclusion matters as much as diversity, maybe even more so. That’s because it’s possible to be diverse and still not be inclusive.  

It’s incumbent on everyone to own this issue. When diverse workers break through, don’t be afraid to ask them, ‘How can we make this organization more palatable for you? How can we groom people to get to the next level?’ Be comfortable reaching out and asking for ideas from people who’ve made it.

Think beyond checking the box.

There’s no value in simply filling out a diversity matrix. Today, inclusion matters as much as diversity, maybe even more so. That’s because it’s possible to be diverse and still not be inclusive.  

What matters is respect. It’s about people bringing their IQ and their EQ [emotional intelligence] to the table regardless of who they are. Inclusion works for business. It works for people. But it doesn’t work because of a matrix. Our panelists agree that we need a diversity of backgrounds, voices, and mindsets. You can’t gather that information from a form.

Moving beyond check-the-box diversity initiatives works in two ways. You can’t assume anything about a person because they’re in a minority group — or a majority group either -- a point that Chris McCoy was swift to emphasize. “At Plante Moran, we’re proud to support the message that the whole person comes to work. Maybe as a middle-aged, white man, I don’t look like a great diversity example, but you can’t tell my story simply by looking at me. I’m a first-generation college graduate. My wife and I have had to blend significant religious differences. I have gay relatives, and I’m a proud ally. All of these dynamics influence and affect me. I’m in the majority but it’s important that I think inclusively.”

Align top management with the message.

In order to increase the diversity of your leadership, everyone at the top has to be committed to this goal. They have to walk the talk. Grassroots efforts are great, but they won’t take shape and take off without ownership from the top. In order for diversity initiatives to be successful, they must start with your board and your leadership.

Think of it this way. If you don’t take deliberate time and effort to build a framework for diversity, it won’t happen. And it’s not about new talking points. It’s about connecting with your staff. Attend the different staff association group meetings. If they celebrate a traditional holiday, celebrate with them. Move from noticing differences to embracing them. That’s how you show your staff that we’re all in this together. We’re all people, and people are our biggest asset.

Use internal resources.

From the president to the administrative assistant, everyone has something to contribute. You never know where the next best idea will come from.

At Plante Moran, for example, the idea for “Mingle All the Way,” our highly successful holiday networking event, came from then-seven-year-staffer Nevra Kreger. Nevra felt that an exclusive, female networking opportunity might be great for practice development. The idea was to host a holiday-season event for female staff, clients, and prospects centered on networking, shopping, and fun. It quickly gained support from management and traction from offices across the firm, many of which offer their own interpretations of the event.

Grassroots efforts are great, but they won’t take off without ownership from the top. Diversity initiatives must start with your board and your leadership. 

What’s Nevra’s takeaway from this positive growth? “No matter how young or new you are, don’t be afraid to show initiative. If you see a problem, ask questions, and offer solutions. Start to rectify imbalances by working with people who are already there.

What’s next?

We recognize that this top-level diversity gap won’t be fixed overnight. The process of awareness to agreement to alignment to action takes intentionality. As Chris McCoy reminded us, “Be mindful that it’s an evolution, not a revolution; it takes time.” Businesses will succeed when we can get at these root issues from a human perspective instead of seeing them as check-the-box issues.