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November 2009 Diversity and Inclusion Best Practice


Diverse leadership teams enhance engagement, productivity and performance


“A diverse leadership team is likely to have a greater capability and understanding of how to engage its entire workforce”. That is the assertion I made at the start of my presentation to the 2009 World Diversity Leadership Summit at the IMF in Washington DC, speaking on the topic of Board Diversification and Shareholder Value.


Of course, the case for diverse boards understanding diverse and global markets better is well known. However, their potential impact on employee engagement is less frequently made. Yet research by Gallop (2006) for organisations in the UK with engagement scores in the top quartile shows they deliver:

-         12% higher customer advocacy; 18% higher productivity; 12% higher profitability;

-          Earnings per share 2 – 6 times that of organisations with below average engagement scores.


Engagement needs to embrace everyone in the workforce to really deliver the performance benefits. However, IDC’s research, conducted with different organisations and in different parts of the world, has consistently demonstrated that employees from ‘minority’ backgrounds feel less engaged than those from the ‘majority’, i.e. those who have historically held the power. In the UK this has usually been white, middle class, middle aged men. Hence, to fully engage everyone it is critical to transform these white, masculine organisational cultures into ones that are more inclusive of everyone.


This starts with the leadership, which has to understand, or accept, that its organisational culture is not fully embracing minorities. Achieving this, with predominantly white, male leadership teams, often requires what I call an ‘I never realised’ moment. This occurred recently for a client’s white, male Chief Executive after his Head of Diversity had persuaded him to attend a meeting of their Minority Ethnic employee network. He had firmly believed unconscious bias did not exist in his firm. He was astonished when network members told him their everyday experiences of it, e.g. being interrupted, not being listened to, feeling that their ideas and opinions were not valued. The same occurred in another client in which IDC had carried out a global, diversity diagnostic to determine the areas of exclusion in its culture. I presented the findings to its global diversity council, including everyday exclusion stories we had been told by women and ethnic minority people. It was these stories that resulted in the white, male Council Chair and President stating, with emotion, “I had never realised”. In both of these clients, the ‘I never realised’ moment has resulted in their leaders sponsoring and leading corporate wide effort to transform their cultures. Both are delivering increased engagement scores and improved retention of high potentials from minority backgrounds.


A diverse leadership team is more likely to appreciate the everyday exclusion which ‘minorities’ experience in a white, masculine culture and be acting to transform it to one which engages everyone in helping the organisation succeed. Such a team is less likely to need the ‘I never realised’ moment.


IDC has the transformation knowhow and experience to help your organisation build a more inclusive culture and obtain the benefits of engaging a diverse workforce more fully in delivering business success.


Dr Ian Dodds,


26 Oct 09

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