All leaders say they care about diversity and inclusion (D&I). But then when it comes to investing time, money, and changing current systems, that support often waivers. Most diversity and inclusion practitioners say leaders at their company don’t make this work a priority—even if those same executives have made public pledges saying the opposite.
As an HR or D&I leader, you already know you have to get executives 100% on board in order to make real change. But how do you actually do that?
At Peoplism, we work with companies at all stages of the D&I journey. Adapted from therapy, research and sales strategies, here are seven techniques we use (and you can too) to convince leaders to make the investments necessary to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company where all employees can truly feel they belong.
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1. Find their personal connection to diversity and inclusion
Researchers find that emotion is often more powerful than reason when it comes to decision-making. At some point in life, everyone has experienced the powerful emotions associated with feeling excluded or seeing someone they love treated unfairly. Tap into these emotional experiences to help leaders see the importance and urgency of D&I.
Try this: Ask “Do you have any personal experience with exclusion or inequity? Have you ever seen a friend or family member be excluded or treated unfairly because of who they are? What do you wish had been different?”
2. Create accidental advocates
When leaders are put in the position of having to advocate for inclusion and equity—even if it’s just for an hour—they’ll want to engage in behaviors that align with their actions as an (accidental) advocate. The more they act as advocates, the more they become advocates.
Try this: Ask leaders to speak on a panel about their experiences with overcoming barriers or ask them to serve as mentors to employees from underrepresented groups in the company.
3. Point out incongruencies in their actions versus behaviors
If members of your executive team say “diversity and inclusion is a high priority” and yet have devoted no resources to this area, bring that (kindly) to their attention. You don’t want to do this in an accusatory way, but in a curious way, like a therapist.
Try this: Say, “I know diversity and inclusion means a lot to you, and yet we don’t make any investments in that area. What do you make of that?”
4. Help them see diversity and inclusion as a business function
Often D&I work will get pawned off on a junior HR person or a D&I committee to oversee. Although these advocates can do great work, it’s not what they’ve been trained to do or hired to do, and it’s often something they’re expected to tackle on top of their “day job.” Nothing else that is actually a business priority would be handled this way. Can you imagine if a company’s sales strategy was “Let’s add sales as a bullet point on an engineer’s responsibilities” or “Employees interested in sales can meet once a month to discuss it”?
Try this: Point out the nonsensical way D&I is “prioritized” with the examples above, and offer an alternative. For example, “It wouldn’t be logical to build a product without a roadmap, right? Let’s invest in building a strategic, year-long D&I roadmap.”
5. Use scare tactics
Investing in D&I is not just about what can be gained, it’s also what can be lost. Remind executives of this.
Try this: Tell executives about research from the Kapor Center that found unfair treatment is the number one reason that people leave a tech job, and that each employee who leaves costs an estimated $144K to replace. You may also want to tell them about this research from Catalyst that non-inclusive working environments lead to a lack of productivity, creativity, and employee engagement.
6. Make them think it was their idea.
A powerful way to get buy-in for diversity and inclusion at work is to show executives its impacts are previously identified business priorities.
Try this: Ask leaders, “How high of a priority it is to have a financially successful company? How high of a priority is it that their teams are innovative? That employees are engaged?” Once they’ve said all of those things are very important, drop this truth bomb on them: diverse and inclusive companies make more money, have more innovative teams, and have more engaged employees. You’re not telling them D&I matters for the business, they’re telling you that.
7. Time kills all deals
This saying is the sales equivalent of “strike while the iron is hot”—and it may be the most important tactic of all! The fresher these topics are in executives’ heads (and their hearts) the more urgent investing in them will feel, and the more likely it is that leaders will be willing to allocate resources to this important work.
Try this: Once you’ve used any of these tactics above, have a concrete proposal that you are asking an executive to sign off on right away.
Like everything with diversity and inclusion, there’s no silver bullet for building advocates. Everyone is at a different stage of their journey, and no one’s advocacy is a finished product. Experiment with the strategies above to help move executives forward. And let us know what’s been working for you by tweeting @Peoplisms or email us at email@example.com.
Dr. Liz Kofman is the co-founder of Peoplism, an end-to-end D&I+ consulting firm. She’s passionate about bringing research insights into the real world.
Amber Madison is the co-founder of Peoplism, an end-to-end D&I+ consulting firm. She is a licensed therapist who obsesses over how to get humans to actually make changes.