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Chief Diversity Officers Discuss the Challenges of Developing Leaders

i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board gathered in Washington, D.C. September 21-22nd for a two day meeting hosted by The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Discussions focused on practices for developing leaders who are more effective at leveraging diversity. What do we mean by this? "Leveraging diversity" alludes to much more than simple awareness or even appreciation of diverse stakeholders; it means being more attuned to working with diverse groups--both internally and externally--to directly impact business results.

In addition to the conversation about leadership development practices, members of the CDO Board were presented with a first look at findings from i4cp's most recent study, Developing Leaders who Leverage Diversity (set for release to i4cp members this fall). Several themes emerged from those findings, augmented by the group discussion that followed:

The CDO should sit at many tables

Though a majority of the discussion day one revolved around the D&I function's partnership with learning and leadership development, it was agreed that broader insight into organizational goals and initiatives is critical to identifying where and how to leverage diverse stakeholders. Survey findings support this contention, showing that consultation between D&I and customer-facing functions to develop perspective on customer/market needs has a positive relationship to both market performance and the organizations ability to leverage diverse stakeholders.

High-performance organizations are also 2x more likely than low-performance organizations to view internally developed learning content as effective, indicating that materials that are more connected to the organization's specific processes and goals are seen as more applicable to learners. To make those connections, both diversity and learning leaders need to maintain awareness of how business units work and build strong relationships with business-unit leaders. Regular dialog with those leaders will also ensure that opportunities for the D&I function to help in attaining short- and long-term strategic goals are considered on the front end of project development instead of as an afterthought.

By day two, much of the discussion moved from improving the D&I and L&D function relationship--which was generally seen as strong--to improving both functions relationships with leaders throughout the organization to optimize collective efforts at both content development and alignment to business goals.

Make D&I-related leadership development less event based

Another point of discussion was the lack of follow-up to reinforce training--an issue the current study highlights. As with a lot of learning programs, D&I-related leadership development is often an event-based, one-and-done training module. Several CDO members agreed that even when training is impactful and integrated into a broader leadership curriculum, behavior changes will fade over time if there's no consistent reinforcement: biases will creep back in, cultural considerations will be forgotten, and the ability to leverage diversity for business results will stop being a go-to strategy. Several strategies were discussed to overcome this.

First, the survey showed that high-performance organizations are more effective at providing their leaders with experiential learning opportunities. These experiences--which can include things such as coaching, cross-cultural/generational mentoring, reassignment to diverse work groups, or participation in employee resource groups--tend to have more long term impact. High-performance organizations also tend to include leadership development skills for working with diverse stakeholders earlier in the development process and to reinforce and build on that development at all leadership levels (with some even including contractors with leadership responsibilities). Similar trends were noted in the way high-performance organizations approach global leadership development in the i4cp/AMA study Global Leadership Development: Preparing Leaders for a Globalized Market.

Also in line with the findings from the global leadership development study, there should be a mix of specific programs related to leveraging diverse stakeholders and promoting an inclusive, collaborative culture as well as embedded D&I-related content throughout leadership development. While content at early stages may focus more on compliance issues, as leaders develop they should be challenged with more experiential opportunities that focus on building collaborative skills and leveraging diverse stakeholders to support business strategies. Throughout, D&I should be acknowledged as a cultural value that is tied to the organization's brand and how they do business.

If your organization is interested in joining the discussion with top diversity officers from brands such as Ingersoll Rand, Choice Hotels, Sony Pictures, Pitney Bowes, Carolina HealthCare Systems, or The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, go here to learn more or contact your account representative.

Eric Davis
Eric received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Marshall University in 1996. He has had 20+ years of workforce experience in a variety of fields. Before coming to i4cp, he worked as a laboratory technician for DuPont, a conference planner for Marshall University, the public relations manager for the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Technical Manufacturing, and a graphic designer for COX Communications.