• Olivia Graham

Sustainable DEI Programs Come from Proactive Leadership

2020 undoubtedly became the year we learned a lot of lessons. Some came easily enough, like remembering to wear a mask when you leave the house. Others were brutally difficult, like understanding just how broken a system is that only serves a marginal fraction of the population. It also was the year that prompted people to get up out of their ideation seats and start doing something.

Historically speaking, leaders of large companies were counseled to not speak in a professional capacity on matters of politics, religion or any topic that might be considered controversial. Today we find ourselves in the unique moment where NOT speaking up on matters of the utmost importance is by far the most controversial decision a leader can make.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have gone from a consideration to a commitment, and for good reason. To meet the new standard of true inclusivity across professional settings, we must first understand that this demand for change is a movement, not a moment. Any structural or cultural changes that leaders and organizations make must be sustainable, so they offer real solutions as opposed to temporary distractions. The leaders who were most successful in guiding their teams through the pandemic and social justice movements were those who led proactively.

Forward-thinking and actionable efforts not only imply confidence and strength, but true compassion for employees and the enterprise as a whole. On the other hand, we also saw a lot of reactive leadership. In such turbulent times, it is understandable that leaders would share in our fear as we are all only human. However, fear is the enemy of progress, reactive communication means you are following as opposed to leading.

Something interesting that we saw over the course of pandemic management was that female leaders generally managed to more effectively advocate and find solutions for their team. This simply highlights one singular example of diversity in thought, experience and background better-serving individuals and companies. We must not only invite women to be in leadership positions but also encourage them to speak up and give them equal opportunities to succeed as their male counterparts.

This rationale applies across the board to minorities, differently-abled groups, marginalized people and cultural groups. Employees aspire to look at their leaders and see that they are being considered for more opportunities and outcomes. This starts by inviting people to lead who don’t all look, sound, think, feel or act alike.

Change is often intimidating, but somebody always has to be the first to make it. Some of the greatest professional achievements made across industries came from fearless trial and error. Don’t go in blind, look to your greatest asset: your employees. They will appreciate feeling heard and valued, and in turn, be more likely to participate in the sustainability of your efforts. Lead with proactive solutions at the forefront because it gives you more time to adjust as needed, time you are not afforded when you’re waiting to react.