Leading from the front

Diversity should not be something left purely for an internal diversity group. Maybe you should ask the question: what have you done recently to show your support for your diverse staff? By Cathy Parker.

Over the last few months, I have seen some great examples of senior managers leading from the front in terms of their company’s diversity initiatives, rather than just ensuring that relevant boxes are ticked or leaving things to HR or a diversity representative/team.

This not only shows that the company has a strong commitment to diversity, but that those at the top have an interest and passion about it and people in their team will, in turn, know that management has their back.

Two of these cases concerned rainbow diversity during recent Pride events. In the first, Rainbow Auckland had its Pride Week event where the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust University Scholarships were announced.

A number of corporates which sponsored Rainbow Auckland or the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust or who had sponsored the one-year university scholarships attended. But in only one case did the managing director attend to support her company’s rainbow group (they also funded one of the scholarships).

I am sure that this level of support is well received by rainbow staff at that business (which operates in an industry that would not be regarded as historically rainbow or diversity friendly).

The second occasion during Pride was a senior officer in the NZ Defence Force who is active in their Overwatch (pride group).

He posted a photo on LinkedIn of him at work, in uniform, holding a rainbow mug with the simple caption ‘Visibility Matters’.

It’s now been seen worldwide more than 250,000 times and has resulted in invitations to speak at NYU and for him to be interviewed by a Harvard Law School Professor, both on the topic of inclusive leadership.

Again, this level of support from senior officers would be seen as a signal to others in the Defence Force of the high level of diversity support that exists.

Whilst these examples are both in terms of rainbow diversity the same principle applies across all diversity initiatives including gender, cultural and disability.

A CEO that takes an active part in the diversity activity will empower the company’s diversity groups in their efforts, by showing there really is a commitment from the very top, rather than just some lines in the policy statement and gaining the appropriate Diversity Tick.

Beyond that it will also show diverse staff that the management and the company have a genuine interest in their lives and well-being, which is important in terms of allowing staff to bring their whole selves to work.

This is not to say that senior managers should be at every diversity meeting but being present for significant events shows their commitment and empathy.

Diversity should not be something left purely for an internal diversity group. There are obviously more examples of this support, but these are a couple that stood out for me.

Maybe you should ask the question: “What have you done recently to show your support for your diverse staff?”

Cathy Parker sits on a number of boards and is a director of Adrenalin Publishing, the owner of Management magazine.

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