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  • Chris Donohoe

Why Your Leadership Team is Still Filled with Straight, White Men

Updated: Nov 29, 2017

Despite years of investment and effort, senior leadership is still overwhelmingly straight, white, and male. And according to a recent study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey, it’s going to take some time to fix the problem. The reality is that leadership teams still do not reflect the diversity of the communities in which we all live and work. Although this imbalance is difficult to correct, we have a hypothesis on how to begin moving the needle. Many leaders and decision-makers have blind spots that make them unaware of how their own race and gender-related biases and archetypes are impacting the organizations and teams that they lead. Our opportunity, then, is to address leadership blind spots with high-impact, training, and coaching.

The Big Question

Given the degree of investment and amount of training and support that leaders receive around inclusion and diversity, why is it that senior leadership teams are still so straight, white, and male?

Our Hypothesis

Leaders have blind spots in how they hire and promote talent within their organizations. They struggle to recognize how their own biases and archetypes are impacting the organizations they lead, especially as it relates to hiring and promoting diverse talent.

Hiring and promoting diverse talent requires a high degree of self-awareness of your own biases and archetypes, yet this quality is often not included as a core competency of leadership in Corporate America. Moreover, we are not doing a great job of teaching self-awareness to our leaders or holding them accountable for practicing it. Thankfully, this is a problem that can be fixed.

A Few Practical Ways to Move the Needle

Teach Self Awareness

Self-awareness is a skill that can be taught and learned – a skill rooted in radical self-questioning and identification of blind spots. I say “radical” to make a distinction between the superficial inclusion and diversity training that most employees are accustomed to and the type of transformational work that I’m promoting. It is incredibly difficult and confronting work to truly understand how your own biases and archetypes are impacting those around you. A simple one-day seminar is not enough to drive meaningful change. Instead, we need well-crafted training and ongoing coaching to provide leaders with the space and skills they need to take an honest look in the mirror and evaluate the impact of their blind spots.

Hold Leaders Accountable

The best way to achieve an outcome is to establish clear success criteria, measure progress toward achieving it, and then hold people accountable for the results. With that in mind, we encourage clients to include self-awareness as a core competency in their leadership frameworks – especially as it relates to leaders’ ability to reflect and identify how their own biases and blind spots are impacting the business. This type of reflection requires a high degree of trust and a culture that rewards honest and vulnerable self-evaluation.

Design Your Culture Around Honest Self Reflection

Culture is more than a set of value statements or words posted on the wall. It’s the aggregate of all the attitudes and actions of the organization. While the concept can seem abstract, there are many concrete ways to design and reinforce a culture of honest self-reflection. Take, for example, Patty McCord’s genius work designing a culture of honesty at Netflix. You can tell which qualities a company values by who’s promoted and rewarded. If your organization truly values self-reflection, then you’ll see folks being rewarded and praised for this behavior. When it comes to building more inclusive and diverse organizations, we’re asking our leaders to fundamentally rethink their approach to hiring and promoting. We’re asking for deep self-analysis around how and why they make the decisions they do. This type of reflection necessitates an unwavering commitment to supporting and encouraging self-reflection without fear of being punished or ridiculed.

To learn more about building inclusive and diverse organizations, sign up for our newsletter or send an email to info@uncommonly.com. We’d love to hear from you.