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How to support and advance Black leadership in your organization

Supporting Black leadership is not only a moral imperative, but a core component of commercial value. Gen Z and millennials will no longer entertain companies that don’t care about racial issues. Consumers won’t purchase from non-inclusive companies.

Investors are increasingly aggressive around the social issues companies pursue. In addition, boards that do not represent the demographics they operate in are a brand liability.

Supporting and advancing Black leaders in an organization requires the following:

  • Internal analysis
  • Monetary and cultural investment
  • External recruitment
Missing any of these steps, or approaching them in the wrong order, could result in a failed inclusion program.

Key steps to help you grow and support Black leaders in your organization are below.

How do you analyse your company’s culture, behaviors, and beliefs?

An organization needs to ascertain the baseline of company culture before doing anything else, to achieve this, hold conversations with the leadership development team, and listening sessions with employees, to get feedback on the following questions:

  • What are your company’s core values?
  • How do your people embody and promote them?
  • How can those values drive equity, diversity, and inclusion?
  • And most importantly, when are those values not being upheld?
Further considerations include an anonymous company-wide survey, so employees feel safe submitting their honest feedback.

Executives and managers need to understand why inclusivity is so vital, and the importance of inclusivity needs must be stressed from the top-down. If an organization lives and breathes inclusivity, it is easier to build the company culture the organization aspires to achieve.

A clear internal communications plan ensures commitment from the people who are going to make inclusion a reality.

What type of DE&I investment will your company make?

Investment includes time, effort, and money.

Leaders need to own DE&I. This can be included as a regular board item, discuss progress on company-wide updates, or lead internal initiatives.

As a CEO or other C-suite executive, there is a need to demonstrate to the board how this investment is additive and supports commercial success. Without board support, inclusion initiatives can lose pace and run into roadblocks.

From a financial standpoint, a good option is to hire a diversity and inclusion consultant to analyse the company’s culture and recommend how it could be improved and transformed. It may mean hiring a CHRO or people officer who has experience designing inclusive cultures and talent strategies. Alternatively, it may mean investing in training around inter-team building, bias mitigation, and identifying prejudice and discrimination.

Should external recruitment be part of your DE&I strategy?

External recruitment is the quickest way to increase any aspect of diversity on an organization's leadership team. If businesses are working with a search partner, ensure they have proven successes in this area. Unfortunately, a large portion of recruiters claim expertise without the searches to support it. Lastly, it is important to ask the search partner to provide a list of the companies they have supported with diverse hires.

External recruitment isn’t an initiative an organization should undertake until there is a full understanding of the culture and values and until some genuine investments have been made in the inclusion and diversity roadmap.

The aim is to build out a diverse and inclusive workforce, not make token hires. 

A staggering number of Black leaders leave organizations where there is little or no genuine efforts to make the organization more inclusive.  

What are the challenges of DE&I?

Refusal to admit shortcomings

The first step of any organization’s inclusivity journey is asking questions and admitting shortcomings. An organization needs to take an honest assessment of where they are at, and any knowledge gaps, to ensure they can proceed to the next steps with success. Without this, the subsequent steps are going to be more difficult, or fail altogether. 

Rush to a solution

It is consistently noted that organizations try to solve their diversity problem by quickly hiring diverse entry-level talent en masse. The investment in diverse hiring practice is noteworthy, but it doesn’t address the broader systemic issue.

Talent will leave if the company culture doesn’t reflect their values and backgrounds, and if there is a lack of diversity in the leadership team to act as role models and mentors.

Reliance on conventional wisdom

Clients often note they are struggling to find diverse candidates, but they’ve continued to rely on the same recruiters, the same recruitment processes, and even the same recruitment fairs they always have without enacting any changes simply because “that’s how it’s been done before.”

Organizations may need to admit to shortcomings, and also face facts and reckon with the changes that need to occur; an organization cannot continue to fall back on old policies and procedures to address new initiatives.

Lack of investment in an ongoing process

Viewing diversity and inclusion as a one-and-done process is probably the most damaging perspective leaders and organizations can have.

If DE&I is not viewed as a journey, employees are less likely to buy into initiatives, inclusive behavior doesn’t stick, imputes for the cause ultimately are lost, and diverse hires lose belief and quit.

DE&I efforts need to be part of an ongoing process that will always need some level of continuous attention; initiatives should not be viewed as a one-time achievement that could quickly be forgotten.

How Odgers Berndtson can help

Odgers Berndtson has first-hand experience helping Black leaders join organizations across a plethora of industries. This includes Lamell McMorris, Principal and Head of Policy, Regulatory, and Government Relations at investment firm Edward Jones, Dr. Andrea A. Hayes, the first Black female Dean at the Howard University School of Medicine, and Shawn Purvis, President and CEO of defense firm QinetiQ US. 

If you’d like to talk to us about building a more diverse team, we’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to conrad.woody@odgersberndtson.com, or get in touch with us here.

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