By Margaret Stuart
Listening and amplifying diverse voices unleashes all the forces every business wants: innovation through new ideas, a higher employee engagement, and improved collaboration across the entire organization.
In that sense, International Women’s Day serves not just as a time to celebrate, but a reminder of how companies need to take equality from a core value to a boardroom imperative.
While the conversation around diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) has arguably grown louder than it’s ever been, the critical next step is turning talk into action. It’s a priority that leaders in particular need to think through, both in terms of the next generation of female leaders in their midst and how equality informs their day-to-day relationships.
Here’s how I try to think about it in my own role at Salesforce: What I look to do is create an environment and culture where all ideas are welcome, and all have an opportunity to say “yes” to new opportunities. That includes saying “yes” to projects and roles that may seem beyond their job function right now.
We already make these courageous leaps at an organizational level. Many of the most successful businesses in the world only overcame their challenges by harnessing the power of technologies that changed everything about the way they work and serve customers.
In a similar way, leaders need to support women (and all other employees), first through deep listening and then using their business as a platform for change. What changes in this case is not just the company, though, but the individual career journey of the people they empower.
Taking Personal Accountability
As you listen and learn from a more diverse network, you also need to coach and mentor employees in a way that gives them the confidence to say “yes” to new challenges. I always come back to one of the best questions I was ever asked: “What would you do if you were not afraid?”
Those you coach and mentor may give very different answers, but your next step as a leader is to help them identify avenues to explore what they want to do further.
“When you take direct action on values such as diversity, equity and inclusion, you reinforce why they matter — not only to the rest of your organization but the wider world.”
In some cases that might mean helping them look more broadly than the opportunities that might be available within your own company. You might need to guide them in identifying not-for-profit organizations or business associations who can give volunteers valuable experience and leadership skills.
Another path is to discuss whether they might take the lead in bringing their peers together. Anyone can form a community group that wants to create positive and meaningful change. This can happen with official support from your organization, or simply as an initiative you encourage on a personal level.
Finally, leaders need to be more mindful than ever about their role as facilitators of diverse voices. In the shift to remote work, this means ensuring people are regularly brought together to check in and share how they’re continuing to learn and adapt through challenging circumstances. I do this every week at Salesforce, and the calls we have often end with people discovering new connections and mentors.
When you take direct action on values such as diversity, equity and inclusion, you reinforce why they matter — not only to the rest of your organization but the wider world. Let’s make IWD 2021 the moment more leaders decide the time to bring these values to life is now.