Many salient ally actions such as pursuing self-awareness, understanding others, demonstrating empathy, creating an inclusive work environment, advocating for others and helping employees achieve their potential are all essential, both to running a successful business and creating a workplace defined by respect, fairness and equality. In truth, you really can’t be an effective leader without also being an all-in ally for equity and equality. But it’s not always easy and many corporate leaders today find it challenging to meaningfully connect transparent allyship to their brand of leadership. Here are some key points to consider from our research with executive leaders across industries for our new book, Good Guys.
Leading as an ally has to come from the heart. Your equity and ally messaging have to be personal and authentic to have legs. If your followers don’t see you owning, modeling and fully engaging in programs and initiatives to drive equity in the workplace, chances are, they’ll tune out. Too many leaders merely delegate or outsource allyship messaging (e.g., diversity and inclusion experts, HR administrators), but compartmentalized trainings often fail to produce intended behavioral change—or even worse, they backfire by hardening existing biases. Moreover, these trainings too often focus on changing individual attitudes, beliefs and behavior—without considering how systemic factors (culture, policy, practice) affect individual behavior.
If gender equity is crucial to an organization’s future—and it is—then leaders must demonstrate how strategies to fix process and practices to enhance gender equity and inclusion are valuable in terms of measurable business outcomes.
First, leaders must be clear about the purpose of gender equity initiatives and be comfortable communicating these purposes and expectations to stakeholders, employees and customers. It’s not enough to talk about gender equity; leaders have to show they are committed with transparency and accountability.
Full transparency is about communicating exactly what each equity initiative is designed to achieve and how it is being accomplished. Diana van Maasdijk, CEO of Equileap, said, “One of the biggest obstacles to accelerating workplace equity is the lack of transparency from many companies regarding initiatives such as efforts to close the gender pay gap, to provide paid parental leave to both parents or to recruit without discrimination.” Want to recruit and hire more talent, develop trust with your board, increase your customer base? Easy—show them what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and the progress you’re making.
Organizational disclosure is a powerful tool and promotes trust. For example, 99 investors, representing more than $1.61 trillion in assets, recently requested that companies increase public access to workplace equity policies and practices across demographic diversity. Investors believe that these disclosures can have a significant impact on investing decisions and provide the opportunity to do a comparative analysis of company culture and risk. According to one CEO, leaders willing to publicly disclose their DEI policies and practices will be the companies that succeed by attracting and retaining the best and the brightest employees, and reducing risk to shareholders. Leaders know that full transparency about their gender equality initiatives is essential to effectively measuring their progress.
We measure what’s important and these measurements drive leader and organizational behavior. If you know you are being held accountable for a gender diversity goal, you direct resources to achieve that goal and account for your progress. And here’s the kicker—if hiring and retaining more talented women is a business objective, be aware that women respond more favorably than men to credible evidence of diversity gains!
Accountability for gender equity and inclusion is not just paying lip service or telling women how to fix themselves. Research suggests that establishing who is responsible, fostering a sense of responsibility and a method for holding leaders accountable are predictive of increased organizational diversity, inclusion and equity. Male leaders with a low sense of responsibility blame gender inequities on women because of their “choices.” Logically, their solution is for women to change their attitudes, behaviors and decisions—wrong answer! The good news is that male leaders with a high sense of responsibility recognize that men need to be part of the solution for gender equity, and are more likely to lead change.
It is equally important to use your position and power to hold other organizations accountable as an ambassador for your organization. For instance, as a high-profile exemplar, you wouldn’t participate in a non-diverse conference panel of all white men, and you shouldn’t agree to serve as a board member on a non-diverse board. Bob Coughlin, president and CEO of Massachusetts Biotechnology Council told us that in his role as CEO, he is asked to be on many company boards. When he chooses to decline, he will recommend three or four women who have better resumes than he does for the board seat.
Finally, allies in leadership expect and invite others in the organization to hold them accountable. Ask people to hold you accountable and give you feedback when you aren’t being consistent and courageous, or perhaps just blow a call. It happens to the best of us—and offers an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow.