Courage, the Missing Competency

Courage, the Missing Competency

Posted on June 19th, 2023

Diversity and inclusion are the functional job of the chief diversity officer. However, it is an organization’s leadership who must practice diversity and create a culture that supports inclusion. In my experience, organizations do not systemically follow this reality. Often things aren’t done because the diversity office is trying to determine how courageous it wants to be, and leadership is waiting for the CDO to provide guidance on how it can support inclusion.

Doing the work of diversity and inclusion courageously requires the diversity leader to discuss candidly the diversity challenges and opportunities available in the organization. Courage is not demonstrated through prolonged and sustained confrontation. Instead, the diversity officer — armed with data — proactively reveals issues that need to be addressed and what steps are necessary to address them along with realistic time lines.

Courage also requires the diversity leader to discuss candidly when issues are not being resolved and their effect on the organization and its employees. To do so requires a shift for diversity officers who must consider whether displaying such courage will cost them their jobs.

It can also be a shift for diversity officers for whom courage is not a natural part of their toolkit. It requires introspection. It also requires the diversity officer to ask whether by not being courageous, he or she is colluding with the organization, cooperating with others to reinforce stereotypical attitudes and prevailing behavior and norms.

A CDO who displays courage will tell leaders when their efforts to diversify are not working because certain members refuse to acknowledge their own diversity issues. That CDO will name those leaders so the CEO can act accordingly.

CDOs are not displaying courage when the CEO talks about diversity but holds none accountable for measurable results, and they say nothing. If the CDO refuses to address this with the CEO the organization will not move forward on diversity and will never embrace inclusion.

CDOs must link courage with inclusion to ensure diversity is sustainable, not the flavor of the day or an add-on. Every day leaders must strive for a diverse organization and be held accountable. By speaking out when this is not happening, the CDO increases the chances diversity efforts will become part of the organization; this leads to inclusion.

CDOs, the question is not whether you have a seat at the table. It’s whether leaders hear your voice and act. Organizational leadership look to you for advice. That advice requires you to assess what risks you are willing to take, when, how and in what venue you will speak out, whether you are willing to leave if the organization does not follow your advice and what should accountability look like in an organization committed to diversity.

I have heard countless times from diversity officers that their leaders “just don’t get it.” “It” meaning diversity. I understand their frustration with leadership’s failure to fully understand and support penalization associated with diversity and inclusion.

Yet, the history of diversity in the United States is swathed in legal directives. Many leaders still view diversity as compliance. Their actions are strictly based on head count for so-called underrepresented groups based on U.S. Census data. CDOs in compliance mode will measure success exclusively by how many underrepresented people are in the organization. It’s hard for them to realize you can count numbers, and ensure your organization taps into the differences that lead to innovation and productivity. This confuses diversity with Equal Employment Opportunity and does not help promoteinclusion. Such CDOs need to expand their view of strategic diversity management.

All leaders need to understand and articulate that diversity is about ensuring a bias-free environment, using all employees’ skills and talents to their full potential. That requires diversity leaders to unpack their organizations to determine points of courage and how they can coach leaders to have frequent, frank conversations steeped in courage from both parties.

CDO, how courageous are you?


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