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Are you dragging your feet on diversity?

170 years.

That’s how long the World Economic Forum estimates it will take to realize true diversity in the workplace.

What?! That’s not good enough.

So as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, it’s clear to me that as leaders we have a lot of work to do. But what is slowing us down?

Every leader I speak and work with agrees that diversity and gender parity is a critical business issue. So why are we moving at a snail’s pace?

I got part of the answer to this question last month.

I had the privilege of spending some time with Laura Liswood. She’s the founder and secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders, a group of 72 women presidents, prime ministers and heads of state. It’s the only organization of its kind in the world.

She has been a strong voice for diversity for decades and even wrote a book on the topic, The Loudest Duck – Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work, way back in 2009.

In our discussion, I asked her to give me her sense of whether things were getting better when it comes to diversity. She said they are, but ever so slowly.

She also shared some of her great perspectives. Many of them are captured in this video put together by The Adecco Group. It’s worth watching.

Liswood believes how we think about diversity slows down the progress towards it.

Some of us compare it to, as she calls it, Noah’s Ark.  “Let’s just get two of everything on board and things will be okay” is how most people think about it. This approach, however, is too simplistic.

Liswood believes that diversity is a path to innovation for organizations and society. But it doesn’t happen by accident. First, you need to make it a priority. You need to go beyond the superficialities. You need to create a culture where everyone’s voice is heard—really heard. People must feel included, involved and valued—only then will they be engaged.

This is a challenge Liswood has repeatedly seen in the corporate world. Everybody wants diversity, but they don’t know what to do with it once they have it. This further slows down progress.

As I reflected on Liswood’s insights, I considered how I think about diversity on a personal level.

Here are some questions that came to mind and you—men in particular—may find them helpful to guide your own thinking

  • What does diversity mean to you?
  • To what extent are you open to a diversity of ideas and thoughts?
  • Have you created a team climate where your team feels they can share their ideas openly?
  • Do your team members feel included, involved and engaged?
  • Do you treat men and women on your team equally and fairly in meetings and compensation-wise?

Once you have some clarity about what diversity means to you, you must act. It’s clear that organizations have been dragging their feet on this critical opportunity for far too long.

You don’t need to do so in big ways, but you can certainly set the tone with your own team.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about this and shared insights given to me by my longtime colleague, Tammy Heermann, another expert on diversity and women in leadership. A key thing for leaders to do is pave the way for women leaders. How do we accomplish this? Here are some strategies I have learned from Tammy’s research:

  1. Promote women into leadership roles
  2. Provide opportunities for women on your team to grow as leaders
  3. Be a champion of women leaders to senior management
  4. Create a team environment that women want to be a part of.

As leaders, we all need to get moving. We can’t wait 170 years!

Are you dragging your feet on diversity?

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