Accountability is key to enabling diversity and inclusion in organizations

Avoid these common missteps well-intentioned organizations and individuals take when it comes to D&I.

Despite increased investment in corporate diversity and inclusion initiatives in recent years, progress remains slow. Organizations risk being perceived as lacking true commitment to building diverse workforces and inclusive cultures without demonstrating sustained, tangible impact that validates their efforts. While there are many factors that contribute toward this trend, several challenges stem from a lack of organizational and individual accountability to drive the change needed.

Here are some of the missteps well-intentioned organizations and individuals take when implementing D&I initiatives and tips for chief learning officers to help redirect their approach and elevate organizational and individual accountability.

Organizational-Level Missteps

Organizations tend to make the following mistakes when it comes to D&I:

Starting with actions rather than outcomes. Many organizations start by taking direct actions that show their commitment to this agenda. They implement D&I trainings, create employee resource groups, celebrate various cultural and religious holidays, and provide public-facing D&I statements. While important, the collective impact of such efforts is limited if they are not tied to a comprehensive, organization-wide set of outcomes. An accountable organization defines and communicates a clear set of D&I outcomes first and then sets the tactical actions in motion that will help achieve those outcomes.

CLOs can hold their organizations accountable by working with senior leaders to shape and implement an enterprise-wide D&I strategy, one that defines and articulates the positive, future-focused impact and priorities that the organization will realize across their talent, culture, customers and communities regarding D&I. Involving senior leaders in the process will raise their collective accountability for its success and ensure the D&I strategy directly enables the achievement of the organization’s business ambitions.

Once in place, CLOs can work with a broad representation of the workforce to co-create and implement the roadmap, stating targeted actions, timelines, success measures and named leaders who are accountable for realizing each outcome.

Focusing on policies over leadership performance. Policies that recognize and respond to the various needs of a diverse workforce are necessary, powerful tools for attracting diverse talent. They are less effective at retaining diverse talent without an equal focus on the leadership required to foster an inclusive organizational culture. It is the daily experiences and stories of a workforce that define a culture, and it is the role of leaders to shape the required culture through their actions and interactions. An accountable organization complements inclusive policies with a sharp focus on inclusive leadership performance. These organizations tie their business goals and D&I strategy (the “what”) to a clear set of inclusive leadership expectations that are required to drive such outcomes (the “how”).

CLOs can help define and state clear inclusive leadership expectations for organization leaders. They can further hold leaders accountable for demonstrating these expectations by measuring leaders’ demonstration of inclusive behaviors over time, along with tying their impact directly to performance and total rewards.

Defining but not embedding leadership performance. Organizations risk thinking that the work stops at defining what is required of leaders to act inclusively. They do not always provide leaders with the continued investment, resources, tools and support required to help them embed inclusive leadership practices into their daily work. An accountable organization acknowledges that leadership is complex, challenging and overwhelming, especially when leading across a diverse workforce. Accountable organizations not only clarify the required leadership expectations, they invest in leaders’ individual and collective development to sustain their impact.

CLOs can work with individuals and teams to consider how their leadership styles and interactions currently compare with the required inclusive expectations. They can use this insight to build a prolonged, holistic leadership strategy that builds leaders’ self-awareness through ongoing reflection, connection, skill-building, feedback and action planning. In doing so, CLOs can enhance the individual and collective accountability of leaders to deliver the required shifts in their leadership and culture.

Individual-Level Missteps

Well-intentioned individuals can inadvertently limit their ownership of D&I within their organizations in two key ways:

Seeing D&I as a single, isolated construct. D&I is a multifaceted, ever-evolving learning journey individuals must continuously navigate by testing and retesting their biases and assumptions. Individuals who see D&I as a one-time, one-directional training exercise where they expect to be told what to do miss taking accountability for investing in their own learning and growth within and beyond the workplace.

CLOs can help by framing D&I as a comprehensive term that encompasses a range of topic areas and learning opportunities. For example, CLOs might offer forums and resources to help individuals develop active listening skills, have courageous conversations and build inclusive team norms. This will help them break down the concept of D&I into concrete aspects of their work.

Focusing on what others need to do, rather than looking at themselves to consider how they can shift the culture and impact through small, significant actions. This can be difficult to do, especially for individuals who are excluded due to the noninclusive actions of others and those in positions of power.

Accountable individuals acknowledge that there is always work they can do to foster inclusive environments. They stay alert to their cognitive biases, seek out a diverse set of connections, experiences and perceptions, and continuously challenge themselves to learn about the messages they are sending to others.

CLOs can build individual accountability by giving people the skill and the will to discuss areas of diversity, inclusion, identity and bias. Offering accessible forums for diverse groups to regularly come together to ask questions, share experiences, learn skills and create action plans will raise the level of individual and collective accountability through enhanced confidence and agency. Such forums need to be facilitated by skilled individuals who create safe, respectful and high-trust environments, so CLOs can determine who might be able to set these conditions through their work and leadership.

Infusing accountability at the organizational and individual level is key to building diverse organizations with inclusive cultures. CLOs can build accountability at multiple levels through their work with senior leaders, teams and the enterprise by ensuring D&I is framed as a leadership challenge and an enabler of enhanced business performance, as well as clarifying the roles and expectations that will contribute towards the organization’s collective impact and long-term success.