Overcoming Challenges in Achieving Leadership Diversity

By Greg Grzesiak Greg Grzesiak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on June 29, 2023

Promoting diversity in leadership can be a complex task, and we’ve gathered insights from 13 industry professionals, including CEOs, founders, and diversity consultants, to share their experiences. From fostering confidence in diverse teams to adopting a multifaceted approach to a diverse pipeline, discover the challenges and solutions these experts have encountered in their pursuit of inclusive leadership.

  • Fostering Confidence in Diverse Teams
  • Using a Data-Driven Approach to Leadership Buy-In
  • Taking Proactive Steps for Timely Decisions
  • Mitigating the Impact of Preconceived Notions
  • Sustaining Long-Term Mentorship for Success
  • Implementing Anonymous Resume Screening
  • Structuring Evaluation and Diversity Training
  • Partnering With WOC-Supportive Organizations
  • Creating Awareness of Unconscious Bias
  • Viewing DEI as a Strategic Business Imperative
  • Linking DEI Initiatives to Organizational Goals
  • Expanding Recruitment Efforts for Diversity
  • Adopting a Multifaceted Approach to a Diverse Pipeline

Fostering Confidence in Diverse Teams

While promoting diversity, some inclusive members I spoke with expressed a lack of confidence in the organization and us. When faced with difficulties, these groups seldom ever raised their voices. For example, workers did not feel confident in expressing their ideas, especially if they were newcomers to the position or in junior jobs. 

To manage a varied team, we ought to make all members feel included and align the team’s choices with the business goals. This circumstance calls for a smart manager with excellent leadership and communication abilities. 

We endeavored to understand other people’s values. To give their team members equal and transparent opportunities to communicate and contribute their ideas for changes, we assigned smart managers and team leaders. Each employee must experience being looked up to and listened to, and realize their potential. For teams to create an environment that is conducive to innovation, these rare experiences are crucial.

Doug Van Soest, Co-founder, SoCal Home Buyers

Using a Data-Driven Approach to Leadership Buy-In

1. Senior Leadership buy-in for the business imperative of having diversity across leadership teams.

Approach: Have a data-driven dialogue on the impact of diversity on the bottom line, i.e., financial output, market share, profit, etc.

2. Getting Senior Leadership to accept the ground realities of unconscious bias at the hiring/retaining/growth of their employees.

Approach: Carry out a DEI audit and apply data analytics to convince the Leadership of the systemic changes that need to happen at the process, policy, and procedure level in order for diverse representations to thrive at the hiring/retaining/growth stages.

Sunitha Diversity, Managing Director, AGUA women’s leadership

Taking Proactive Steps for Timely Decisions

For promoting diversity in leadership, one major challenge I encountered was the frustratingly slow decision-making process. To address this, I took a proactive approach.

First, I started open and honest conversations within the organization, emphasizing the benefits of diverse leadership and the need for timely decision-making. I highlighted the research-backed evidence that diverse teams drive innovation, creativity, and better business outcomes.

Then I cranked up the urgency meter. I shared success stories of companies that had successfully diversified their leadership teams and reaped the rewards.

But I didn’t stop there. I set up some rock-solid criteria and evaluation frameworks to eliminate biases and make the selection process fair and inclusive. Collaboration with the HR team was key, as we implemented successful diversity training programs. We started making things happen, and diversity in our leadership became a driving force behind our success.

Sandeep Kashyap, Founder, ProofHub

Mitigating the Impact of Preconceived Notions

One challenge encountered while promoting diversity in leadership is overcoming unconscious bias and preconceived notions about certain individuals or groups. To address this, we implemented implicit bias training for all employees involved in the leadership selection process. This training aimed to increase awareness of unconscious biases and provided strategies to mitigate their impact. 

We revised our recruitment and promotion processes to focus on skills, qualifications, and potential rather than solely relying on traditional markers of success. By emphasizing diversity as a core value and integrating inclusive practices throughout the organization, we could foster a more equitable and diverse leadership team.

Brian Clark, Founder, United Medical Education

Sustaining Long-Term Mentorship for Success

One challenge I have encountered has been from business leaders looking for quick fixes to address the racial disparities within their companies that have sometimes included employees who have discriminated against and shown bias against their customers.

My approach to this challenge has been to explain there are no quick fixes or day-long workshops on inclusion that are effective for the long term. Helping leaders understand the necessity for longer peer-to-peer mentorship programs that not only teach about bias and injustice but also build genuine relationships between diverse people is the greatest way to achieve positive outcomes with lasting success. Everyone should feel like EQUALS.

Cheryl Cornelius, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist, Justice Journey Alliance

Implementing Anonymous Resume Screening

One challenge we encountered while trying to promote diversity in leadership was stereotyping and unconscious bias in the hiring process. 

To address this, I remember we implemented anonymous resume screening, which involved removing identifying information such as names, genders, and ethnic backgrounds from resumes. 

This allowed us to focus solely on the qualifications and experience of the candidates, helping to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias and create a more equitable and inclusive selection process.

Chris Muller, Vice President, Money Under 30

Structuring Evaluation and Diversity Training

One challenge I encountered while promoting diversity in leadership was overcoming unconscious bias in the selection process. Despite our efforts to foster inclusivity, biases can still seep into decision-making, hindering diverse candidates’ advancement.

To address this, we implemented a structured and objective evaluation system. We established clear criteria for leadership positions and used blind screening techniques to review resumes and applications, removing identifiable information such as names and gender. This approach helped mitigate unconscious bias and ensured a fair assessment of candidates based solely on their qualifications and potential.

We introduced diversity training for all decision-makers involved in the selection process. This training aimed to increase awareness of unconscious biases, foster inclusive mindsets, and provide tools to challenge biases during evaluations.

Himanshu Sharma, CEO and Founder, Academy of Digital Marketing

Partnering With WOC-Supportive Organizations

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant, I have observed that most organizations lack an intentional succession planning approach to their diverse workforce. There are rarely any mechanisms in place to identify talent and to create a development plan that will allow these individuals to progress to leadership positions and ultimately the C-suite. 

The statistics are even worse for women of color (WOC). For that reason, I partner with organizations to enroll their high-potential candidates into an intensive leadership academy specifically designed to develop WOC to be ready when the opportunities for promotion arise. 

Besides developing the skills and emotional intelligence to navigate more responsibility, they are given an opportunity to be mentored and to develop relationships with sponsors. It is this type of dedicated approach that’s needed, in addition to removing bias and other systemic barriers for us to get meaningful results with DEI in organizations.

Carolina Caro, DEI Consultant, Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Facilitator, Carolina Caro LLC

Creating Awareness of Unconscious Bias

Promoting diversity in leadership has been a focal point for me as a CEO. However, a significant challenge has been confronting and addressing unconscious bias, which can often create hindrances to diversity. 

Unconscious biases can unintentionally favor certain types of leaders, resulting in homogenous leadership teams. To address this, we started a comprehensive “Bias Awareness and Mitigation” training program for all decision-makers in our company. 

This program aimed to illuminate unconscious biases that might influence our decisions, particularly regarding leadership roles. By creating awareness, we could then address these biases and consciously work towards more fair decision-making. 

We have our HR team communicate well with the employees and resolve any problems, and remove members who create a distressing environment for any individual to ensure a smooth working system and maintain our inclusivity.

Vikrant Shaurya, CEO, Authors On Mission

Viewing DEI as a Strategic Business Imperative

I would say my biggest challenge in working with senior leaders in DEI is getting them convinced DEI is truly a strategic imperative in today’s business world, not just a “nice to have when budget allows.” 

Very often, senior leaders will invest in DEI initiatives when business is doing well, but in leaner years when finances are tight, they often view DEI initiatives as discretionary spending that can be cut. When organizations do the “start-stop-start-up again” cycle with DEI, much of the momentum is lost, and it is like starting all over again. 

I handle this by sharing with executives the compelling business rationale for DEI as a strategic initiative. I share about the rapidly changing demographics; that over 50% of the US population will be people of color around 2040, that over 20% of Gen Z adults self-identify as GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender), and that immigration between all countries and continents is at an all-time high.

Stan Kimer, President and Lead Consultant, Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, Inc,

Linking DEI Initiatives to Organizational Goals

The most common and significant challenge I’ve experienced is getting leaders, typically white males, over 55, to appreciate the value of DEI. The most effective approach is to make sure all initiatives and the business case are linked to organizational goals and objectives and are in sync.

Val Boston Iii, Certified Diversity Executive, DEI Consultant, Certified Executive Coach, Boston and Associates LLC

Expanding Recruitment Efforts for Diversity

One challenge I encountered while promoting diversity in leadership was the lack of diverse candidates in the applicant pool. Despite our efforts to create an inclusive and equitable recruitment process, we were not attracting enough diverse candidates for leadership positions.

To address this challenge, we took a proactive approach by expanding our recruitment efforts and engaging with diverse communities and professional networks. We partnered with organizations focused on promoting diversity in leadership and attended diversity-focused job fairs and networking events. We also revised our job descriptions and language to be more inclusive and appealing to diverse candidates.

We implemented targeted outreach strategies to connect with diverse talent. This included leveraging social media platforms, industry-specific forums, and online communities where diverse professionals often engage.

Sai Blackbyrn, CEO, Coach Foundation

Adopting Multifaceted Approach to a Diverse Pipeline

One challenge I encountered while promoting diversity in leadership was the lack of a diverse pipeline of candidates for senior positions. To address this, we implemented a multifaceted approach.

We focused on inclusive recruitment practices, partnering with diverse professional networks and organizations to expand the candidate pool. We also implemented blind resume screening to minimize unconscious bias during the initial selection process.

We prioritized internal talent development programs that offered mentoring, leadership training, and stretch assignments to underrepresented employees. This helped cultivate a diverse talent pipeline from within the organization.

To foster an inclusive culture, we implemented unconscious bias training for leaders and created employee resource groups to provide support and networking opportunities. We also established clear diversity goals and held leaders accountable for promoting diversity in their respective teams.

Viraj Lele, Industrial Engineer, DHL Supply Chain

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By Greg Grzesiak Greg Grzesiak has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Greg Grzesiak is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and Columnist at Grit Daily. As CEO of Grzesiak Growth LLC, Greg dedicates his time to helping CEOs influencers and entrepreneurs make the appearances that will grow their following in their reach globally. Over the years he has built strong partnerships with high profile educators and influencers in Youtube and traditional finance space. Greg is a University of Florida graduate with years of experience in marketing and journalism.

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