Dear CEO: Successful Diversity Needs the Right State of Mind


To conclude ProInspire’s work as curation partner for Independent Sector’s collection of diversity, equity, and inclusion resources, Ericka Hines and Monisha Kapila co-authored the following blog post about the importance of leadership mindsets to the advocacy and advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within an organization.

Our partnership with Independent Sector helped to identify and put in context a list of existing resources around diversity, equity, and inclusion; to create a common language around DEI; and to build a foundational understanding of the key issues that surround it.  At ProInspire, we are committed to the work of creating a more diverse and equitable social sector workforce at all levels, and we look forward to sharing more about how we will help move this work forward throughout 2017.

Read the full blog post below or click here to find it on Independent Sector’s website.

Dear CEO: Successful Diversity Needs the Right State of Mind
By Ericka Hines and Monisha Kabila

(Reposted with permission from independent

Throughout our partnership with Independent Sector, we have provided many rationales, tools, and resources intended to help your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Yet we know that tips and tools are useless unless you, as the leader, feel confident that these efforts will succeed.

You, as a leader in your organization, have an important and pivotal role to play in moving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) forward in your organization. Not only are you ultimately accountable for the results, but you also set the tone for how it will be received and expectations for how it will proceed. You are a role model and influencer across the organization and on your board. This requires confidence and a belief that you will succeed — even when there is no straight and correct route to the desired outcome. Your role requires you to persist in pushing forward and bringing your organization along with you.

In our experience working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have found that there are certain mindsets and conditions that will make you more successful in these efforts:

1. An inclusive and welcoming culture is the only way to have a truly diverse staff.

“Leaders need to put inclusion—not just diversity—at the top of their agendas and mean it. They need to actively talk about its importance, notice when it is present and absent, and set the agenda for the organization.” (Diversity is Useless Without Inclusivity, Harvard Business Review)

For many organizations, the most immediate diversity goal is to hire more people from underrepresented communities. Therefore, they dedicate time and money to building diverse candidate pools and making diverse hires.

In many organizations, this is where the efforts end. Focusing on hiring people from diverse backgrounds as the primary goal of a diversity initiative is shortsighted and naive. Studies show that professionals leave organizations because they do not feel welcomed, supported, or valued. In other words, they did not feel included.

Leadership needs to believe in the value of having an inclusive workplace. An inclusive organization is one that recognizes the traditional and non-traditional skills, aptitudes, educational experiences, knowledge bases, and potential personal and life experiences of each employee, and one that creates a structure that allows the organization to tap into these facets of each employee in order to help the company succeed. A critical part of creating a more inviting organizational culture is modeling: create environments for your immediate staff where they feel safe and encouraged to offer their different perspectives without concern of being ignored, or worse, stereotyped.

2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts must be mission-centered.

Recruiting and retaining a diverse team is the bare minimum of what your organization must do in its DEI efforts, but it is a critical first step.

It is imperative that when you hire and promote people in your organization, you always maintain a critical eye on diversity across your organization and at all levels. D5, a five-year effort to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy, emphasized that organizations working on DEI efforts have to align those efforts with their mission. In their own words:

“The business case for DEI fundamentally is about enhancing organizational performance by addressing structural barriers to opportunity. To that end, DEI should be tied to a foundation’s mission. When it is, in an explicit way, DEI operates on a platform having considerable traction. The broad range of foundations suggests a mission-anchored continuum in relation to DEI, ranging from mission-relevant to mission-central.” (Policies, Practices, and Programs Resource Guide)

In the middle of the mission-anchored continuum are organizations that believe diversity and inclusion work is central to their missions. As a leader, this means moving your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts away from a tangential approach, and your mindset away from DEI being a “nice thing to do.” It means that you have to believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are a “necessary thing to do” and central to your work and your mission. Think about diversity at the staff level, the programmatic level, the leadership level, and the board level and decide why it’s important and how you will benefit from it. More importantly, determine how your organization will benefit from these efforts and use that to sustain your commitment to this work.

3. You need to have faith in the organization’s capacity for change and resilience.

Leading an inclusive organization requires the development of a muscle that can learn, grow, and rebound when mistakes are made. Ultimately, diversity, equity, and inclusion work is about navigating change on personal and organizational levels.

Concurrent to recruiting a diverse team, you are creating an inclusive culture, which will benefit and change the organization for the better. Building an inclusive culture means creating and managing internal change. We recognize that this is an adaptive change effort. Successfully handling it requires strong change management skills and a belief that your organization is resilient enough to grow in this direction.

report by the UNC Kenan Flagler Business school states that “Resilient organizational cultures give all employees—from the CEO down—permission to take care of their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs with the understanding that when these needs are tended to, resilience occurs, and the entire organization benefits through increased productivity, job performance, retention, engagement, and physical well-being.”

Many of us think that if we have every tip, tool, strategy, and framework available to us, then we can avoid what we fear most: failure. Yet by confining ourselves only to the best practices and what has worked, we ignore the fact that, at its core, diversity, equity, and inclusion work is a changing, iterative practice that requires leaders to be open to change and failure that can come with that process.

Too many organizations are stuck in perfection paralysis. For legal reasons, for reputational reasons, and for internal reasons, these organizations aren’t moving forward on diversity and inclusion because they don’t have every step time-tested and proven. You will make mistakes, you will fumble, you might move too slow or too fast, but you must continue moving forward.

Ericka Hines is the principal of Every Level Leads where she works as a trainer and organizational consultant to help organizations build inclusive workplaces and leaders. She also serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at ProInspire.

Monisha Kapila is the founder and CEO of ProInspire.

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