Everything Flows From the Top: How CEOs Can Take the Lead on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By The Intersect Group

As we continue our internal discussions on DEI, our series on the topic has been digging ever deeper into how companies can become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. 

We know that nothing changes at a company unless the Executive Leadership Team embraces the change wholeheartedly. 


So, heads up CEOs: How you can take the lead on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

  • Make it your purpose to lead DEI initiatives. 

Be bold. Go big. Be audacious as you set the tone and hopes for your company. Remember: it’s your vision that will see your company reach diversity-related goals. 

With your direct reports, create a robust strategy and a compelling story about your company’s “why.” If your direct reports aren’t representative of the diverse organization you wish to achieve, perhaps include employees from other levels within your organization to get the most varied input possible. Then create milestones. Make them qualitative and quantitative. Make sure they’re a stretch: “be bold.” (And then celebrate with everyone when the company reaches them).  

This blueprint of yours will help propel your company forward. Ensure it’s distributed through all internal channels (and even external – as we said, “go big). 

Let everyone in the company know that you take full responsibility for the results.  Ensure all members of your executive/leadership team and other managers are also accountable for owning their own plans, goals, and results. 

  • Walk your talk.   

Model the change you want to see. You do so by showing personal support of your company’s initiatives and modeling desired behaviors and even actions. 

Doing this is critical because no one in a company can undermine a new initiative more than a leader who pays mere lip service to it. 

  • Lead the change to a new corporate culture. 

As the company’s leader, the CEO, president, managing director, etc., you should chair a council or committee of senior executives (and minorities and other diverse team members, because chances are great that your senior executives are mostly members of majority groups). As the leader, you should encourage a broad base of managers and employees to reach out to and even create sponsorship and mentorships to minority groups in your area, region, state, or across the country. 

  • Partner with HR to strengthen current recruiting/hiring practices and policies to reflect your company’s new focus.

Review policies for unintended/unconscious biases and work hard to replace them with those that work to ensure equity and fairness via sourcing, recruiting, marketing, onboarding, employee development, promotions, succession planning, and so on. 

  • Make diversity and inclusion an integral part of your business. 

Aim to not make it an “extra” or “nice to have” part of your company. Just as your business makes widgets, provides such and such services,  gives its employees four weeks of PTO a year, donates $X to your charity of choice each year, you should make diversity, equity, and inclusion a part of what you are. 


Finally, the attributes of a CEO committed to DEI 

 Leaders absolutely onboard with creating a business that embraces the move to a more equitable and inclusive company are those who truly are committed to diversity, aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and hold themselves – and others – accountable to reaching stated goals. These goals, in fact, become personal. 

Such leaders show humility, admit mistakes and look for and understand their personal blind spots and biases. They are extremely curious about others, listen judgment-free and work hard to understand the views of those around them. They also take responsibility for both their personal and their company’s shortcomings.  


Take your company to a place far above others 

And we don’t mean just in the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. A serious commitment to this goal will ensure your company attracts top talent. You will retain more employees over time, and your business will enjoy a healthier bottom line. 

If you’re a CEO, company president/owner, or senior leader, how have your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts been going? We want to know, so call or email us and tell us all about it. (Do so, and you may appear in one of this series’ blog posts when we discuss real-world examples of companies upping their diversity and inclusion efforts.)