July 01, 2019

Want Your Company to Be a Talent Magnet? Build a Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Executive Team

Deary Duffie

Deary Duffie
CEO/DPD Associates

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One of the most significant challenges my clients face today is regarding evolving employee expectations. Employees are staying in the workforce longer and in different ways. They want more flexibility to address "life circumstances," and they want opportunities to develop and grow in their career. I have seen companies fail to meet employee expectations because they often use a homogeneous "one size fits all" approach to managing. That approach doesn't work. Higher employee turnover, especially top talent, is the result. Talent War articles in high- tech and biotech are plentiful, yet few outline the role of executive teams to address this issue. I coach and guide executive teams to create varied approaches to this challenge. In doing so, they achieve higher levels of performance, retain their top talent, and attract new talent from a more diverse pool.


Many executive teams struggle to understand the relevance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their role. I use dialogue-approach with clients to help them understand their significance. Dialogues always begin with a compelling question; a question that generates curiosity, surfaces underlying assumptions, and invites new possibilities. A few questions I use include: How do diversity, equity, and inclusion manifest in our organization? How does this manifestation impact our ability to be the highest performing company? My clients realize that organizational issues regarding performance, culture, change, and personal accountability are relevant to the policies they establish. This kind of dialogic exploration ensures that each team member's challenges, obstacles, and hopes are acknowledged and understood before making policy decisions.?


The first "dialogues" inevitably lead to team members sharing personal stories. I support this. Research has shown that teams engage more effectively when shared information blends personal stories with facts and data. My clients accelerated their progress toward the highest performance by telling their own stories in the appropriate business context. The powerful questions I use include: What is the story you tell yourself about the value of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive executive team? What has been your personal experience with being excluded? How did this experience of exclusion impact you? Self-reflection, courage, and authenticity are tantamount.


My executive clients are action-oriented and want to apply what they learn with their employees. I work with them to create venues for listening to employees' experience. I encourage them to share their own stories. It is crucial for the entire executive to participate — this signals the team's level of commitment to one another and the broader organization. After the "listening sessions," I debrief my clients with the questions, "What is the most important thing you learned in the listening session?" "What was your experience of sharing your personal story with your employees?" "How has the experience and learning shifted your thinking and behavior?" Listening sessions between the executive team and employees facilitate the co-creation of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.


My clients realize these dialogue skills are useful in other venues. Venues we identified included: Interviews for critical positions, cross-departmental strategy meetings, inter-company collaborations, and industry-related conferences. To course correct in real-time, I coach my clients to utilize "huddles," and "time-outs." Preventing communication breakdowns improve individual, team, and company performance. Powerful questions for this work included: What could we do to move participants on the margin to the center? In what ways could I have been more flexible and open in this interaction? How could we coach and support each other in real- time more effectively?


My executive clients set the behavioral tone for other leaders in their organization. They realize their organization is more appealing to employees each instance they show an understanding of employees' unique capabilities and interests. I coach them to ground these practices in learning not ignorance, in curiosity, not indifference, and most importantly trust in others and not betrayal. Their positive employee engagement and business results speak for themselves.

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