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Here’s How to Win on the Diversity Front

Corporate Directors’ Forum shares their Diversity Strategy

Even with continuous, unassailable evidence showing that companies with diverse leadership teams have better innovation, cultures and financial performance, U.S. businesses are significantly lagging on the diversity front.

While many leaders realize they must take action, many aren’t sure where to begin.

What strategies need to be in place to truly impact diversity in your organization?  

In this Director’s Cut Podcast, Christina de Vaca, CEO of Corporate Directors Forum, discusses how she made it a goal to work with her team on increasing diversity among monthly guest speakers featured at CDF meetings.  As the leader of an organization whose mission is “to help directors, and those who support them, build more effective boards through continuous education and peer-networking”, Christina recognizes the impact of leading by example.  When you come to our next monthly meeting featuring Board critical topics, attend our Director of the Year event or participate in our annual Directors Forum in January – you will see diversity on stage and in the audience – and it looks effortless.  Our CDF members have investors, customers, employees and suppliers demanding diversity, Christina and her team have shown how measurable progress can be made in under 2 years. It starts with having a vision, aligning your team with your vision and being persistent with execution. 

Christina talks about CDF’s journey and explains the 3 strategies she used  to win on the diversity front: 

1. What is your current vision for diversity? 

If you don’t have diversity on your radar, your organization’s future is in jeopardy of being outperformed by your competitors who do. Now is the time to create a vision that your entire team will embrace. Make sure to involve the right people during the process, include those with diverse backgrounds, culture, gender, also find influencers in the organization who are passionate about diversity and make things happen.  Explain why you picked them, the reasons this is important to the organization and to you. Set deadlines and continually get updates so they know you are vested in getting this right. Have your team map out the ideal vision and test it with small groups of employees, ask them to encourage feedback both positive and negative. 

Make sure the vision on diversity lands how you intend. Early in my career I was asked to be on a committee of three to give feedback on a product for the Hispanic market. Myself, nor the other two on the committee had any credentials or cultural experience advising within that market. It was obvious they were using me as an influencer, knowing that and because of other missteps my confidence in leadership dissipated, I tendered my resignation and started consulting soon thereafter. 

2. How will you align your team?

Most business initiatives die of neglect, not outright resistance from your leaders or employees. Buy-in from key leadership is essential and how you get that is by including them along the way. Discuss the vision with your team, get their feedback regularly, make changes as necessary and continually confirm they are on board. Be sure to test and solve for resistance, concerns, unintended consequences and watch for signs that they are eager to make progress on impacting diversity.

What Christina discovered is when she made diversity a goal, shared it with her Board and her team,  she saw it quickly adopted as common practice for the CDF programs committee. Having the goal caused the team to seek out diverse speakers and reach out to resources that previously had been untapped. In less than 2 years, the CDF panel speakers and audience has become significantly more diverse and inclusive.

3. Who will create and execute the strategy?

As Thomas Edison wisely said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Once your vision for diversity is clearly communicated and the leadership team is on board, it’s time to select the team to create and execute the strategy.  Given diversity is a growth engine, confirm that you have selected top talent with proven experience to create and lead the plan. Christina advises listening to employees with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help you find the right people.  The CDF programs committee have become sleuths at discovering people and topics that provide additional layers of diversity as speakers at monthly forums. Ask within your company about who could add valuable opinions on creating a more diverse culture, and who might be a good fit to groom for future leadership roles within the organization.

Finally, you’ll want your team to approve the strategy and plan, identify plus communicate metrics, allocate proper budget and continuously check in to see that goals are being achieved per plan. 

What may seem like a challenging shift into the “modern era of diversity” turns out to be less complicated than it appears.  With a compelling vision, alignment on your Board and leadership team and smart execution, you will lead diversity to become a growth engine within your organization.   

Listen now: 

Mark your calendar for January 15, 16 and 17 for the Annual Corporate Directors Forum program featuring an all star speaker lineup: including Simon Sinek, Diana Enrique, Robert Jackson, David Greenberg and Mark Thompson. Don’t miss this chance to immerse yourself in candid content, panel discussions and peer insights with Board Members, Institutional Investors and leaders of public Companies.