“Because we know – empirically – that diverse groups make better decisions. And I know from experience,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in his speech to the Women’s Bond Club this April.  “Equality requires more than an institutional commitment – it must be driven by commitment and belief and heart at the individual level. By every person, in every part of the firm.”

When I read Larry Fink’s speech, I screamed in excitement, “Yes!!! An influential executive who really gets it. Someone who really understands that making traction in diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging are driven not just by the mind, but by the heart. It’s very much about inspiring commitment to diversity with inclusion from the heart.”

Diversity without inclusion is just a big mess.  Imagine the cacophony that results when lots of different opinions are voiced, but nobody really hears or values each other.  Eventually, when those different voices don’t feel valued, they fall silent, become disengaged, and often leave.  So, diversity initiatives should not just be achieving a defined representation of different demographics. For such initiatives to be successful, it is critical to create an environment of inclusion, belonging, and equity for people of all backgrounds.

Diversity with inclusion is how we can truly reap the benefits that people with different perspectives and backgrounds bring if they are meaningfully included.

Despite the strong business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I) backed by research conducted by reputable firms like Deloitte and McKinsey, there has been limited overall progress in diversity and inclusion, especially in the executive ranks of Corporate America. 

Although women account for about half of entry level positions, they only make up about one-quarter of the C-suite.  For minorities, under-representation in the executive ranks is even more marked as race is a bigger barrier to ascending the corporate ranks than gender. (See Ascend Leadership’s report for data.)

Indeed, change takes time and can be quite challenging to implement.  It requires aligning and embedding the essential values, behaviors, incentives, and systems in the day-to-day.  It’s not about one-off events or training. As suggested though in a recent report by Russell Reynolds surveying 234 top diversity executives from the S&P 500 companies, “executives charged with leading D&I efforts are not well-equipped to spearhead the necessary organizational changes.”  These executives need genuine support, including money, power, and respect to get the job done.

As Larry Fink suggested, it takes personal commitment at all levels of an organization to effect meaningful change. In particular though, those with power, influence, and/or budget to implement change must feel genuinely inspired to act with conviction.  Rational arguments based on the business case have not been sufficient to inspire such meaningful commitment across corporate America.  Unless a stakeholder has been personally impacted by diversity and inclusion, even compelling data and research oftentimes still feels “hypothetical” and insufficient to motivate action.  As we know from many other aspects of our lives, driving change and action is oftentimes not a matter of the mind, but of the heart – an inspired passion to drive change because you know in your heart of hearts that diversity with inclusion is the only path forward.

Prior to founding Inspiring Diversity, I was that woman of color rising up the corporate ranks over twenty years to become a senior vice president at a large financial services firm.  Leveraging lessons that I learned from my own challenges as well as successes, I committed myself to providing those solutions that I felt should have always existed to build more inclusive, collaborative, and high-performing culture. 

Was it a rational decision to embark on my entrepreneurial journey to provide solutions to build inclusive culture? While I believe in the market need for and my ability to provide practical solutions, it was my passion and commitment to driving change that propelled me to take the big leap from big corporate to entrepreneurship.  Given the high likelihood of failure that most entrepreneurs face, it was certainly a decision of the heart and not of the mind.  I was committed to Inspiring Diversity.

So, how do you inspire diversity with inclusion? Here are a few ideas to drive change from the heart and not just the mind:

  1. Ensure stakeholders self-reflect on, articulate, and share how they have personally benefited from diversity with inclusion (e.g.  in working relationships, friendships, and other personal relationships).  As we know, personal stories – like the one Larry Fink shared in his speech – are much more relatable and impactful than pure data and research. 
  2. Focus on building empathy, kindness, and other important values and behaviors essential to building inclusive, collaborative, and high-performing culture. As James Gorman (Chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley) had pointed out in a recent conference I attended, when those who have always been in the inner circle are tested and get a sense of “not belonging”, they will have more empathy.  It all starts with empathy and kindness, which needs to nurtured as early as in the maternity ward.  So, while we focus on building empathetic organizational cultures, we must also consider how we instill these same important social emotional learnings grounded in diversity with inclusion in our children, our future.
  3. Seek and enable more access and exposure to people of different backgrounds.  Where we might not have direct personal access, seek out stories, books, and videos of people of all backgrounds.  Likewise, we should all share our stories of challenges, how our backgrounds have influenced our success, advice to our younger selves – all of which can help tackle both bias (whether conscious or unconscious) and finding role models that look like us.  Enabling two-way mentoring and sharing across different demographics – ethnically, generationally, and otherwise – can be a particularly effective way to develop genuine understanding from the heart.

Until we are able to meaningfully inspire diversity with inclusion from the heart in organizations and in society more broadly, we should not expect substantial progress in diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging.