6 tips for strategic diversity leadership

AboveBoard | Aug 03, 2022

Champion DEI efforts with these inclusive leadership skills.

Diversity in leadership is about more than demographics.

Think of strategic diversity leadership as a mindset, one that promotes inclusivity, seeks understanding, and embraces connection. DEI leadership is authentic, servant leadership reoriented to the “diverse new world,” according to Deloitte’s Human Capital researchers. Today’s world of diverse markets, customers, ideas, and talent calls for “understanding and being adept at inclusive leadership” to thrive in this “increasingly diverse environment.”

Ready to encourage leadership diversity in the workplace? Ahead, we’ll dive into inclusive leadership skills and strategies you can integrate today.

Effective DEI leadership strategies

“Having access to DEI practices can be influential, especially in the experiences of people of color at work,” according to "Improving Workplace Culture Through Evidence-Based Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practices," survey from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

The 2021 survey found three DEI practices to be especially significant: managerial involvement, mentoring and sponsorship, and workplace policies. These practices can contribute to cultivating an inclusive workplace, boosting job satisfaction and employee retention, and reducing burnout, according to the survey.   

Ultimately, each of these DEI practices centers on connection and accountability, promoting leadership diversity in the workplace through example and engagement. Diversity in leadership starts with putting people first.

Activate managers for DEI leadership

Fostering inclusive workplaces starts at the top, but it doesn’t end there. Executives need to take the next step in engaging senior and middle managers in organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion work, recommends the MIT Sloan School of Management. The “buy-in” for middle managers is especially crucial given their focus on and proximity to the organization’s people and performance. 

Middle managers can play an influential role in promoting diversity in leadership. Some ways executives can support managers’ involvement include: connecting DEI practices to business goals, putting systems for accountability into place, and equipping them with online resources for diversity-related issues.

Create mentorship opportunities

Cultivating meaningful connections in the workplace is key to strategic diversity leadership. “Having mentors at work can help team members from all backgrounds feel connected and engaged in their work,” according to the University of Pennsylvania report.

Practices that promote connection-building and employee development include: 

  • increase collaboration and exposure to people of different backgrounds through intentional team-building.  
  • creating employee resource groups.
  • establishing career development plans.
  • asking direct reports if they have a mentor and, if they don’t, connecting them with a potential mentor.
  • gather feedback on mentorship/sponsorship initiatives.

Design DEI-forward workplace policies

Leadership diversity in the workplace needs to be paired with accountability. That’s where workplace policies come in. “While a company may state its values and commitment to DEI, employees need to see that manifested in their daily experiences at work,” according to researchers with the Wharton School. Their findings recommend policies “ensuring employees can contribute and be heard,” “policies for fair promotion,” and anti-discrimination and anti-discrimination policies.

Strategic policies like these help employees experience a positive connection to the organization, align themselves with the company’s goals, feel accepted and comfortable in the workplace, and sense their input is heard and valued.

Inclusive leadership skills

Diversity in leadership begins with an “inclusive mindset and inclusive behavior,” according to researchers from Deloitte. Inclusive leadership is about “treating people and groups fairly,” “personalizing individuals,” and “leveraging the thinking of diverse groups for smarter ideation and decision making.” The firm’s Human Capital researchers outlined six characteristics of inclusive leadership:

  • Commitment. Inclusive leaders are compelled by both their personal values—a personal conviction to proactively treat all team members with respect—and their business sense—their belief in diversity’s value for innovation, talent, and growth. A commitment on both the personal and the business sides are needed for effective DEI leadership. 
  • Courage. “The courage to speak up—to challenge others and the status quo—is a central behavior of an inclusive leader,” according to the Deloitte researchers, “and it occurs at three levels: with others, with the system, and with themselves.”
  • Cognizance of bias. Inclusive leaders are self-aware and “act on that self-awareness,” says Dr. Rohini Ananad, Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer at Sodexo. This means acknowledging the unconscious biases that exist at the personal and organizational levels, and putting policies and practices into place that combat such biases.
  • Curiosity. Strategic diversity leadership includes seeking understanding, especially from differing perspectives. Leaders who embrace humility, curiosity, and learning tend to be more empathetic, create a sense of loyalty in colleagues, and engage in more informed decision-making.
  • Culturally intelligent. Diversity in leadership needs to be paired with cross-cultural competence. Cultural intelligence is linked to efficacy in intercultural negotiation and multicultural team process effectiveness, according to the Deloitte researchers.
  • Collaboration. "At its core, collaboration is about individuals working together, building on each other's ideas to produce something new or solve something complex," per the Deloitte report. DEI leadership focuses on fostering an environment where people feel comfortable and free to collaborate. To do so, they use their inclusive leadership skills to empower others so they know their ideas are valued and their voices heard.

Want to see more diversity in leadership? Partner with AboveBoard.

At AboveBoard, we’re on a mission to diversify executive leadership. We believe in the power of DEI leadership to foster inclusive decision-making, increase innovation, and better serve society by reflecting the communities in which leaders and organizations are set. On AboveBoard’s one-of-a-kind hiring platform, underrepresented executives have unparalleled, transparent access to C-suite and boardroom opportunities at today’s top companies. 

We’re here to turn the executive recruiting process upside down, but that’s just the beginning. Leadership diversity in the workplace is a multifaceted effort involving new hires, seasoned executives, stakeholders, and more. Ready to join us?

Bring the power of access and transparency to your organization.

Connect with our team today to become a partner.


AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

You Might Also Like