Meredith knew her business unit was in trouble. Customer retention rates were down, and competitors were overtaking them. She had a few ideas for a product extension that would address an unmet need in an under-served demographic. A need she knew all too well because she was part of that group – and she knew exactly how to bring it to market.

Yet every time she raised her ideas, they were ignored. At first, she thought they were seen as too progressive – but over time she felt she wasn’t being heard because she was different. Meredith became less engaged at work. She didn’t feel like her contributions were respected, and she eventually left.

For all the talk of diversity and inclusion, this scene continues to play out in organisations across the world. Leaders know they need different perspectives and ideas to innovate and grow. Recent studies show diverse organisations are 70% more likely to capture new markets, and 33% more likely to improve profitability. Yet even at organisations that say they value diversity and inclusion, women still only account for 21% of C-suite executives and senior management.[1]

And diversity is only one part of the equation. You can have a room full of people from different generations, races, genders, religions, experiences and sexual identities. But their full potential will not be realized unless you bring all those perspectives to life. Unless you listen to their ideas and show you believe in their contribution.

You can have a room full of people from different generations, races, genders. But their full potential will not be realized unless you listen to their ideas and show you believe in their contribution. Click To Tweet

Valuing difference

Our research shows both leaders and their employee's rate Values Differences – the value different perspectives and cultures bring to an organisation – as less important than any other leadership competency.

In a recent study, we analysed the responses of over 43,000 people who rated how important up to 38 competencies were in their role. Attributes like Drives Results or Decision Quality were seen as more valuable than Values Differences.

It’s not through lack of ability. Skill ratings for Values Differences were consistent with other competencies. It’s just seen as comparatively less important.

Let’s just think about that for a moment.

Values Differences is also one of the poorest predictors of how manager performance is assessed. That means it’s not prioritized when future leaders are evaluated for promotion. And this will only continue the cycle – because inclusion has to start from the top.

We found that ‘valuing differences’ isn’t prioritized when future leaders are evaluated for promotion. Click To Tweet

Our employee engagement normative data suggests less than half of respondents agreed promotions and assignments are made fairly, and only one in two believe their company is doing a good job developing people from different backgrounds to move into leadership positions.

So what can you do to walk the talk?

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. To realise the full value of diversity, you need targeted and incremental changes that will collectively build momentum over time. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Start with the right insights

Get a good understanding of what is working and what is not working in your organisation. Our DE&I Maturity Model provides insights into the behavioural and structural elements you can either leverage or focus on improving. This will help you pinpoint those targeted, incremental changes.

For example, how do the tools and resources you provide adapt to different styles of working? Are you engaging introverts, or those with different abilities or language preferences? These types of insights will help you make begin creating a culture where all voices are heard, considered and supported.

  1. Send the right signals

What gets measured gets managed. So embed ‘valuing differences’ as one of your core competencies, and set KPIs across the organisation. Make sure this is reflected in the leadership team’s goals and initiatives.

In the US, some organisations are experimenting with ‘pay for diversity’ measures, with executive compensation tied to meeting goals for representation. It’s important to tie this to broader metrics for inclusion – such as whether diverse groups feel engaged and have a high degree of trust in leadership.

Engagement surveys are a valuable way to get data to measure inclusion, and their design should ensure all opinions count and everyone gets a say. This feedback can also help you better understand the broader mindset of your customer base, and send the right signals by testing and valuing employee ideas. L’Oréal USA, for example, has built a community within its Spanish-speaking customer base through an innovative program that combines telenovelas with Spanish-language beauty blogs.

  1. Evolve mindsets from within

Inclusive leaders set the tone for the entire organisation. By leveraging the diverse talent within and building trust, they show how important it is to think differently to make better decisions.

Our research shows these types of leaders are still rare, but they can be cultivated by focusing on five enabling traits and five competencies. One of these is ‘Building Trust’ – and valuing difference is an important part of successfully creating trust within an inclusive organisation. Read The five disciplines of inclusive leaders, unleashing the power in all of us.

[1] Korn Ferry infographic: global trend towards gender inclusion, 2021

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About the contributor

Nadhisha Piyasena is a Senior Client Director for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. He works with clients to solve people challenges that get in the way of business performance. He focuses on thinking broadly, commercially, and critically to provide evidence-based and practical solutions that add noticeable value to organisations in the areas of leadership development, employee engagement and talent management.

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