Anyone who is doing talent development work in their organization knows that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts are a critical component. This means you also know that one critical success factor is your CEO’s support. But is your CEO truly committed to these efforts or just paying lip service to the idea of building a more equitable and inclusive culture? You may never know for sure, but there is one key question to consider when assessing the answer: Is your CEO actively engaging on their own personal DEI journey?
So, why is it important for your CEO to be engaging in a personal DEI journey? Like all important organizational initiatives, DEI culture change efforts fail without appropriate C-suite support. And, as your CEO is human, they should be engaged in the work just like everyone else because creating an inclusive culture is everyone’s job. What do we mean by “actively engaging”? Active engagement can be different for everyone, but in the case of an individual’s journey to diversity, equity, and inclusion, there are some concrete things you can look for as “proof” of active engagement.
Proof No. 1: Being vulnerable
Remember back to the first few weeks of school or any new educational journey. Those first few days and weeks are marked with new discoveries and can even include a few epiphanies. The impact from these lessons leaves many of us wanting to share our new knowledge. Building a more equitable and inclusive world often starts with an educational journey to find out about other lived experiences. Your CEO’s DEI journey will be no different. So, does your CEO share their learnings? Do they ask for differing viewpoints on something they’ve encountered for the first time?
I was once on the governing team for an employee resource group. We had a roundtable with the CEO, and we asked him what he had learned in the unconscious bias training he had just experienced. His answer was, “Lots of things!” And while this may have been true, he missed a golden opportunity to signal that he was journeying personally, and many of us left that session disheartened. Moreover, many of us left the meeting skeptical of the viability of the company’s efforts because culture change starts at the top.
Proof No. 2: Seeking feedback
We often frame DEI culture change in terms of allyship, especially at work. For example, how are men “showing up” and using their privilege and access to advance women individually and collectively. Chances are your CEO is not a woman. There’s an even better chance that they are not a person of color. So, if you never hear your CEO asking how they show up across gender and race, your CEO is probably not actively engaged in the DEI culture change work at your organization.