Leading the Way

Training leaders to create a culture that fosters Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Many organizations today continue to struggle with creating a culture that ensures all employees feel welcome, seen and heard, valued, and included. In fact, 35 percent of respondents say their organizations put too little effort into creating a diverse, inclusive environment, according to McKinsey & Company’s global survey of 2,000-plus respondents prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the flip side, at organizations where leaders focus on inclusivity through acts such as building team cohesion, respondents are 1.7 times more likely than those at other organizations to feel very included, the survey found.

“By fostering an environment that supports Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), leaders invite their staff to express their own unique voice and contribute to the growth of the organization, promoting innovation and employees’ connection to the organization’s purpose and mission,” says Global Dynamics, Inc., President Neal Goodman, Ph.D. “A DE&I-focused culture is empathetic, progressive, innovative, profitable, refreshing, collaborative, self-aware, people-centric, valuing everyone.”

The key to success, experts such as Goodman stress, is that DE&I efforts must be led by example by the CEO and the executive team. Indeed, Diversity and Inclusion skills vaulted nine places to #3 on the list of highest-ranking priority leadership skills for respondents to Training’s 2021 Leadership Development Survey conducted in partnership with Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (see p. 24). “The message and modeling of inclusive and equitable behavior must be embraced, communicated, and rewarded by leadership,” Goodman says.


Shell Oil Company US Country Controller Deforester Jones believes a foundational attribute of a true DE&I-focused culture is that DE&I is embedded in the organization’s identity. “As a part of this identity, DE&I is viewed as a value driver and not merely a regulatory or social obligation,” he says. “It is naturally embedded, which is evident throughout the employment life cycle and support systems—from recruitment, development, and progression to eventual departure.”

Another key attribute, Jones says, is the organization has a learner’s mindset driven by valuing differences, embracing change, and learning from each other. He notes that this type of learning from each other can only occur when there is freedom to speak your mind. “Leaders must set a contagious tone at the top to ensure this freedom exists, as well as effectively engage staff at all levels to move from compliance to commitment,” he explains. “Effective engagement requires leaders to be authentic, step out of their comfort zone, listen, and have the difficult discussions necessary to change the culture.”

He adds that a DE&I-focused culture is not just limited to how it feels to work within the organization but extends to experiences working with the organization and how it shows up in the communities in which it operates. This should be evident in how the organization partners with suppliers and customers and how it leads on issues of social importance.


Leaders need to master a variety of skills and best practices in order to be able to create and foster a DE&I-focused culture. One of the most important, believes Eric Stallworth, head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at ISS Facilities Services, North America, is the ability to lead with empathy. “Teaching this skill involves asking people to question assumptions and taking more time to listen to each other,” explains Stallworth. “It is also important for leadership to lead in a collaborative manner and present as a role model.”

Jones notes that the necessary skills and best practices are not much different from what you expect from any great leader—including creating vision, obtaining staff buy-in of that vision, taking accountability, valuing and respecting differences, listening to and learning from others, embracing change, and leading by example. “Leaders must have the courage to build a team around them who are different than themselves to help compen- sate for each other’s development areas, as well as complement each other’s strengths,” Jones says. “This is the beauty of diversity.”

Key skills are related to understanding that there are multiple perspectives of the same issue, being open-minded, and exploring alternatives from different perspectives, Goodman says. “Those who are made aware of their own biases will be in a good position to challenge their biases and look empathetically for common ground,” he notes, offering some ways to accomplish this:

  • Speak/socialize with people who are from different backgrounds, departments, and skill sets.
  • Find similarities/commonalities with those you don’t know well using opening behavior.
  • Ask people’s opinions about your business, and their viewpoints in general—and apply them when possible.
  • Reward actions and behaviors that exemplify best DE&I processes.
  • Celebrate diversity through award ceremonies and internal communications.
  • Ask for examples of potential and/or real bias in the world around you, and follow up on stamping it out.
  • Give out bonuses to/involve/communicate with people who may have been overlooked.
  • Create change teams who become involved with, and responsible for, the vision, mission, and strategy.

Land O’Lakes, Inc., strives to create an inclusive culture by reinforcing inclusive behaviors, according to Philomena Satre, director of Diversity and Inclusion and Strategic Partnerships at the company. Such behaviors include:

  1. Be your authentic self. And encourage others to be their authentic selves.
  2. Create a sense of psychological safety. This inclusive behavior helps to build trust across the organization. “We practice this behavior by honoring confidentiality and doing the right thing all the time,” Satre explains
  3. Listen as an ally. “We try to listen to understand. We do not confuse understanding with agreement,” Satre notes. “We practice this behavior by listening deeply for understanding, and not to prepare a rebuttal.”
  4. Have a 360-degree perspective. “We recognize that our experiences and views are our own,” Satre says. “Others may have a different perspective based on their own experiences. We create space for different perspectives and understand that what may be true for some is not true for all—and that’s OK.”
  5. Work for the common good and shared success. Nearly a century ago, Land O’Lakes, Inc., was formed by farmers, for farmers, Satre relates. “They took care of their land and animals, looked after their neighbors, and recognized that we all do better when we work together.”


It’s one thing to identify the DE&I skills leaders need, but how can organizations effectively train them to ensure mastery of such skills?

One particularly effective way to teach is by sharing real examples and personalizing experiences, according to Jones. “This includes leaders being vulnerable enough to share their learning journey and making it personal. Sharing with others fosters authenticity and encourages others to also share their personal stories.” Jones says leaders must appreciate the reality that no one knows all the answers, and mistakes will be made during the learning process.

The key, he stresses, is not to give up but to learn, adjust, and keep progressing toward the aspiration. Today’s leadership development cannot just stop with the traditional concepts of communication, motivation, conflict management, planning, leadership, organization, and control, stresses Peter A. James, Ph.D., MBA, PCC, president and CEO of HCG Consulting Solutions. “The tactics now must include Emotional Intelligence, growth mindset, and ethics development,” he says. “In addition, today’s leadership development should regularly focus on the importance of authentic coaching. This type of coaching will allow leaders to unpack any self-limiting beliefs and/or biases and also help them to maximize strengths and provide awareness of their own weaknesses or blind spots.”

Goodman points out there is no one magic bullet when it comes to training. “Participants in such programs should create individual, team, and organizational action plans that will be carried out in small teams and promoted by the DE&I office,” he recommends. Some successful techniques he suggests include:

  • Facilitated courageous/critical conversations around Inclusion.
  • Programs on the neuroscience of business to help all to understand the nature of bias and the brain and techniques to mitigate these biases.
  • Deeper examination of the role of microaggressions to illuminate misunderstandings.
  • Executive coaching and reverse coaching.
  • An inclusive mentoring and sponsorship program.
  • Ongoing education, including videos used in manager huddle groups.
  • Giving employees the opportunity to experience being in someone else’s shoes. One way of doing this is to encourage employees tojoin an Employee Resource Group with which they are not affiliated.

Land O’Lakes began training executive- and director-level and above employees on unconscious bias and its influence on leadership last year. The training focused on three key topics: Being an Effective Leader; Business Mindsets, Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention; and Professional Leadership Development and Coaching Across Diversity and Cultural Differences. The company also created online learning modules followed by discussion groups for supervisors and managers.

DE&I training at Land O’Lakes plants is bitesized—running 15 minutes per lesson. “Leaders attend the training as learners and then become teachers in bringing one lesson per month back to their production team,” Satre explains.


Measuring the effectiveness of DE&I training for leaders can be tricky. “Measurement of DE&I training needs to include the intangible and soft aspects,”Jones says. “Measurement data must be reconciled with how people feel, what they experience, and what they see. Any gaps must be understood and incorporated into learnings.”

James points out that whether it is via recruitment, selection, promotion, representation, or retention offi-verse candidates and employees, or via compensation and benefits, engagement, leadership development, or supplier diversity, all can be reviewed and measured to gauge the impact on teams, departments, or the organization as a whole. ‘Just as leaders shift actions and behaviors according to P&L statements or reports, leaders also should realize they are being measured relative to DE&I, and then their actions and behaviors subsequently will change,” he says.

Goodman believes the most effective way to measure success is based on actions that have been implemented to resolve past issues identified though Diversity audits or that are identified during Diversity programs. “Mastery will be measured by improvements across all aspects of the employee life cycle, new products and services, and better employee engagement and community outreach,” he says. “Additionally, 360-degree evaluations, pulse evaluations, and peer-to-peer evaluations will identify mastery or areas for improvement. Each business unit should have its own measures of demonstrating mastery.”


Most organizations on the journey to a DE&I culture have experienced bumps in the road, but that is part of the human experience, James says. “We continue to improve, evolve, and learn from our mistakes to make this a more equitable culture and society.”

Today, he says, “we have the opportunity to not only strengthen our leadership teams with a DE&I focus, but to provide the one-on-one coaching that improves performance and increases confidence in driving these types of important initiatives,” he says. “Ultimately, DE&I, leadership development, and authentic coaching should all be synonymous with a great organizational culture.”


Global Dynamics, Inc., President Neal Goodman, Ph.D., offers an amalgam of best practices to create an inclusive and equitable organization from some of the most successful organizations his company supports, including: Prudential, Johnson & Johnson, Proofpoint, Dow Jones, Sanofi, Kaman Industries, and The American Hospital Association:

  1. Understand the make-up of an organization and the metrics associated with unique elements of each employee’s diverse nature in order to strengthen relationships and demonstrate to employees every day that the organization truly sees value in what they bring to the job. A confidential online workplace diversity demographic/engagement survey of the entire organization should capture all the information needed to understand where employees are from a diversity and demographic perspective. A Diversity audit should include an analysis of the company’s DE&I policies, procedures, and practices in comparison to known best practices. The audit should include a two- to three-year roadmap and specific instructions on how to implement the recommended changes.
  2. Create Employee Resource Groups with executive sponsorship.
  3. Utilize Web-based tools such as Culture Wise that employees can use to examine critical issues for their organization.
  4. Develop an internal Website or resource (i.e., a Google Team Drive) that houses all DE&I resources and programs.
  5. Sustain the learning with regular updates in newsletters and other internal communications.
  6. Establish and fund an Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Ideally, the chief diversity officer should be full-time and report to the CEO or other high-level executive. This office should create a centralized Knowledge Management System to house all information related to DE&I in a central location.
  7. Appoint a Global Diversity Task Force with representation from all business units and functional areas to focus on new and emerging topics and provide cross-fertilization of ideas.

For more best practices, see Training’s compilation of DE&I articles: https://trainingmag.com/trainingresources-promoting-diversity-equity-and-inclusion/


It takes consistent effort and intentionality to create a Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity-focused culture, says HCG Consulting Solutions President and CEO Peter A. James, Ph.D., MBA, PCC. “Impactful DE&I cannot be accomplished without leaders setting the example for those who look up to them.” James recommends that best practices should include (but not be limited to):

  • Leaders should exemplify and represent the diverse mission and values of the organization.
  • Leaders should aim to acknowledge and respect employees’ or colleagues’ unique talents, insights, and work.
  • Leaders need to demonstrate empathy and concern.
  • Leaders need to acknowledge and support the expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, and suggestions.
  • Leaders need to demonstrate openness and transparency.

This approach, James says, allows the organization to shift from a “you must assimilate” culture to a “belonging” culture.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.