Many organizations implement a diversity program in the hopes of avoiding bad publicity, but wonder why they don’t see long-term change. They hire a VP of Diversity and Inclusion and roll out bias training – now we’re fixed, right?  Yet senior leadership still looks the same -other than the VP of Diversity and Inclusion, of course, who usually checks a demographic diversity box in some way.  Guess what – that doesn’t fool anyone!   What’s missing is a comprehensive plan to remove barriers to inclusion that exist all through the development pipeline.  In this second installment of our three part series, we focus on leaders themselves.  Specifically – and critical to reaping the benefits of an inclusive workplace – is developing a comprehensive set of 21st century inclusive leadership skills throughout our organizations . And did you know that according to our research, only 21% of today’s senior leaders have these skills? 

Real change happens by developing a realistic plan that helps leaders overcome biases, remove barriers, and manage diverse teams.  In our new book, The Next Smart Step, we outline the process to get lasting organizational results for women and people of color.  What sets our approach apart is that we treat inclusive leadership skills at all levels as a must-have for an inclusive organization, rather than a single, separate box that gets automatically checked as long as a leader doesn’t do anything egregiously sexist or racist.

We recommend companies invest and commit to specific inclusive leadership skillset development focused on building comprehensive inclusive leadership skills, and measure progress every step of the way.  We have developed a unique leadership taxonomy, which begins at diversity awareness and culminates in a synthesis of skills, helping organizations to evaluate where their leaders are, how well their skills are developing, and what more needs to be done. Check out the four principle levels of our leadership taxonomy scale: 

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 4. Synthesis: 

Synthesis is the capstone level where it all comes together. Here, the organization finally leverages the full complement of talent and yields the expansive benefits diversity provides. Inclusion is now essential to business core strategy. Leaders are able to establish a high, healthy bar of performance expectation while staying open and flexible to collaboration. The most crucial capability at the synthesis level is inclusive business judgment: using judgment to ensure the best possible outcomes for the business because now, there is broader and more in depth input from a wider variety of perspectives. 

3. Voice/Engagement: 

Leaders start to reap rewards at this stage of the taxonomy, where diverse perspectives become integrated and heard. Leaders foster an open and psychologically safe environment where women and people of color can help impact the business and feel empowered to take initiative. Diverse team members are able to leverage their power and credibility to share less popular perspectives or ideas. This is all about how leaders facilitate the breadth of thinking for collaborative solutions.

2. Inclusion: 

Leaders develop the skills of building and managing a diverse team in the inclusion level. To create a sense of belonging for all employees, leaders learn to foster their diversity intelligence and experience. They’ll use their knowledge of gender, culture, and the impact of bias to bridge different perspectives and people in the workplace. Inclusion means having the difficult conversations, starting to look at who is hired and why, becoming comfortable with different perspectives and in fact, seeking them out.  

1. Diversity

The diversity level is where leadership begins to notice, understand, and realize that there are significant benefits to a diverse workforce and leaders wake-up to their bias narrative. Leaders are prompted to be curious and open to diverse people and perspectives. People who believe in the social cause of diversity, gender balance, and fairness are essential to implementing an equitable workplace. 

Yes, the taxonomy becomes progressively more difficult to climb as one moves up the scale, but the good news is it’s all learnable. These are just skills – not permanent personality traits – so everyone can learn from wherever their own unique starting point might be.  To find out where you might be as a leader, check out our inclusive leadership assessment here.  Reaching a synthesis level of inclusive leadership is essential to achieving the maximum potential of an organization’s strategic outcomes – in fact, we don’t know of any other way to truly achieve the vast  benefits of diversity. 

The secret: It’s simply about building inclusive leadership skills. You’ve got this. And we can help.

For the complete step by step guide on how to build an inclusive and more equitable organization, check out our new book, The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes and Build a Stronger Organization.

The Next Smart Step: How to Overcome Gender Stereotypes and Build a Stronger Organizations, is available now for your e-reader or for the hard cover pre-order on and

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