As a leader in today’s global economy, you already know and hopefully accept the need for embracing diversity in your organisation. As an astute leader you don’t only embrace the need, but accept the responsibility that you are the one to make your organisation an effective, diverse environment.

And, most likely you are pushing your HR department to diversify your workforce with every hire. You challenge your leaders to consider diversity in terms of gender, race and culture for every promotion. You are doing the right things, you have your boxes checked, but still your efforts are like a ‘leaky pipe’ and your pipeline plans are less than encouraging.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why is it, that despite all the good efforts, you don’t seem to get the traction and change you hope to see? With all the money and time given to diversity and inclusion, why can’t all these diverse people get with the program? Stay in the organisation? Rise through the ranks like we all had to? Why do they leave or stay and not step up to the plate? Maybe, it’s not them but the environment itself.

By now you are sick of hearing about the difference between diversity and inclusion, but please allow me to join the chorus with this beauty, “Diversity is inviting Difference to the party and Inclusion is asking the Different to Dance!”

Please don’t groan, just hear me out. So let’s go to the beginning.

Before you can create a new vibrant, diverse and inclusive organisation, you have to do the work of changing what you currently have. A ‘band-aid’ approach isn’t going to cut it. So you need to look at the culture, the environment which has been there for years, built and enforced over the years. There is a reason why your diverse talent doesn’t thrive, the whole thing wasn’t built with them in mind. The structures, policies and systems – documented and undocumented – were built with a certain demographic in mind. Despite what you do over here to turn the ship around, you find that it keeps going the course it has charted all along.

“Most leaders think – I want diversity but I don’t want to have to do anything differently!” – Verna Myers.
In 1953, the first group of women attended Harvard Law School and were surprised when they found out there were no bathrooms for them to use. They were told they could use the ones at Harvard Square, a good 15 minutes walk away. Naturally, as good law students, they protested this unfair disadvantage and their male counterparts joined them. So it was that this trailblazing group of women were relegated to a tiny bathroom installed in the basement janitor’s closet! Yay, progress!

What this illustrates is that in 1953 Harvard Law School achieved gender diversity but not gender inclusion. “Diversity speaks to who is represented in the organisation, whereas inclusion speaks to who is respected, expected and integrated into an organisation.” – Verna Myers.

As a leader committed to leading difference differently; diversity may be the strong message you want to send to your organisation and community but your organisation’s lack of inclusion brings a loud contrary message.

How Do I Change This?

Well, start by owning up.

Yes, own up to the status quo. The way things are, which have been in place long before you got there. Most likely you didn’t create the status quo, but before you relegate complete responsibility, you might have to admit that you certainly benefitted from it. Before you launch into your well rehearsed ‘merit speech’ and how hard you worked to get here – Stop! I believe you. You did work hard and you still work hard, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to read this.

But, please accept the fact that being the “right-fit” for your organisation played a big role and that’s where the challenge comes in. What factors, structures and systems dictated that “right-fit”? And is it possible that the “exclusionary processes” that were in place are still in place today in the organisation you now lead?

Next, commit to an organisational change – dismantling the status quo.

Brace yourself this is not going to be easy. If you are serious about change, get ready to face serious opposition, sometimes from your longtime allies. When you realise that requirements for progressing in the organisation are unfairly disadvantaging certain groups that are missing in your organisation’s leadership levels, you must get to work! Start dismantling. Go ‘Wrecking Ralph’ on your processes. But before you do, follow all the change management processes required (so that’s what that course was for!), and don’t undermine due process to get everybody on board.

It’s hard to change the culture you are firmly entrenched in, or worse, responsible for creating. Like fish in water you don’t know or think about being surrounded by water, but the moment you dunk a land animal in, all they can think about is how all this water is killing them. Think about how underrepresented groups feel every day.

What is it about your culture that overtly blocks their progress or silently restricts them? Are there policies, practices that make them feel unwelcome or unappreciated? Some leaders at this point respond with “we pay these people way too much for them to feel unappreciated!”

It could be even the most mundane things like having to go to the basement janitor’s closet to use the bathroom (don’t laugh – it still happens), to the most procedural undertakings. If you don’t know what needs to change, take some time and have a real heart-to-heart with your incoming diverse recruits after they have been a part of the team for roughly 3 months. Learn from them what it’s like working in this organisation from their perspective, because it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame. Get the facts, put the process in place to dismantle the status quo and create something new reflecting your vision of an inclusive organisation.

Hey, I totally understand if you want to quit this now…

But before you do, ask yourself this: What impact will my leadership have in shaping the future of my organisation to be a world leader in its field?

Diversity and inclusion is by far the most decisive differentiator of this period in history and leaders who figure it out will own the future. So be willing to do the hard work of dismantling the status quo. Your legacy might depend on it. Commit to leading difference differently!



Myers, V (2013) What If I Say The Wrong Thing?: 25 Tips For Culturally Effective People. American Bar Association.



 About the author of today’s Tuesday Tip – Buhle Dlamini

Buhle Dlamini is a globally sought after leading speaker on diversity and inclusion helping organisations unleash their greatness and create an inclusive culture.

Buhle is from South Africa, currently based in Canada and working with multinational organisations across the globe, regularly criss-crossing between Canada, South Africa and USA.

Buhle takes whole organisations through organisational change learning processes and trains leadership teams on Leading Difference Differently.

Contact [email protected] to invite Buhle to work with your team.


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