With the seismic shifts in the world and business, organizations need effective leadership, with skills that allow them to marshal the power of diversity.
A panel of C-suite executives at the 2021 EMBAC Virtual Conference lent their insights about those vital skills and the power of inclusion as businesses look to navigate changes and new challenges.
“We need leaders who can pivot, who can value diverse thinking, who bring different styles, and who can really help us transform,” says Lori Costew, chief diversity officer and people strategy, Ford Motor Company.
For Ramona Hood, president and CEO of FedEx Custom Critical®, dealing with today’s challenges requires leaders who are authentic and inspire others.
“Leadership is so critical in the organization, and I’m not referring to the positional title of leader, but just as individuals who have the ability to rally others for a purpose and a cause and the ability to do that authentically,” says Hood.
To do that, leaders need the ability to adapt, the ability to forecast and anticipate changes, and an empathic ear, she says. And they need to possess intellectual curiosity and the ability to collaborate.
“We cannot take the knowledge, the experience, and the education that we had five years ago and assume that’s going to be enough for the next decade. We have got to continue to learn and understand and experience new things. And it’s that diversity of knowledge that allowed organizations to really bring the best products and the best services to their customers.”
While inclusion is key to unlocking the different ideas that ultimately help create the best solutions, it takes time and effort to move diversity, equity, and inclusion forward.
As leaders make sure to include all voices around the table and help people feel like they truly belong, they start to tap a powerful force, says Costew.
“Everybody has this fundamental need to belong, and when you do belong, you are able to contribute, you are able to be more innovative.”
When the opportunity arises, Hood often chooses to start conversations.
In the early part of her career, she attended a dinner at a table with a handful of men, who let her know it was okay for her to leave so she could take care of her children. “At that moment, I realized there were a couple of different ways to deal with it,” she says, ignoring it, beginning a conversation about it, or just being annoyed by it. She chose the conversation route, explaining like any team member who was a parent, she committed to coming to the event.
“It left something with me, just recognizing that there are certain biases we all have, and the best way to understand is to have conversations.”
Leadership courage, or just courage in general, is becoming more important, says Hood. It involves the ability to speak up and talk about diversity or values, even if the conversation is uncomfortable.
“Diving into those types of conversations takes a certain level of courage to bring them to the forefront, but it’s those types of skills that are important to have in your workplace, and it’s important to have a culture that fosters those types of skills and really embraces it as well.”
Those courageous conversations about diversity help break down barriers and make it easier to have business conversations, says Costew. She also added two other important leadership traits: Humility and listening.
Recently in a case of reverse mentoring, Ford Motor Company paired African American employees with corporate officers, to learn what it meant to be black at the company. “The response was amazing,” says Costew, with most relationships continuing into the year.
FedEx sent volunteers from its ranks to a local YMCA for conversations about race. “It became so impactful for our team members,” says Hood.
These types of approaches help those who participate better understand the world of others.
“Our experiences are shaped by the glasses that we wear every single day,” says Costew. “How are we able to put on a different set of glasses? Well, you do that through empathy, you do that through listening, you do that through learning.”
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