Inclusive Leadership



Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to keep leaders up at night. Tragic events earlier this year and mounting pressure also have leaders seeking ways to be more inclusive. Many companies have since ramped up their diversity and equality initiatives and programs. This year, the difference is that many of the changes are operational and reflect a commitment to rebuilding diversity structures that will endure.

The killings of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor earlier this year sparked emotional worldwide protests. But like all reactions to tragic events, they eventually die down and often disappear. These moments transformed many companies into movements that will have a long-lasting effect on hiring, training, and succession planning. But what else might leaders in these organizations do to perpetuate positive change?

A cornerstone to this type of initiative is building and maintaining trust among employees, shareholders, and customers. Many of the companies that initiated diversity changes in their organizations brought in people the skills to successfully transform the transformation.

As marketer Alexei Orlov says, “These components of trust went a long way in these hires. Competence and whether the person hired to install and lead the program could do what they were hired to do was one. Another was communication skills. Could they be trusted to be transparent and candid, but yet discreet? And finally, could they be trusted to be dependable and follow through, so people knew they were reliable? Value those who exhibit trustworthy behavior.”

Listening and learning are important. Inclusive leaders should ask a lot of questions. Not only does doing so engage others, but it also gives them an understanding that their leader doesn’t have all the answers and is open to other ideas and suggestions. AT&T executives did a successful listening tour among its employees earlier this year before launching its new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative (DEI) and sharing it with its workforce.

One of the changes implemented at AT&T after announcing its new DEI initiative included holding its employees to higher standards. DEI is now a part of employee performance evaluations. Employees are incentivized to do better with DEI and penalized if they don’t as part of this new standard.

Even while introducing new initiatives around DEI, leaders should be truly inclusive, which even means listening to people who don’t share the same ideas or values. This kind of empathy can be difficult but is important for leaders who wish to “walk the talk” about DEI. And it will be a shining example for others to follow.

Change can sometimes be difficult and may take time in some organizations, but leaders must continue to communicate openly and frequently with their staff. Openly sharing thoughts or personal feelings about inclusion can be extremely powerful, and leaders should use them when possible. Not every employee can be expected to be on the same learning curve when it comes to equality, but keeping them informed and listening to them will produce positive results and a motivated workforce that will endure for a long time.

About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of leading PR firm 5WPR.