Leaders often feel overwhelmed when considering how to integrate diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts into strategic initiatives and projects. It can feel like solving simultaneous equations and not finding any points of intersection. Advancing D&I is a long-term process and not something for which an organization simply “checks the box” upon completion. Many D&I issues aren’t visible or observable; rather, they are inherent in the dynamics of organizational culture. D&I initiatives are more likely to succeed if they are integrated with the mission, vision, values, and strategy of the organization. Let’s consider how a continuous improvement approach can make it more manageable along the way.


The process of creating a more diverse and inclusive environment is most powerful when linked to the rate of change in the organization. Driving a continuous growth approach can help by developing a more unified, collaborative, and creative work environment. At times the pace of change may be rapid, and short-term results may be clear. For instance, a new, inspirational leader may arrive in the wake of a “personnel disaster” and, with the right tone and approach, a change in the culture may be felt right away. Alternatively, change may come at a slower rate but with more potential for long-term success. For example, an organization with a less diverse workforce may create a strategic hiring and talent-retention plan that takes two to five years to implement.


Many leaders with an accounting and finance background are more comfortable discussing data-driven information or financial performance than something that may not be as easy to measure or interpret, such as how inclusive the culture of their organization is. While there is no “D&I measure” on the financial statements, a number of studies clearly make the financial case for setting what’s often called the “tone at the top” in advancing D&I. For example, both a Peterson Institute study (http://bit.ly/2naXEzu) and a Catalyst Information Center report (http://bit.ly/2o8umRs) show that organizations with more women in leadership roles are more profitable. A McKinsey & Co. study (http://bit.ly/2o8MVVo) indicates that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have stronger financial performance than comparable companies in the same industry. Furthermore, Scientific American has published several articles (for example, http://bit.ly/2mvVBce) that show that working in a diverse environment fuels innovation and progress.

These types of case studies also frequently tout positive feedback from customers, vendors, and other partners in their supply chain. Becoming familiar with even just a few of the well-cited studies and correlations with financial results may help leaders feel more in their comfort zone in explaining the business case for D&I. This data or facts-driven approach can appeal to others in the organization who are more likely to pay attention to and support initiatives that affect the financial well-being of the organization and perhaps even their bonus. By getting their attention, it can help frame a “call to action” and add to the case for active participation in D&I initiatives.


Success in developing diversity and advancing inclusion is tightly linked to organizational culture, and leaders commonly get concerned about the D&I meter not moving fast enough. Therefore, it’s important to set small, manageable goals that employees can feel engaged in and that allow them to actively participate in the progress. It’s helpful to start with simple activities and show they can ultimately link into the organization’s strategy and affect the short- and long-term success of the company. Following are sample action items that may be implemented as a result of planning activities.

  • Train personnel from different levels of the organization to serve as discussion leaders on D&I topics.
  • Create time for discussion on D&I topics. (See D&I Topics for Discussion for some examples.) Begin with small groups and learn from their experience before moving to an organization-wide approach.
  • Develop a formal statement indicating a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Obtain feedback from internal groups. Incorporate their feedback, make adjustments, and continue to seek feedback from other internal stakeholders and eventually external stakeholders.
  • Provide training and/or workshops led by external facilitators.
  • Align individual, team, or departmental performance goals with D&I goals.
  • Test a monthly employee-recognition program and highlight an inclusive activity or action.
  • Develop a simple organizational climate survey and pilot-test it with a small group of personnel. (See Sample Climate Check for an example.)


After implementing some small, scaled action items, check the progress by soliciting feedback from a variety of participants. Do they feel positive about the initiative? If so, how can this be implemented on a larger scale and perhaps potentially organization-wide? With each small success, think about ways to recognize contributors and celebrate milestones.

As you continue to make progress, be sure to allow opportunities for others to lead. Don’t be a hands-off leader—show your support and commitment and lead by example, but recognize the importance of establishing ownership throughout the organization.

As you move through each type of activity, be sure to communicate the results to other leaders and at all levels of the organization. Be clear about how things have changed. Also be clear and ready to provide direction on what needs to be done differently.


The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/tools-and-resources/leadership-academy.


  • General awareness of D&I issues facing the organization
  • D&I points of view
  • Characteristics of a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture
  • Approaches to encourage diversity of thought/perspective
  • Recognition of ideas for D&I champions
  • Real-life scenarios that compromise D&I initiatives
  • Real-life events that demonstrate marginalization, microtriggers, unconscious bias, hidden bias, etc.


Use a Likert scale as suggested below.

  • I feel my ideas are heard and appreciated.
  • I feel that leaders encourage open dialogue regarding business decisions.
  • I feel a general sense of belonging in my department (and/or organization).
  • I feel the organization is invested in my success.
  • My supervisor cares about my professional development.
  • I feel I have opportunities for professional growth and advancement.
Strongly agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree
5 4 3 2 1

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