5 top tips to promote diversity in your business from thought leaders around the world

Anna Vainer, Diana van Roest / February 2021

Anna Vainer is the founder of #IamRemarkable, a global initiative from Google that empowers people to build self-confidence and self-promotion skills, particularly amongst individuals from underrepresented groups.

We know it’s true: diversity within organisations leads to better products, stronger ideas, greater customer engagement, and better financial performance.

McKinsey research shows companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Other research shows companies with greater equality in their workplace have significantly more innovative business mindsets, which helps them thrive and grow.

Yet underrepresented groups remain underrepresented, even amidst the powerful resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and societal calls for greater diversity and representation.

As leaders consider the next steps to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organisations, it’s important to know that countless companies are grappling with these same decisions.

Organisations big and small are putting significant thought and effort into tackling these issues from within. Here are some top tips directly from global thought leaders to support and promote underrepresented groups in your workforce:

Tip #1: Foster a culture of recognition

“A huge part of upgrading ourselves is to upgrade each other,” says Anita Abaisa, founder and director of Black Ladies Talk, a Dutch platform aimed at strengthening the socio-economic position of black women around the world. Working with businesses, schools, and a variety of institutions, the platform offers online and offline training sessions that allow professionals across sectors to learn from each other’s experiences, and attain success.

“Offering employees from underrepresented groups recognition by rewarding them according to their value is fundamental to the process of emancipation,” says Abaisa. “It contributes to securing and improving their socio-economic positions, and will in turn help companies create a safe working environment that attracts and retains employees from those groups specifically.”

To achieve this, brands must be proactive in upgrading market positions, incomes, and opportunities for capital growth within minority groups. Employees will only feel empowered to keep growing and reach for the top if they are given the space to do so.

Black-and-white headshot of Black Ladies Talk’s Anita Baisa, alongside a fragment of a quote that says, “A huge part of upgrading ourselves is to upgrade each other.”

Taking this advice to heart, Google is celebrating International Women's Day this year by honouring some of the most notable firsts by women and the many they inspire, from the first woman to break the sound barrier to all of those continuing to break the glass ceiling.

Tip #2: Accomplishments don't speak for themselves

To drive true change, we must also encourage individuals to promote themselves and talk openly about their achievements.

The phrase, “Accomplishments don’t speak for themselves,” may come across as harsh, but many leaders see significant value in this simple line. It’s become a mantra at #IamRemarkable and many large organisations.

“If we don’t speak up for ourselves, (our accomplishments) will go unnoticed most of the time,” says Amazon’s Koro Castellano, who recently became director of Prime Video in Spain after previously leading the company’s global diversity and inclusion efforts.

“We as leaders need to lead by example. If we are able to speak openly about our accomplishments in the workplace, our teams will feel inspired and empowered to do exactly the same thing.”

Black-and-white headshot of Amazon’s Koro Castellano, alongside a fragment of a quote that says, “We as leaders need to lead by example.”

Cultural and gender modesty norms, combined with widespread impostor syndrome, often prevent people from acknowledging and expressing their own achievements. This holds back individuals and companies everywhere. Business leaders have a responsibility to encourage their team members to speak up.

Accenture’s Chairperson and Senior Managing Director in India, Rekha Menon, says she makes a point to “turn the spotlight” on individuals in the organisation “who are hesitant and have them know it’s okay to be confident and talk about [their] skills.”

A practical tip for managers: Encourage team members to discuss their accomplishments with a colleague they trust. This is especially important for underrepresented groups within your organisation. This simple act alone can boost individual self-confidence and get people more comfortable with self-promotion.

Piezas ilustradas de un rompecabezas en azul, gris y blanco sobre un fondo blanco. Esto se intercala con siete fotografías en blanco y negro de personas que se citan en este artículo.

Tip #3: 'It's not bragging if it's based on facts'

Amazon’s Castellano said she had an ‘a-ha moment’ when she heard the advice: “It's not bragging if it's based on facts.” This insight from the #IamRemarkable movement can lead to a mindset shift at the individual and organisational level.

“That impacted me,” said Castellano. “We are used to relying on data and facts when we’re defending our projects and our initiatives. But, curiously enough, we don't do that when we're talking about ourselves or about our achievements. We tend to forget that. We commit to these false modesty rules.”

Leaders should encourage their teams to talk about their achievements based on facts, and this should be done frequently. Self-promotion should become a habit instead of a one-time event, said Castellano.

Tip #4: Empower your team by promoting support networks

Employees will not feel empowered to promote themselves unless they feel they have support within the organisation. A single ally is good. A larger support network is better, especially for underrepresented groups.

Managers may not be able to provide regular feedback and support to all employees, but they can encourage team members to buddy-up, offer informal mentorship or form small groups to support colleagues.

“Some of the advice I've given people is to have somebody who you trust, who’s often in your meetings, watch you [to provide feedback and] tips afterwards,” said Meredith Herman, who leads Global Marketing Services at GSK Consumer Healthcare as VP of Marketing EDGE.

This real-time feedback is crucial for career advancement, she said, noting that peers within an organisation — in addition to managers — are a great option to gather regular constructive assistance.

Nestlé’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Aude Gandon, had similar advice. “Talk to the people surrounding you. Sometimes if you have self-doubt, this helps you continue to reassure yourself.”

Black-and-white headshot of Nestlé Global Chief Marketing Officer Aude Gandon alongside a fragment of a quote that says, “Talk to the people surrounding you.”

Tip #5: Host listening sessions

Ford executives responded to the pandemic in 2020 by hosting internal listening sessions with people from underrepresented groups. It sounds simple, but it made a big difference.

“All of the senior leaders conducted listening sessions,” said Rekha Wunnava, global director of automotive design and build IT at Ford. “It was incredible the amount of insight that you’re able to gather, and people really feel that they’re being seen and heard in ways they haven’t before.”

The sessions were launched by Amal Berry, the firm’s top manager for global diversity and inclusion efforts, after she saw the pandemic was exacerbating inequalities in society. This initiative evolved into biweekly checkpoints between management and employees to share information and connect on issues of concern.

For more organisational tips and career insights, watch our series of inspirational panel discussions from the first-ever global #IamRemarkable Week. The online event covered topics such as diversity, inclusion, and self-promotion, attracting more than 30,000 participants from 70 countries. To explore more, visit the #IamRemarkable website.

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