Leadership Matters: The Importance of Integrating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Business

hand stacking wood blocks that read diversity equity and inclusion matter
By Brian Smith

4 minutes

Focusing on shared purpose and making listening a priority are key components of a successful DEI effort.

One of the biggest challenges businesses continue to face today is understanding how to effectively integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into their strategy and culture. A lack of DEI or its mismanagement can have a significant negative impact on organizations, and falling behind on addressing related issues can be quite daunting. 

While topics such as race, sexual orientation and gender often drive DEI discussions, it is crucial to recognize that focusing solely on these aspects can create division, stress and unattainable goals. DEI initiatives should also aim to foster a merging of diverse talents, perspectives, capabilities and personalities, along with promoting transparency, communication and servant leadership.

An increased focus on related key performance indicators and metrics should accompany the emphasis on DEI. Measuring progress is vital and necessary to establish realistic equity goals. To truly value DEI, it is essential to understand and define it within your organization.

When considering member-facing DEI efforts, value is often derived from inclusivity. Engagements with markets comprised of diverse groups can lead to increased opportunities; however, it is crucial not to solely focus on group identity. Throughout the process of defining your DEI efforts, it is essential to value and recognize the contributions of all individuals involved in the functioning of the business, regardless of their characteristics (perceived or not). 

If you haven’t already, consider these key points when integrating diversity, equity and inclusion in your business. 

1. Groups matter less than making people feel cared for.

The point of DEI is not groups. The true value lies in providing products or services that satisfy the target market and generate profit. And the key to generating profit and providing an excellent product is your people. When you care for your people along the way, the rest falls into place. All people, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, religion or gender, need to feel as if they make a difference within the organization; they need to feel as if they matter.

When individuals feel valued, they are more likely to invest themselves in their work. Value is a byproduct of equity, which stems from investment. If individuals do not feel valued, they will not fully invest in the work required to create value for the organization. 

2. Create a shared purpose.

It is necessary for individuals to understand the purpose of their work and the reasons behind it. When people from diverse backgrounds are brought together with a shared purpose, equipped with the appropriate tools and engaged in meaningful communication, they collaborate effectively to achieve objectives. Superficial differences are overshadowed by the value of shared purpose. 

This approach requires objectivity during the hiring and onboarding processes. It necessitates leadership from within the organization, not just from the top. Internal leadership empowers individuals, granting them authority while holding them accountable. Providing guidance based on expertise ensures that tasks are performed safely and effectively.

3. Don’t overlook any position.

Stereotypical views that deem certain positions (such as reception, janitorial work and more) as menial must be overcome to foster a truly inclusive environment. As stated, everyone on the team has value and matters. When individuals in all positions are respected and made aware of the significance of their roles, they will develop a sense of pride in themselves and in the organization. All individuals have unique perspectives and experiences and can contribute to the opportunities to improve the business. However, for this to occur, everyone must be valued and included. 

4. Make listening a priority.

When an organization’s leaders listens to their entire team, allowing all individuals to be included based on their areas of influence, the business grows in diverse thinking as it embraces the varied perspectives, experiences and actions of each individual. Organizations must find ways to involve their team in decision-making and collaboration processes. By allowing a diverse group of individuals at various levels to invest their thoughts and actions into the issues at hand, you promote equity. This requires leaders to slow down, listen to learn, and engage with employees. In doing so, organizations add further value by unlocking the unique potential each individual brings. 

DEI initiatives must move beyond just physical and social attributes toward what they are truly intended to do: create environments that generate value by allowing individuals to feel included and appreciated for their participation and contributions to the team. Through this investment in and with their peers, diverse teams can build organizations that ensure care, purpose, communication and results.

Brian Smith, Ph.D., is founder and senior managing partner of IA Business Advisors, a management consulting firm that has worked with more than 19,000 CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers and employees worldwide. Together with his daughter, Mary Griffin, he has authored his latest book in the “’I’ in Team” seriesPositive Influence—Be the 'I' in Team, which shares how to become our best selves with everyone we influence. Learn more at

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