We’ve all heard the business cases for why diversity and inclusion (D&I) matters. Numerous reputable reports have concluded that a diverse employee population positively impacts a company’s bottom line. But it’s past the time for business leaders to move from studying and building awareness, to taking actions. If we don’t lead from the top, we’ll fail.
This transformation to diverse, inclusive teams won’t come easily. As all industries compete for highly skilled talent, we have to ward against compromising on D&I goals in the short-sided pursuit of expediency because it undermines the transformation to an enduring D&I culture. And while we have to lead this effort from the top, management at all levels of an organization must actively and consistently engage in fostering a culture that values, empowers and leverages the talents of all employees. Diversity of our teams alone won’t bring us the transformation. Inclusive leadership is required to embrace new ideas and enable healthy debate in the workplace to expand the perspective, possibility and potential of the overall company. This is what drives sustainable business success.
I have been working in the insurance industry for more than 31 years, and can tell you that insurance is a noble profession. It provides stability to the world’s economies, rebuilds communities after catastrophic events occur, and acts as a safety net for people and companies taking on new challenges. When I became CEO of the Chicago-based commercial insurance carrier CNA in November 2016, I stated at my first all-employee meeting that D&I is an imperative to our future success.
We are in the early stages of building diverse teams and enabling their success. And while the insurance industry has done a fair job of bringing in diversity at the lower levels, we need to do a better job at retaining and promoting the diverse talent to ensure a more robust pipeline for the leadership roles throughout the business units and functional areas of the company. We risk having the next generation of industry leaders take their talents elsewhere. Employees require tangible examples so they in turn can see themselves in these leadership roles. They will always gravitate to organizations where inclusive leadership is pervasive.
And, they have high expectations regarding how organizations enable their success; from recruitment to retention to succession planning to performance management — which needs to increasingly focus on potential and not only prior year accomplishments.
If we truly embrace D&I, businesses can be a place where individuals embrace each other’s differences; a place where people learn to collaborate and welcome diverse opinions. We know it’s a business imperative. I argue that it’s a societal imperative, too.
CNA sits in Chicago, an urban center and incredibly diverse city known for being historically segregated. When we bring in diverse people, from a range of backgrounds and talents, to work side-by-side, our employees take those experiences back into the community. An inclusive workplace can change the way employees interact with people inside and outside of the workplace. I am not claiming that businesses are the key to solving the complex issues in our society. But, I am stating that we need to do our part in this important element of societal change.
I look forward to coming together with CEOs to learn from each other and to talk more about our role. Although we are competitors in business, it’s gratifying to collaborate, widen perspectives and share D&I best practices, particularly against the backdrop of a changing world and a global economy. Individually, we struggle to affect change on a global scale, but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” This is work we must do together.
In summary, real inclusivity and diversity of thought comes from a diversity of people who bring unique and different perspectives. When all of that brain power is at our tables, there’s nothing we can’t collectively solve.
In this series, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ signatory CEOs share their dedication to acting for workplace diversity and inclusion to make impactful changes that benefit both business and society. Follow along with #CEOAction and learn more at CEOAction.com.