Why LinkedIn Sees Equipping Managers to Be Inclusive Leaders as a Key to Success

October 26, 2020

man working from home looking at computer while holding his baby

October is Global Diversity Awareness Month — a time to celebrate the positive impact diverse voices can have on a company, its community, and society at large. It’s also a time to reflect on the obstacles and barriers present in the workplace today and the steps we can take, as companies and as individuals, to overcome them. 

Now is exactly the time to double down on our efforts to educate people about the benefits that come from increasing equity and to make clear that when people from diverse backgrounds and cultures work together, we all succeed.

In the workplace, specifically, the business case for diversity is clear: Study after study after study has shown that more diverse companies, particularly those with more diverse senior and executive management teams, are more profitable and generate more revenue. Significantly more.

And yet, we still have a long journey ahead — this work takes time and we learn each step of the way. A recent LinkedIn survey of over 4,000 professionals in the United States found that almost half (48%) of Black professionals do not have someone they consider to be an ally at work and a quarter (26%) feel isolated in the workplace.

While there is rightly a lot of energy around diversity hiring, it’s also critically important that organizations invest in inclusive environments where all employees — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — can grow their careers and ultimately thrive. At LinkedIn, this work begins with a company-wide focus on building a people manager population that’s world class in inclusive leadership. We understand people managers have an outsize impact on the hiring, professional development, and retention of talent, and they ultimately set the tone for the culture within their teams. Here are some of the approaches we’re taking:

1. We’re investing heavily in developing inclusive leaders

We’re setting an expectation globally that inclusive leadership is a table stakes skill that all managers must develop to be successful at LinkedIn. In August, we rolled out Inclusive Leadership for managers, a company-wide initiative driven by expectation setting, education, and accountability. 

We aligned our managers on what inclusive leadership means at Linkedin using a three-part framework — you, your team, and your future team. The framework emphasizes the importance of first developing your own learning journey through a mindset of cultural humility, and then developing skills and practices to ensure equitable professional growth and development for members of your team. Understanding and mitigating bias in supporting career development is critical to developing an inclusive and high-performing team. LinkedIn’s recent study found that nearly half (43%) of the Black professionals currently looking for a new job cited a lack of career growth or opportunities as a key reason they were moving on.

To help managers develop cornerstone D&I skills, we launched Leading with Inclusion, the foundational workshop in our learning series. The goal of this workshop is to help managers develop an inclusive mindset, build a culture of inclusion within their teams, and recognize and counteract unconscious bias in their own practices. We also provide professional development training across the organization for those seeking growth and learning opportunities.  

While much of our curriculum will be customized for managers at LinkedIn, some of it will come from LinkedIn Learning and courses that are more broadly available right now. For example, How to Engage Meaningfully in Allyship and Anti-racism, a five-part learning path taught by Dereca Blackmon and Kwame Christian, is available for free until October 31 for all of our members and employees. Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for All, a seven-course curriculum that addresses unconscious bias, inclusive conversations, and communicating across cultures, is available for free until March 31, 2021, for all members and employees

2. We’re building accountability into our inclusive leadership strategy

Once we’ve provided people managers with the tools and training to be inclusive leaders, we’re going to track their progress toward our ambition of being best in class on diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

To start with, we’re asking managers to develop quarterly OKRs for inclusive leadership that reflect aspects of our three-part framework. So, they might include a goal of taking three learning actions (for the “you” part of the framework), know and understand each of your employee’s career goals (your team), and increase recommendations and referrals for candidates from underrepresented groups (your future team).

Managers should then have quarterly conversations with their own managers about what they’ve done and what they’ll be doing to become stronger inclusive leaders. Down the road, we will be introducing more specific performance and hiring standards for all our people managers. Companies like Salesforce and Sodexo have done an impressive job of building diversity scorecards and dashboards that help them deliver results.

3. We’re increasing the professional development opportunities for employees from underrepresented groups

Our recent survey found that a third of Black (33%) and Latino (34%) professionals feel they have missed out on career advancement opportunities due to a lack of internal mentorship or sponsorship (compared with the 23% of white professionals who feel this way).

An important part of being an inclusive leader is knowing what your team members’ career goals are and then understanding which levers you can pull to help them progress toward those goals. Unfortunately, we see in the research that people from groups that are underrepresented within their companies don’t always have equal access to career development support, including mentorship, sponsorship, and stretch assignments. LinkedIn is working to both ensure that managers and employees have many levers to pull, and that these opportunities are offered fairly. 

And this year we’ve added two mentorship programs to complement our existing professional development offerings. Over the summer, we launched Impact[in], a one-to-one mentoring program that allows employees from underrepresented groups to expand their professional networks and to gain transformative career guidance from leaders at LinkedIn.

We’ve also introduced Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Mentor Circles, which give newer employees from underrepresented groups access to community and career navigation knowledge to support successful onboarding and retention.

These initiatives complement existing programs like WiN (focused on women in leadership), WIT (Women in Tech), and Catalyst, a leadership development offering for outstanding employees from underrepresented groups in EMEA and Latin America.

We’re hardly alone in this effort. JPMorgan Chase has a highly admired program called Advancing Black Leaders. Among many others, Deloitte and AIG also have well-established, well-regarded leadership development programs for employees from underrepresented groups.

Final thoughts: These unsettled times offer companies a critical opportunity

Between the global pandemic, the economic downturn, and the relentless news of violence against Black people, this has been a difficult year for all of us. But it has also presented unprecedented opportunities to look at things differently. At LinkedIn, the challenges of 2020 have sparked a focus and urgency around the work of equity that will have a permanent effect on how we operate. This will ultimately accelerate our pursuit of our vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

Organizations should recognize this juncture and intentionally work to enact real and long-overdue change. Businesses that invest in specific, targeted actions to build inclusive leaders and equitable workplaces will emerge from this difficult period stronger and more successful than ever.

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