4 Important (and Sometimes Difficult) Steps Leaders Must Take to Create a More Diverse and Inclusive Team

November 5, 2019

Creating a truly diverse and inclusive company isn’t just about hiring a broad range of people. It’s also about creating a culture in which every one of those people can bring their “A” game and contribute to the company’s success — and leaders play an integral role in that. 

“The culture that you want starts with the leadership that you have,” says Uzo Akotaobi, VP of HR, diversity and inclusion, and learning and development at Prologis. “You can want diversity all day. But once you get that diverse talent, what do you do with it?”

Uzo was Prologis’s first leader of inclusion and diversity. Today, the logistics real estate company recognizes diversity as a key driver of business performance, thanks largely to the advocacy of its CEO, Hamid Moghadam

“What that means,” Uzo says, “is our success as an organization is driven by inclusion and diversity.”

Leaders at all levels can make a difference. To learn more, LinkedIn’s head of hiring, Brendan Browne, caught up with Uzo at Talent Connect 2019 for the latest episode of Talent on Tap. Watch below for their discussion of the important — and sometimes uncomfortable — steps any leader can take to make meaningful change happen: 

Here are Uzo’s tips for guiding your company successfully through its diversity and inclusion journey — and unlocking your team’s superpowers.

1. Understand your people and play to their unique strengths

Uzo likens diverse teams to the X-Men. This team of superheroes came together from all over the world, bringing with them a wide range of experiences and special talents. But if the leader of the X-Men, Professor Xavier, was only interested in seeing them punch and kick and didn’t take the time to learn about their individual perspectives and superpowers (like, say, flying and the ability to control the weather), he wouldn’t get the best work out of them. And before long, they might defect and join the Justice League instead. 

Your team might not have indestructible claws or the ability to whip up a rainstorm, but each member does bring something unique to the table. Recognizing that and playing to each employee’s strengths can boost your team’s effectiveness — and make employees feel seen. 

“We’re all different as human beings,” Uzo says. “I think it’s very important as leaders to understand the people who work for them — not just my name and my job title and what my function is, but what is going on in my life? What are my strengths, what are my weaknesses? What gets me excited?”

One-on-one meetings are the perfect opportunity to learn what makes your team tick. Uzo believes these meetings are some of the most powerful tools at a leader’s disposal when it comes to augmenting their team, helping them ensure the right people are put on the right projects. 

“If you don’t have one on ones and you’re not utilizing that time in a way where you can understand the human that’s working for you,” Uzo says, “you’re going to miss opportunities to understand what Wolverine wants to do.”

2. Be curious about the lived experiences of others

The term “ally” gets thrown around a lot in diversity and inclusion conversations, but there’s often some uncertainty about what allyship actually entails. For Uzo, recognizing that your lived experience differs from someone else’s is the first step to being a good ally. 

“To understand that difference,” Uzo says, “that creates the bridge of empathy.” 

The next step is developing what Uzo calls “insane curiosity” about those differences.

“Not in the way of interrogation,” he explains. “Just genuine curiosity about someone’s lived experience.”

Be comfortable asking questions, but also make sure your team is comfortable answering them. If they see you making an effort to really understand where they’re coming from, this can signal to them that you’re a true ally — and a leader they can trust.

3. Acknowledge your mistakes, even if your intentions were good

On the path to becoming a more inclusive leader, mistakes can happen, like calling someone by the wrong pronouns. It’s critical to address those mistakes openly — because regardless of your intentions, they can have a negative impact on the people around you. 

“The most important part to me is the acknowledgment of that [mistake],” Uzo says. “Verbal acknowledgment to that person... You would be surprised how powerful that is.” 

Share your intent so that the other person understands that you didn’t mean to upset them, but acknowledge that this doesn’t negate the fact that they’re upset. This creates an opportunity for you both to learn and grow together.

“As a leader, make a mental note of that experience you had with that person,” Uzo says. “And... try to have a better sense of understanding going forward. That’s all you can ask."

4. Be willing to put in the hard work

Building a more diverse and inclusive culture takes a lot of time, effort, and understanding — but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. As a leader, it’s important that you help your company recognize this to avoid just paying lip service to the idea. 

“This is hard work,” Uzo says. “If you don’t want any of that, please don’t say you want diversity, and truly don’t say you want inclusion. Because you can’t have diversity and inclusion without dynamic leaders who know how to understand the human beings that work for them."

Talent on Tap is a monthly series in which Brendan Browne breaks down the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned for the latest.

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