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How to Be an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Indigenization Leader

CEOs play a critical role in ensuring that EDII initiatives are taken seriously. Discover why HR policies and mandatory training can fall short in efforts to increase inclusion within organizations.

Unlocking your team’s collective strength lies in embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive environment. But according to Smith Professor of Equity and Inclusion Eddy Ng, real and lasting gains in organizational equity, diversity and inclusion start with strong commitments from senior leaders.  

In this video, Ng unpacks the factors that set inclusive organizations apart and explores the importance of structural integration in both formal and informal settings. To break down any negative stereotypes we may hold about those who are different from us, Ng says we need repeated, positive interactions in a variety of situations. He also cautions that mandating training on topics such as sensitivity and implicit bias may not create a true climate of inclusion.  

So, how can companies ensure that more equity-deserving people move into leadership positions? Ng suggests that creating a deep pipeline of women and racialized minorities is vital. By building a critical mass, he explains, we not only normalize having equity-deserving people in these roles, but we also remove tokenism and stigma that can often be associated with EDII programs. Ng says that one of the most effective ways for CEOs to hold their executive teams accountable in this area is to tie executive compensation to diversity and inclusion goals.  

Finally, Ng challenges those in power to redefine excellence, reminding us that meritocracy is constructed by people who are already successful. Therefore, to see lasting change in this area, he suggests that what defines a successful leader needs to evolve.  


[Music playing]  

What sets an inclusive organization apart?  

00:07: Eddy Ng: Most organizations today are fairly diverse in the sense that they have good representation of women, racialized minorities, as well as newer immigrants that come into the country. But what sets an inclusive organization apart from one that is less inclusive, for instance, will be about four or five different points.  

The first would be what we refer to as “structural integration.” So, by structural integration, I mean that we have good representation of underrepresented groups at all levels of the organization.  

The second part has to do with functions. We know organizations tend to hire people into different functional areas. Oftentimes we might find that in IT, for instance, or in the accountant’s office, there tend to be more of a representation of certain racialized groups.  

The third is within working groups themselves. Within working groups, you sometimes find that people self-segregate based on certain cultural backgrounds or histories. The second part would be the informal integration aspect. I always say you can legislate people to act in a certain way during office hours. We can legislate numbers, but it's hard to regulate people's behaviours after hours. We are talking about what people do after work hours. The informal social networks — inviting people out for lunches or inviting them to your home for dinner, going to sports games or even a golf game. Why are those things important for minority group members to feel truly included? They have to experience three things. One is access to information. You only get that when you are socializing after hours. The second part is access to influence and perceived insider status. As you can imagine, those things don't come from formal policies or formal events, but rather, a lot of times, you get your information, you influence each other and you feel like you're part of the insider group when you are at these informal events. The third aspect is how minority and majority group members perceive or identify with the organization they work for.  

The fourth and last point would be on intergroup conflict. When you look at majority and minority groups, would the majority group be resentful toward efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in your organization? When intergroup conflict is minimized, what you then get is people who are much more willing to work with each other.  

What should organizations do to create an inclusive workplace . . . and what should they avoid?  

02:49: Eddy Ng: In order for us to break down stereotypes and change our mindsets about those who are different, we need to have repeated interactions, and those interactions need to be positive. In other words, just being exposed to someone who's culturally different isn't necessarily going to change our negative stereotypes toward a particular group. 

Now, when we talk about training, it generally has a negative connotation. It's either remedial or punishment, right? So, I'm being asked to go to sensitivity training. I'm being asked to go to attend implicit bias training. What you end up getting would be a lot of people feeling like “I'm not racist” and “I have no biases towards other people.”  

What role do CEOs play in ensuring that EDII initiatives are taken seriously?  

03:31: Eddy Ng: CEOs play two really critical roles when it comes to EDII. The first is what I refer to as “symbolic”, in the sense that we want CEOs to be seen as championing EDII. We have received the very top-level endorsement and that sends a really strong signal to organizational members.  

The other role that CEOs play would be what I referred to as a “substantive” role. So, it's good to have the CEOs be the champion, but we also need CEOs to devote resources–time as well as commitment.  

How can CEOs hold their teams accountable?  

04:11: Eddy Ng: One of the ways in which CEOs can truly hold their executive team accountable is to tie executive compensation to both diversity and inclusion goals. Most executives tend to prioritize profit maximization–gaining market share, at the expense of the EDII goals. When you tie executive comp to EDII goals, most executives would then think, “Well, I do need to have greater representation.” But more importantly, you’re creating a climate because it’s how employees actually perceive whether the climate is inclusive or not.  

So, how can companies ensure more people from equity-deserving groups move into leadership positions?

04:48: Eddy Ng: There are a couple of ways or things that organizations can do to increase the representation of women and racialized minorities into leadership roles. The first is creating a diverse and deep pipeline of women and racialized minorities. By that I mean a critical mass, so that we normalize having women and racialized minorities in leadership roles. It also removes the tokenism and the stigma that’s often associated with EDII programs.  

A second way in which organizations could increase the number of women and racialized minorities, especially in leadership roles, is to redefine excellence and to change the whole principle of meritocracy. At the moment, meritocracy is constructed by a very self-select group of people who are already successful, and that is the only definition of excellence and success. We have now seen an increasing number of different successful leadership types. The whole notion of what is a successful leader, what is a good leader, needs to change.  

By changing the definition of excellence and revisiting what meritocracy looks like, we can actually improve diversity at the leadership level.