Building Diverse Leadership Teams that Reflect Your Organization

Many organizations succeed in building a diverse workforce, but it does not always result in diversity in leadership positions. Building a diverse leadership team takes time, intention, and a clear understanding of your goals. 

How to Use Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace to Build Diverse Leadership

One of the greatest assets businesses and organizations have in diversifying their leadership team is a commitment to diversity throughout their teams. Nevertheless, it is incredibly common within corporations, even those who have a DEI focus, to have leadership that is white and male. This trend is consistent even among businesses with diverse entry and mid-level staff. For mission-driven organizations, this often results in management not reflecting the communities they serve or the employee population as a whole. So how do organizations begin to correct this error? Diversity in leadership is built with intention. Here are a few ways to put that intention into action.

Start at the Top – and the Bottom 

To build diversity you have to start at the top, with executive level and stakeholder buy-in. Many mission driven organizations already have this buy-in, so it is less about convincing than implementing. But if you work for a company that is just beginning its DEI journey, you will want to begin by making sure those at the top – both senior leaders and stakeholders – are fully on-board. In both cases, making sure the director or CEO is regularly communicating that diversity is a priority – and establishing related goals – makes a huge difference in how well it is prioritized throughout the organization. 

Once you have this buy-in at the top, start at the bottom of your organizational chart. Begin to look at what is required of each role in your company and what skills and experience are needed to move to the next level. Then build those experiences into their job descriptions, required competencies, and professional development opportunities. By doing this, you are ensuring that team members you already have are being prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow, whether within or outside of your organization. This practice is a great talent management principle, but we also want to be clear that it should not be in place of hiring practices that promote diversity, or implemented as a way to delay the challenge of diversifying your senior leadership. Rather it should act as part of an overall diversity and people-first strategy. 

Reflect & Engage Your Community 

Mission driven organizations need to be ever mindful of the communities they serve. This means building leadership teams that reflect the priorities of the community as well as the racial and ethnic make-up. One way to ensure this happens is by engaging with the community during the search process for new leaders whenever possible. 

Check-in with Yourself Frequently 

Despite the best of intentions, one of the hardest things for current leaders to do when working towards diversity is to notice when their ego is in the driver’s seat. Wanting to develop a more diverse leadership team often involves thinking about what their organization needs to succeed without them – and that can be a hard attitude to prioritize and maintain. Current leaders can avoid “ego creep” by checking in with themselves, and their fellow leaders, regularly to make sure they are making the best long term decisions possible. 

Leadership Team Development: When You Need Someone Now 

Building and sourcing leaders from within often feels like the ideal situation, but it’s not always possible. When you need to fill a role in the near-term and do not have a qualified internal candidate(s), there are several ways you can ensure diversity has a front seat in your search. 

Address Bias 

One of the most challenging aspects of bias is that it is sneaky. And for those who actively work to counteract bias, it is easy to forget how quickly it can sneak back into the equation unnoticed. But understanding and using effective strategies to mitigate bias can help you avoid any unwanted beliefs clouding your hiring decisions. 

Consider Remote

While many companies still look at remote work as a “perk”, it can actually be an incredibly effective tool in diverse hiring. The flexibility can help counteract inequities and challenges pertaining to commuting. It can also be a lifesaver for those with diverse family structures, such as single parents or those taking care of elderly parents. Some roles require in-person participation by their very nature. But if there is room for the role to be fully remote or hybrid, you will have a much larger, and thus more diverse, applicant pool from which to pull.

The Unicorn Fallacy 

It is not uncommon for organizations to create a list of expectations so long and so specific that they are essentially on the hunt for a mythical creature (what has become known as a unicorn in HR circles). This leads to many well-qualified candidates being passed over and an ever-increasing burden on current employees as the search drags on for the “perfect” person. Consider rethinking your criteria to broaden your applicant pool and your choices. 

Diversity in Leadership for Your Organization 

When it comes to building a diverse leadership team, remember to always go back to your organization’s goals. There are many ways a team can be diverse and many ways to build diversity. Consider what your current leadership team would benefit from adding: different life experience, varying educational backgrounds, specific expertise, etc. Then seek your next hire. Remember to remain vigilant against unconscious bias as well as a tendency towards prioritizing the perfect over the good during the hiring process. Follow these principles when hiring for your most senior position and your most entry level, and you’ll soon find yourself building a diverse organization from both the ground up and the top down.  


Put your values to work. Act on equity.

We believe equity isn’t a box to check. It’s a daily action. Someone’s unique identity isn’t something to overcome–when paired with the right opportunity, it becomes one of their greatest professional assets. We exist to empower social impact organizations to recognize and overcome unconscious bias, racism and sexism so they can build a workforce that reflects and strengthens the communities they serve.