In today’s global marketplace, engaging different perspectives through diversity and inclusion initiatives is more important than ever, say Redia Anderson and Lenora Billings-Harris, authors of the new book Trailblazers: How Top Business Leaders Are Accelerating Results Through Inclusion and Diversity (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59347-9, $27.95, www.AboutTrailblazers.com).

And to be truly effective, this engagement must start at the top.

“The bottom line is that today’s clients, customers, and coworkers expect innovative solutions in response to pressing business issues,” says Anderson.

“The ‘we’ve always done it that way’ line of thinking must be eliminated. In almost every situation where CEO commitment exists, an organizational culture of curiosity, appreciation, and resolve to apply the lessons from a diverse and inclusive workforce will rise.

Trailblazers takes readers into some of the world’s top-performing companies – IBM, Verizon, Dell, The Coca-Cola Company, Shell, Merck, and more – for insights on how they are expanding the definition, practice, and bottom-line benefits of diversity.

As a leader and manager, what are some of the things you can do to “walk the walk and talk the talk” regarding inclusion and diversity?

The authors recommend seven actions that you can take from the Trailblazers CEO playbook to begin to influence your culture and overtly show your clear intent regarding these incredibly important objectives:

1. Share your stories. Your personal experiences of difference—as well as stories in which you’re keenly aware of being included—make strong statements about how willing you are to be transparent and learn from others.

“You must ‘give to get,’ so talk about your experiences,” advises Anderson. “What did it feel like when you were the ‘only one’—woman, person of color, over a certain age—at a major business function? What was going through your head at the time? What biases and assumptions did you have to overcome, if any, to participate fully? How accepting were others of you, and what did that do for you? What did you learn about yourself?”

2. Become an active mentor. Get to know three high-potential, junior-level individuals who come from a different background from your own. “Keep it informal,” says Anderson. “Have coffee or go to lunch. Tell them what you’d like to learn about. Be open to their experiences and suspend your own judgment. Reverse mentoring is also likely to occur, so remain open to letting it happen. You’ll be grateful for what you can learn from your mentees.”

3. Support your organization’s employee resource groups. Become an executive liaison for the group. Or, if that assignment has been filled, regularly attend and support their functions. These groups can be an incubator of leadership talent, so get to know their leaders and nurture them into your organization’s leadership ranks.

4. Get diversity on the operations meeting agenda. Make inclusion and diversity updates a standing agenda item at your regular leadership team meetings. “Set and provide clear expectations of advancement and consequences,” says Anderson. “Reward and communicate progress broadly. Recognize that, when the organization sees and hears little, they assume nothing is happening, so communicate often to let them know about everything that is indeed happening.”

5. Speak it. Seek opportunities to include messages of the business imperative and the impact of inclusion and diversity to your company’s bottom line in every speech you give and every meeting you hold—internally and externally. Work with the chief diversity officer and the public affairs team to proactively brand your company in the marketplace as an inclusive employer—one that respects the broad definition of diversity and believes in the value of an inclusive and inviting culture.

6. Build diverse leadership teams. As key assignments, business projects, and candidate slate opportunities arise, ensure that you’re consciously staffing your team with the broadest, best, and most diverse perspectives to solve customer issues.

7. Monitor, measure, and reward evidence of inclusion and diversity progress. Utilize the performance management system as well as your organization’s rewards and recognition programs to emphasize progress.

“Recognize the efforts that others put forth in a way that is meaningful to them,” says Anderson. “And remember that it may not always be a monetary reward. In fact, many of the organizations discussed in Trailblazers utilized a variety of rewards and compensation.

“While many of these included traditional year-end monetary and spot awards, they also used more creative means to recognize people—an extra day or two of paid time off, theater tickets, a small grant of stock options, dinner reservations for two at top-notch local restaurants, and simple ‘thank-you’ notes handwritten by senior leaders. All of these methods convey a message of respect and recognition for results.”

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