When I consult with clients, there is one challenge/opportunity I am asked about more than any other. “How can our leaders demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion?  What follows is an excerpt from, TRAILBLAZERS: How Top Business Leaders are Accelerating Results through Inclusion and Diversity, a D&I strategy book Redia Anderson and I co-authored. To effectively implement the work at an organization, group, and individual level takes committed, dedicated work, and observable behaviors. Here are a few actions leaders and others can take to make the organizational culture shift.

Trailblazers by Lenora Billings-Harris and Redia Anderson1. 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. What did it feel like when you were the “only one” — woman, person of color, LGBT and “out”, 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 than you. Keep it informal; 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 networks and/or business 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. Make inclusion and diversity updates a standing agenda item at your regular leadership team meetings. Set and provide clear expectations of advancement and consequences. Reward and communicate progress broadly. Recognize that when the organization sees and hears little, they assume that nothing is happening; so communicate often to let them know about everything that is indeed happening.

5. 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 CDO 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 and most diverse perspectives to solve your customer’s problems.

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 any progress. Recognize the efforts that others put forth in a way that is meaningful to them; and remember that it may not always be a monetary award. In fact, many of the Trailblazers’ organizations utilized a variety of compensation. While these included more traditional year-end monetary and spot awards, they also used more creative means to recognize people – an extra day or two paid time off, theater tickets, a small grant of stock options, dinner reservations for two at top notch local restaurant, and simple “thank-you” notes hand written by senior leaders. All of these methods convey a message of recognition for results.