CEOs Must Lead on Diversity: Lead the Future with Laura Liswood


Diversity is mission-critical for business today.

A lack of diversity is a critical business risk for companies today.

For one thing, building diverse teams is the first step towards building innovative teams. If everyone on your team looks the same, they’re likely to all think the same, too. Diverse teams bring different perspectives to the table. They’re able to see a wider range of possibilities and come up with ideas that cookie-cutter teams simply won’t find.

A lack of diversity can also sink a company’s public brand. Consumers today expect brands to take a stand on social issues, and the radical transparency brought about by social media means that companies can’t get away with simply mouthing platitudes. If your public talk doesn’t match what happens on your teams, word will get out.


Innovation and reputation matter even more in challenging times.

It’s easy for organizations to let diversity initiatives slip in a time of crisis—if they’re thinking of diverse voices as a ‘nice to have’ addition to the core team, rather than as an integral part of how the business is preparing for the future.

When I interviewed Laura Liswood, the General Secretary of the Council of Women Leaders and a renowned speaker on leadership, diversity, and unconscious bias, for our Lead the Future podcast, she spoke passionately on this point.

“Sometimes you hear people saying ‘Diversity can go to the back burner right now. We have too many other important things to do,’” Liswood said. “The truth of the matter is that you can’t get to those important things, with the kind of innovation and solutions you need, without the diversity.”

Laura Liswood, on Episode 5 of the Lead the Future Podcast


CEOs are under greater scrutiny on social issues than ever before.

In our interview, Liswood noted that leaders today are held to a higher standard. “There’s far more emphasis now on the role of the private sector in issues around social justice and social equity,” she said.

“But here’s the challenge: if you are a CEO being urged to take a stand by your employees, customers, and clients, your house better be in good order. You can’t say ‘I advocate for social justice, I advocate for racial equality,’ and then have your organization not reflect that.”

Laura Liswood, on Episode 5 of the Lead the Future Podcast

I’ve written about this issue for years. It’s becoming more and more common for CEOs to publicly throw their support behind social and political causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ rights, and efforts to combat climate change. But while a CEO may get a quick hit of praise for making a statement, scrutiny of the company’s actual practices is never far behind.


Is your organization truly committed to diversity?

There are many ways to determine how committed your organization or your team truly is to diversity. You can audit your compensation practices, for example. You can examine your flexible work, parental leave, and other policies to ensure you’re welcoming back some of the 3 million women who’ve left the workforce in the past year. You can follow something like the “Rooney Rule” and make sure you’re interviewing at least one serious minority candidate for every position.

But the coronavirus pandemic creates a useful gut check moment for any organization: Have you continued to prioritize diversity during the past year? Or have you let it slip while you’ve been in crisis mode?

Is diversity a ‘nice to have’ or a top priority?

Gut Check for Leaders

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