leadership diversity
leadership diversity

How to Support Leadership Diversity One New Leader at a Time



The state of diversity in the workplace has improved enough that some experts are shifting their focus. On a recent podcast, one expert stated, “Diversity is really not the problem for most employers, it’s inclusion.”

While that may be true, statistics show that a stunning lack of diversity remains in a highly critical area, the leadership ranks.

Take these gender leadership “diversity” statistics from Brandon Hall:

  • 14% of organizations have a woman as CEO.
  • Only 6% of organizations have an even split of men and women in C-suite executive positions.
  • Almost half of organizations have C-Suites in which less than 10 percent of executives are women, with 12% having no women among their top executives.
  • 68% of women say unconscious bias prevents them from getting more top leadership roles.

And this from 2016 Mercer research: women make up just 33% of managers and 26% of senior managers.

The leadership gap extends beyond gender, as these data from McKinsey & Company show:

  • Black Americans comprise 10% of U.S. graduates but hold only 4% of senior-executive positions.
  • Hispanics and Latinos comprise 8% of graduates versus 4% of executives.
  • For Asian Americans, the numbers are 7% of graduates versus 5% of executives.

What Can Organizations Do to Improve Leadership Diversity?

It’s not a pretty picture when so many leadership teams are composed primarily of white men.

Based on the results, it’s clear that not enough has been done to improve leadership diversity. Which raises the question, what are the necessary steps to deliver real change?

Some legislators have noticed the lack of progress, and are starting to take action. California passed a first-of-its-kind law last year that requires most companies headquartered in the state to have at least one woman on their board of directors by the end of 2019, and at least three by the end of 2021. Other states are reportedly considering similar laws.

However, significant improvements in leadership diversity are highly unlikely to come from new laws and regulations. True change must occur in the workplace, in the form of executives demanding and supporting leadership diversity. There are many business reasons that support taking action. One example: companies with high levels of gender, ethnic and cultural diversity are more likely to “experience above-average profitability” than companies with low levels, according to McKinsey.

Examples of steps that experts recommend organizations take to support leadership diversity include:

  • Work to create inclusive cultures that help improve the retention of people from underrepresented groups. Executives need to lead this effort, which should include developing dedicated diversity and inclusion programs that are evaluated by key metrics.
  • Create diverse recruiting teams to promote the sourcing and hiring of diverse candidates.
  • Provide mentoring and development opportunities to people from underrepresented groups.
  • Work to build diversity within your own leadership bench.
  • Reduce or eliminate bias—conscious or unconscious—in hiring and promotion decisions.

Help New Leaders Succeed Individually to Support Diversity

All of the steps above are sensible, but there’s another key step that is often underemphasized, unrecognized or ignored. Organizations need to provide individual support for new leaders—no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. It’s not enough to have diverse leaders in place. You also need to put them in position to succeed.

The most important step to support the success of new leaders, regardless of their background, is providing personalized leadership onboarding. It not only provides leaders with support from the outset, but it also creates an even playing field by providing consistent structure and support that is customized based on the specific experience and needs of each new leader.

Two key components that organizations should emphasize during leadership onboarding are early feedback and strategic early wins.

Early feedback: New leaders can struggle to understand the expectations of their new roles, your culture, and how to handle specific leadership situations. Providing early feedback helps them identify and successfully make corrections before these problems become major issues. Otherwise, new leaders can struggle, and over time they can lose the confidence of their peers and teams, which can be a difficult situation from which to recover.

(Much more information on providing early feedback is available at here.

Strategic early wins: It’s almost impossible to overstate the value that achieving early wins creates for new leaders. It boosts their confidence, increases their teams’ confidence in them, and supports everyone’s engagement. One point of caution: new leaders shouldn’t come on too strong or too fast, as that can lead to dissension and other problems. It’s important to identify early wins strategically—specific wins that new leaders can achieve to gain them momentum and traction in the new role without ruffling feathers.

(Much more information on strategically planning early wins is available here.

A variety of other methods can help you to support new leaders’ success. Examples include offering formal leadership mentoring, providing development opportunities and making available tools that help them and their teams succeed.

Ultimately, the point is this: if you’re working to improve leadership diversity, making positive organizational-wide changes is great, but don’t forget that success will happen one new leader at a time. Supporting each new leader’s individual success plays a critical role in creating equal opportunity for all, and that support begins with great leadership onboarding.

Our team-connect Survey Process


We start with thoughtfully diagnosing the team’s current culture by using available data, assessments and interviews.

This provides the team leader with a clear view of what is getting in the way of the team’s success.

We design a series of structured team sessions that:

  • Share the team culture analysis
  • Give team members the opportunity to talk through both processes and behaviors that need to be addressed
  • Productively provide feedback to one another
  • Develop both team and individual commitments that will lead to the team’s desired state


Measure progress by leveraging CTD’s team-connect Survey to:

  • Drive accountability and measure progress by collecting team feedback specific to one another’s engagement and behavioral change
  • Provide the team’s leader with a clear understanding of what he/she and the team need from each other to enable and support the team’s success
  • Share team and individual survey result reports