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Why diversity starts at the top

November 16, 2014

Undercover BossUndercover Boss
Kat Cole, group president of FOCUS BrandsPhotograph by Jeffrey Neira — CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images

40 under 40 Insider Network is one of several online communities where the most thoughtful and influential people in business under 40 answer timely career and leadership questions. This week, we ask: How do you encourage diversity in the workplace? The following is an answer by Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon.

Encouraging diversity in the workplace starts with the leader. Organizations that embrace diversity have leaders at the very top who articulate diversity as a fundamental element of the company’s success. Here are a few ways that leaders can demonstrate diversity and create a culture that quickly addresses behaviors that may be counter-inclusive:

Equal representation
Successfully engaging diverse talent requires that diverse talent be notably represented in your organization. This helps other employees to see what’s possible for people like them in your company or industry. But that’s only the first step. That’s just making sure that diverse talent has a seat. You don’t just put a diverse team together and watch the magic happen. As a leader, you have to keep an eye out for unique points of view and celebrate these views from different angles.

Embrace uniqueness
We can’t assume having a seat means having a voice. Having diversity at the table is important, but being sure that diverse talent can meaningfully contribute and be valued is critical to ensuring diversity in the workplace. We get better work from our employees when they can be their full selves at work, so a culture that celebrates uniqueness is likely to drive results. When I interview potential hires, I describe the diversity we have on the team and make it clear that we embrace those differences. If the candidate can’t do the same, they should not work with us.

Mutual respect
Getting great work out of diverse teams, especially those that don’t work with each other often involves strong communication. It requires having a foundation of respect, that can draw out points of view from particularly unique members of the team. This creates an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing themselves. This also means redirecting overly dominant employees who may intentionally or unintentionally be peeing on the fire of diverse members of the team who have value to add.

Leaders who drive successful diverse teams make conscious efforts to have diverse thinking around decisions and don’t silence diverse points of view. In addition to our culture and every day behaviors, we have a “say what you think” award in our company. Quality, unique points of view are treasured and celebrated.