How to build tomorrow’s executive team with an eye for diversity, equity, and inclusion

June 3, 2022, 12:09 PM UTC

Over the last few years, it has become clear that a different type of leader is needed for companies to succeed in the future as customers, prospective employees, and even investors demand more from the business world on sustainability, social impact, and inclusion.

This means not only that today’s leaders need to change their mindsets, but that leadership training and pipeline development need to change, too. The Modern Board spoke with UVA Darden School of Business professor Laura Morgan Roberts to discuss succession planning and inclusion. Here are some of her biggest takeaways:

Make a bigger pool

The pipelines into leadership historically have existed only for a select few. Companies have provided special training, additional opportunities across the business, and even stipends for pursuing outside education—but only to a small percentage of employees. Over the last decade, however, many startup companies have stated a goal of helping companies diversify leadership by making such training available to more people.

Roberts notes that the selection of who gains access to these opportunities is often skewed. She says people in higher levels of power are less attuned to the inner workings of an organization than the rank-and-file. So why not look to employees for input on who their next leaders should be? This would not only democratize leadership development, but also help the executive ranks identify new potential candidates for future management roles, based on who has the respect of their fellow employees.

Either way, one key to diversifying the pipeline is making it bigger. This involves finding more scalable development strategies but also new ways to get people in.

Look for an agile, learning mindset

It’s increasingly clear that the operationally focused managers, who produce numbers but don’t care for their people, are not going to last very long. This operations-first mindset was ingrained for decades with business leaders, who are now being asked to evolve.

“The taken-for-granted assumption that one could just get a position of leadership and then behave however one chooses to and get away with it…is not really panning out,” Roberts says. “The context has changed.”

Instead, leaders who have worked in multiple roles or functions in their careers, or have tangible examples of times when they course-corrected a strategy, or admitted a mistake, are ideal candidates for future leadership roles, Roberts says.

“It’s really more about being agile, being able to read what’s happening in the organization and the industry in the environment, listening to the voices and perspectives of people who are on the margins, having a better understanding of the impact of whatever decision you’re inclined to make on various facets of the organization.”

Develop intentional pipelines for diverse leaders

Many who are currently in power are inclined to believe that their workplace is a meritocracy. This drives a belief that all processes within a business are fair. But this perception has had a detrimental effect on the range of people who make it into the executive ranks. “The default is often, ‘It works for me, and if you truly have what it takes to succeed, it will work for you too,’” Roberts says.

The fact is that more S&P 500 CEOs are named Michael or James than identify as female, and Black CEOs are still a rarity—and fixing this situation requires significant intentional effort.

“Our assessment techniques have often hinged upon whether or not people have good answers to our questions,” Roberts says, pointing out that this subjective analysis opens the door for biased outcomes. “There have always been groups who are marginalized and more vulnerable. They’re scrutinized more heavily for making errors and mistakes, and their successes are also discredited.”

The solutions Roberts mentioned include mentorship programs; emphasizing allyship as part of company culture; identifying how and where underrepresented employees may be receiving heavier scrutiny; a diversity-focused audit of leadership training programs; creating meaningful career paths and development opportunities for all levels of employee; and promoting psychological safety so employees can bring their most honest selves to work.

Aman Kidwai


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View from the C-Suite

Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon is undertaking a huge revision of his company’s strategy. Though Qualcomm is often overlooked on a tech scene that’s crowded with other, louder, major players, Amon plans to bring his company to a new era by investing in Internet of Things, self-driving cars, and the metaverse.

Amon joined Qualcomm in 1995 as an engineer, later becoming head of the company’s semiconductor business. He’s held multiple leadership roles in his time there, overseeing multiple acquisitions and Qualcomm’s 5G strategy.

In an interview with Fortune’s Phil Wahba, Amon explains why he’s so bought in on IoT and the metaverse. He also discussed his love for restoring muscle cars and how he sees his company factoring into the future of the automotive industry.

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