How CEOs are embracing the future of work to help advance DEI in 2023

January 27, 2023, 7:00 PM UTC
Hybrid workplaces can be a huge win for both employees and their companies.
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CEO agendas for 2023 are crowded and complex, leaving leaders to face a myriad of short-term demands. Faced with many priorities, leaders could lose sight of the need to drive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) progress and its significant role in business performance.

Yet with growth and competitiveness at the top of agendas, leaders can’t afford to lose ground on DEI. In fact, it’s critical that CEOs further emphasize and put DEI at the center of their business strategy and their vision for the future of their workplace.

Coming out of years of disruption, with more change likely on the horizon, leaders have the opportunity now to reimagine the workplace we inherited from the 20th century. From our own experience at PwC, our clients, and through the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion coalition, we hear from leaders who now more than ever want to accelerate their organizations’ DEI  progress. Leaders are focused on increasing representation, belonging and trust, deepening connections in hybrid workplaces and creating an inclusive culture for all.

To be effective, leaders can focus their efforts on three key drivers:

Employ data-first strategies and technology

Modern organizations run on data, but in our experience, many employers don’t have the DEI data needed to adequately inform talent strategy. Consider starting to build a process for collecting and analyzing DEI data throughout the employee experience. For example, PwC created a digital platform called “My Story Your Story,” with a focus on self-reporting for employees to choose to express their multifaceted identities to help foster meaningful professional connections. This platform also provides valuable identification data to help inform PwC’s DEI strategy, measure effectiveness, and enable transparent reporting.

DEI strategy should be “data-first” to drive evidence-based insights on root causes and solutions. Then, dashboard reporting technology with embedded analytics can empower managers who are in the position to act on it in real time. For example, as part of our PwC My+ people strategy, we developed a reporting platform that provides leaders with direct access to data on workload, engagement, development, and diversity, with automated nudges to help drive actions that strengthen the employee experience when it matters.

Build a culture of inclusive leadership and sponsorship with new skills

Leadership today requires a new mindset with consciously inclusive behaviors that help build trust with individuals, enable everyone to contribute to the fullest, and drive performance in teams. This work starts with defining what inclusive leadership behaviors look like at each level in your organization, and then bringing these behaviors to life in inspiring and positive ways while aligning your development and people processes. 

At PwC, we created a global inclusive leadership curriculum that addresses topics, such as how to run an inclusive meeting, assigning projects with inclusion in mind, and how to build an inclusive network of colleagues. In addition to developing these skills, accountability is also important to success. Demonstrating these skills should be embedded in promotion criteria, performance management, and people processes. We require demonstration of inclusive leadership skills as part of our global career progression framework that is the basis for assessment throughout the year at all levels.

Sponsorship, which includes investing personal social capital to help advance others’ careers, may be one of the most impactful DEI levers a leader can pull to drive measurable progress. Too often sponsorship perpetuates a cycle of leaders investing in and helping to advance talent with similar backgrounds and mindsets. This type of dynamic undercuts DEI progress, and an effective way to support a more inclusive approach is through raising self-awareness and skills of managers to deliberately sponsor across differences. Formalizing sponsorship programs can also increase transparency and measurable outcomes—but it still has to be underpinned by an authentic relationship.

Embrace hybrid as a win for DEI while driving purposeful connections

Research has shown that many women and racially/ethnically diverse people, as well as people with caregiving responsibilities, prefer hybrid work arrangements. This can be a huge win for employees and their companies by delivering greater flexibility—along with stronger engagement and productivity—while expanding their talent pool. But achieving these goals requires a new mindset on fostering inclusion in a more hybrid world and skills for managing hybrid teams.

Start by asking leaders to be deliberate in planning with their teams. It’s important to make the most of in-person time as an opportunity to build relationships, provide mentoring and sponsorship, or engage in team agendas that benefit from in-person interactions.

At the same, hybrid/virtual interactions require leadership behaviors that deliberately build psychological safety and team cohesion for decision-making and innovation. It’s important to avoid potential risks, such as proximity bias or disproportionately valuing individuals who share the same physical location versus objective performance measures and outcomes. The basic imperative is to engage in data-driven learning, so that policies and management practices are based on evidence—not simply strongly held beliefs and opinions.

As leaders plan for the year ahead, we have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to make measurable progress with DEI. But it requires using data, technology, conscious inclusive leadership and sponsorship, and embracing new ways of working. DEI is a societal imperative, and we know that learning through collaboration with our peers is key to driving collective action and impact. We invite you to join us as we learn together in

Michael Fenlon is chief future of work officer at PwC. Sabah Cambrelen is a principal for consulting solutions, workforce transformation, and DEI at PwC. PwC is a partner of Fortune‘s CEO Initiative.

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