Inspiring Leadership with Diversity, Inclusion & Cultural Competence

“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.”  

– Agha HasanAbedi



The Wall Street Journal published an article last week entitled, “Some Tech Firms Ask: Who Needs Managers?” by Rachel Emma Silverman. The author asserted, “Management has traditionally been a worker’s best way to get ahead and increase earnings, but at startups, where speed and autonomy are prized above all else, managers are often dismissed as archaic, or worse, dead weight.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 10.8 million mid-level managers in the U.S. last year. While the Wall Street Journal article acknowledged that managers represent an essential layer of the organization, it also recognized that managers are often dismissed as bureaucrats and impediments to effectiveness.

Beyond harassment and discrimination training for supervisors, Diversity and Inclusion can play an important role in a manager’s professional growth.

To determine where supervisors need to grow, it may be helpful to ascertain:

(1) How well do managers ask questions? Asking questions instills an intellectual curiosity and encourages different groups to share their ideas and expertise. Asking questions can also lead to better problem solving; help supervisors discover departmental strengths, limitations, and overlap; and increase the effectiveness of a supervisor.

Questions like, “how can I help you to be more successful?” and “how do we build on that?” enable leaders to focus on unique business solutions.   Likewise, managers can use the Diversity Wheel’s primary and secondary dimensions to ask employee’s questions such as “what is most important to you on this Diversity Wheel?” and “what kinds of rewards motivate you?”  These types of questions will strip away assumptions, stereotypes and confusion.

(2) How well do managers relate to employees?  “Relating” encompasses relationship-building behaviors, such as listening, coaching and encouraging. When managers relate well, their employees feel heard and cared for. Each employee understands he/she is an important player on the team, regardless of their title. It’s easy to relate to people who appear to be similar to you. What is more challenging is relating to individuals who are different.

Great managers understand that each employee is unique. Therefore, they get diversity’s fundamental principle “Treat others as they want to be treated”.  Improving one’s ‘relating’ skill will help managers deliver critical feedback to diverse workers without the fear of being labeled “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, or some other negative term.

(3) How involved are managers with Diversity and Inclusion efforts? There is always so much to do on diversity committees, in associate resource groups, and in the Office of Diversity. What specific tasks can managers perform to help accomplish D&I goals?

When requesting assistance from managers, it’s best to have a one-on-one meeting, or video conference, versus a group session. Be prepared to listen. Also, be prepared to demonstrate the business case for diversity and inclusion. Stick with the facts– this means that you must know demographic projections, exit interview data, 360 degree feedback, and organizational goals, to name a few. There’s an opportunity for manager’s to employ diversity and inclusion skills to advance their own careers and their departmental objectives– when they understand the business case, as well as the benefits. 

For Diversity professionals, take the time to think of new ways to include and engage managers, as well as provide them with the tools that they need to be more effective.

By Leah Smiley



Leah Smiley is the President of the Society for Diversity, the #1 and largest professional association for diversity and inclusion. For more information, log onto

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