| 5 min

Path 1: The importance of leadership buy-in

Published: Jun 15, 2021

Caden was unsatisfied by Pat’s explanation and the nagging feeling that he was being deprived of an opportunity his female colleagues were being offered. Caden thought about voicing his concerns to Luke, one of the co-CEOs when he saw him next. That opportunity came sooner than expected when Caden found Luke in the office doing the same thing he was doing; picking up a few items to bring back home. After a few pleasantries and exchanging quarantine stories, Caden decided to bring up his concern.

“Luke, I had a concern I wanted to talk to you about. I talked to Pat and I don’t think it’s fair that women are getting a support group and men are not. Don’t we need support too?”

Luke thought about how to address Caden’s concerns.

Luke had worked hard to grow his small business with Laura, his business partner. He took great pride in the relationships he had built in the business community and with his customers. He took pride in creating an attractive workplace by providing competitive salary and benefits and other amenities to his workforce. But Luke had also struggled with the request for “Professional Women Network” and “Women Mentoring” groups made by some of his senior female executives.

As the company had grown, it had become more diverse as people with varied backgrounds had been hired. The proponents of the women’s groups helped him to understand the need for a resource group to help female employees at the company develop their careers and move into management. Luke was glad he was aware of his own DEI journey, and recognized Caden was on a similar journey but just perhaps at a different mile marker. He was also glad that he had talked to Pat about Caden’s concerns ahead of time.

“Caden, I am glad you felt comfortable bringing your question to me. As you know, we started out as a very small company and with time we’ve started to grow. As we’ve grown, Laura and I’ve realized that historically, certain groups have not had the same opportunities for professional advancement as others. In fact, we’ve just recently promoted the first women into senior management since the company started 10 years ago. It’s important to us as a company for our leadership to reflect the diversity of our employees, customers, and our community. We realized that to do that, we need to make a conscious effort to support members of our team who may not have always had the support and resources they might need to be successful in today’s world, including here at our company.”

Caden seemed to be taking Luke’s words in.

“Caden, can I be frank with you? As white men in this country, we may not realize how opportunities are more readily available to us, that most executives at most companies look like us, and that we can typically build relationships, find mentors, and grow in our careers because people who have achieved what we strive to achieve have similar backgrounds and look like us. That’s not true for women and other historically underrepresented groups. They are required to open their own doors and create opportunities for themselves, and it can feel to them like they are always playing catch-up inside of a system where they had no voice in conceiving of it, structuring it, or making its “rules.” Our company thinks it’s important to address these challenges head-on and support efforts to help everyone be equipped to succeed. These efforts are good for our colleagues, good for the company, and good for business. If these groups work as we hope and envision they will, our female colleagues will feel more included and more encouraged to contribute their efforts and talents and bring their whole selves to work. As a leadership team, we think these groups will lead to better personal experiences for our colleagues and also to business outcomes that significantly move the needle and impact the bottom line.”

Caden thought about everything that Luke said. He had grown to respect Luke for his principles and his straightforward approach to challenges and roadblocks. Caden knew Luke was being sincere, not just reciting feel-good slogans.

“But Luke,” Caden said, “I still don’t think it’s fair that they get to have groups. What if I need a group to be more successful?”

Luke smiled, shrugged, and said, “Then Caden, we will find the right group to help you. This isn’t about taking opportunities away from you, or from anyone else. This isn’t some “fixed pie” here where one person’s gain means another person’s loss. It’s all just gain. It’s about making sure everyone has the opportunity to be successful.”

Caden nodded. “I want to see a career path for myself, and I know I have to work hard to get there. I just don’t want to work harder than everyone else just because I’m not in one of these “diverse” groups, or because ‘’I am not a woman.”

“I understand,” Luke said. “We’re just giving everyone a chance. There are some situations where being equal to everyone isn’t sufficient. Sometimes we must give different resources tailored to different people, to make sure they have opportunities that often don’t seem available or attainable to them.”

Caden thought he understood. “So, even though they’re getting these support groups, that gives them the same chance as me?”

Luke nodded. “Sort of. Maybe some of these women didn’t have a strong female role model growing up. Maybe they didn’t associate with any female executives earlier in their careers or have mentoring opportunities from someone who was a trailblazer for women. Or maybe they don’t see a path to the executive team because we didn’t have anyone on our team until recently who looked like them. Now that they can see that it’s possible, they can forge their path to get there. We’re not lowering standards, we’re just paying more attention to what we can do to ensure everyone is able to meet and exceed those standards. Make sense?”

Caden started to see where Luke was coming from, and to understand the long-term consequences of this initiative. He was a little surprised that he found himself agreeing with Luke that it was important for the growth of the company. “Luke, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I think I can try to be more supportive of these types of groups going forward. I need to do some more research but talking to you helped.”

Key considerations:

  • It takes courage to bring a concern to senior leadership. However, it shouldn’t always require being at the right place at and the right time. Consider how an “open door” policy in your organization might be received and utilized. What can you do to create a safe and non-judgmental environment for colleagues to share their concerns without worrying about whether raising questions will adversely impact them or cause others to think less of them?

  • Implementing a DE&I initiative requires a good amount of planning across the organization. To prevent alienating certain groups, it is important to educate and inform colleagues on the importance of such initiatives from the start.

  • When implementing a DE&I initiative, it is important to clearly exhibit executive buy-in from the start and walk employees through the process.

  • Consider whether your leaders practice inclusive leadership, where trust, embracing diversity, and including various viewpoints are embraced and celebrated.

Would you like additional resources to learn more about the importance of leadership buy-in and topics discussed in this path?

⚙ Are you a TriNet customer? Learn about DE&I Training, click here

Legal disclaimer: Resources provided in this story is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice. This story may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such websites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on this site does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

Why Rise?

Rise is a hub where voices from the workplace come together to share inspirational stories and on-the-ground perspectives which shape the future of work. It’s a collaborative space where we can elevate conversations and ask the important questions to find new solutions in an ever-changing landscape.

Lift yourself up!

Every day is a new beginning and an opportunity to Rise. Join us for inspiring stories, tools, and tips from real people - all delivered right to your inbox.