Supporting DEI through Leadership Assessment and Coaching

At Vantage, we have the privilege of working with some of the world’s most impactful and essential leaders. We are constantly impressed by the significant role they play in the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in their organizations. With that, doing great work in the assessment and coaching space includes supporting broader DEI initiatives like selecting inclusive leaders and developing diverse top talent.

For instance, given the importance of inclusive leadership in high-impact roles, how does one assess inclusive leadership behaviors in a typical assessment process? Specifically, if an organization requires its senior leaders to role model inclusive leadership, we could use various methods to measure this more precisely. While this competency is as complex as any, here are a few tools we have deployed with success.

1.     Powerful interview questions. After conducting hundreds of interviews with senior leaders worldwide each year, we continue developing a benchmark of world-class responses to some of the following questions. For instance, how do leaders self-reflect on and mitigate their personal biases? What steps have they taken to get educated on bias, stereotypes, and inclusive leadership? Have they participated as an ally? How do they solicit and include diverse perspectives? We encourage assessors to provide leaders multiple opportunities to speak about different inclusive leadership behaviors.

2.     Related leadership competencies. Based on the scientific review of inclusive leadership, we also measure proximal indicators of inclusive behaviors. For instance, does this leader have a fair and consistent approach to managing employees? How do they accurately judge and assess talent (to avoid bias)? What are the norms and unspoken expectations of their team members?

3.     There are also a range of quantitative measures that predict inclusive leadership. For instance, what are their norm-based scores on empathy, open-mindedness, and consensual behaviors? Most validated leadership assessment tools have researched which measures predict inclusive leadership outcomes. Turn to your test representative or the technical manual for more information on this (before applying in practice).

In addition to helping our clients measure inclusive leadership in critical hires and promotions, we can also work closely as coaches of select high-potential leaders, specifically leaders with backgrounds that may be underrepresented in their organizations. When coaching leaders with diverse identities, we always strive to appreciate their unique experiences to continue to empower and support them in their realities at work. Here are some additional recommendations for supporting diverse leaders.

1.     As a coach, become competent in your client’s unique personal experiences, context, and challenges. Once you build trust, consider discussing whether their work experiences may differ from their colleagues. How do they experience the culture? What has worked to their advantage or against it? What support do they need, and who are their allies? These questions can encourage more reflection on areas they might otherwise avoid.

2.     Help leaders individuate their work identity to manage perceptions or stereotypes. For instance, if our coaching clients feel like their race or visible identity is too salient, help them consider what else they would like to be known for and valued for and drive diagnostic behaviors in those ways. What else makes them different and unique from the team? What do you want to be known for?

3.     Partner with leaders as they interpret feedback that may be biased. Soliciting 360° feedback from one’s colleagues is something we encourage all our coaching clients to do on an annual (or more) basis. A comprehensive look helps them continue bridging the “intention/perception” gap. However, if a leader receives feedback they interpret as biased, it needs to be handled with extra consideration. Before sifting through the feedback, define their goals in collecting the responses to help guide the coach and participant in interpreting the input. Also, determine what business outcomes they want to drive and how this feedback will help. Doing so allows them to leverage the input based on what they need to push results and leave the rest they may find less relevant.

We hope some of these ideas inspire others who conduct talent assessments and coach diverse leaders to take extra consideration in supporting organization-wide DEI efforts. We believe that leaders at the top set the tone for inclusive leadership, and promoting leaders who don’t demonstrate these behaviors may contradict what an organization is driving from a DEI perspective. By aligning with DEI initiatives and implementing targeted strategies, we can strive to foster a broader culture of inclusivity that begins at the top, positively influencing leadership behaviors and organizational dynamics.

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