There is a prevalent argument that years of efforts to increase diversity have brought about little results.

However, Principal Financial, Ranked 436th on the Forbes Global 2000 list and 201st on Fortune magazine’s list of the Largest 500 Corporations based on revenues, claims diversity and inclusion are vital to their continued success. Long before 2020, they recognized it was important to adapt. Otherwise, they’d fall short in recruiting and retaining top talent. Principal hired its first female officer roughly 50 years ago. Fast forward to 2021, 50% of its C-Suite are women, and 55% of its Board members are women and minorities.

With Principal Financial’s success, it’s premature to say diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have failed. Covid-19 and the demand for racial justice, have shown to be catalysts to expedite change. Perspectives are changing, with diversity gaining traction as a strong predictor for driving business results rather than being a checkbox. 

But you can’t see the impact of diversity with a single decision. Initiatives should be improved yearly and woven into all aspects of an organization, from recruitment, talent development to compensation. 

The Tipping Point

The success of your diversity initiatives all come down to this…

Diversity must fall under the umbrella of positive accountability. Without a culture of accountability, diversity initiatives fall by the wayside and are given the stamp of “It doesn’t work.” 

Tom Smith and Roger Conners, founders of Partners in Leaders and authors of the New York Times bestselling book The Oz Principle, help us understand why so many financial leaders say, “Diversity initiatives just don’t work”.

These two leaders introduced the Steps to Accountability model that determines leaders and organization’s success when it comes to implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Within this model, there are two distinct levels that are divided by a line.

The bottom level is what Partners in Leadership define as Below The Line®. This is when people are playing the victim role, are not being accountable, and focus on things out of their influence.

The top level is what they define as Above The Line®. This mindset of positive accountability is when leaders and employees give their attention to things they can influence and utilize the Steps to Accountability to create real change.

The prevailing issue isn’t that diversity initiatives don’t work, it’s that many leaders have a blind spot of not recognizing they are operating Below The Line®. Furthermore, they are likely modeling Below The Line® thinking and behaviors to their employees thus creating a culture rooted in a victim mentality.

In order to produce results with your diversity initiatives as Principal Financial did, leadership teams should begin by assessing which line they are operating from.

Align Your Diversity Efforts with Bottom Line Results

As a leader, how can you cultivate a culture of accountability where employees think and act Above The Line® with your DEI efforts?

By starting with the bottom line results. 

Many organizations have jumped on the DEI bandwagon without identifying clear measures of success or clearly communicating the relevance of their new commitment.

Partners in Leadership’s studies show that “95% of senior executive teams do not effectively clarify their organizations’ top priorities.” Imagine launching a DEI initiative without fully clarifying how it will contribute to your organization’s existing mission, goals and priorities. Do you think leaders and their employees are more likely to shift Below or Above the Line?

Effectively Communicate Your Path Forward

One of our clients began its diversity journey like many other organizations in 2020. In an effort to effectively communicate its DEI priorities to the entire organization, the senior leaders shared monthly email communications about its path forward.

As a start, the senior leadership team addressed the global and internal DEI challenges, the impact on the organization, and its commitment moving forward in a way that tied into its existing mission, goals, and values.

The senior leaders didn’t stop there. Next they laid out specific and measurable, Above the Line commitments that they would honor. And in moving forward, they have continued to communicate the progress and relevance of these initiatives.

Where Should You Start?

Decide to be the catalyst of change and begin cultivating an Above the Line culture. When you are developing and communicating your DEI strategy and initiatives, check to make sure you are leading with Above the Line thinking and solutions.

As your leadership team leads the way, the rest of your organization will take ownership and be proactive to make your diversity efforts happen. 

If your DEI efforts fall under the umbrella of a culture of accountability, you position your organization to be in a competitive advantage. Your leaders and employees will drive results now and into the future just as Principal Financial has done for the past 50 years. 

Ty Miller is a trainer, facilitator, and consultant. He teaches how to lead Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion culture changes, and how to support the development of high-potential, ready next leaders.