Leadership Diversity Stalled? Here Are 3 Actions to Take

July 02, 2021

Contributor: Teresa Zuech

To accelerate leadership diversity, organizations must elevate DEI goals to the same priority as other business goals.

Despite mounting external and internal pressures to prioritize and make demonstrable improvements on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), organizations continue to struggle to make real and rapid headway — especially among leadership. 

HR leaders cite a lack of diversity in the pipeline as the top challenge to diversifying the leadership bench. While many organizations have attempted to address this by investing in recruiting Black, BIPOC, Latinx and Asian talent — particularly for entry level positions — Gartner analysis shows progression of underrepresented talent stalls in mid-level and senior level positions. 

“Talent progression, or lack thereof, ultimately comes down to the decisions and behaviors of senior leaders,” says Caitlin Duffy, Research Director, Gartner. “Our research found that to drive real change, organizations must adopt consequential accountability, which meaningfully impacts behavior and outcomes for individual leaders.”

According to the Gartner 2021 Leadership Progression and Diversity Survey of 3,500 employees, organizations that embrace consequential accountability will reach gender parity 13 years earlier and racial parity six years earlier in their leadership benches. 

Leaders At The Center of Talent Progression.png

To implement consequential accountability, HR must work with business leaders on three key areas: 

1. Inform leader decision-making 

Many organizations offer unconscious bias training to reduce workplace bias and help leaders think differently about talent and diversity. Yet, Gartner analysis reveals this has no significant impact on the level of bias in an organization’s performance management practices. 

To mitigate this, HR leaders must address two key areas. First, organizations must redefine the criteria leaders use to make talent decisions. This means moving away from making decisions based on instincts and politics, and focusing on driving equitable assessment of skills and capabilities. 

Second, HR leaders must integrate objective data into talent processes around leaders’ key decision-making moments. These include evaluating candidates for a promotion or analyzing the health of leadership succession pools. 

2. Customize DEI strategies

Progressive organizations contextualize their DEI goals, strategies and action plans. 

When customizing DEI strategies, HR leaders should partner with business leaders to identify diversity gaps in their talent pools and progression tracks to uncover unique challenges or concerns that may prevent them from taking action on DEI goals. HR should then establish localized DEI teams to support business leaders as they implement DEI solutions. 

3. Require outcomes for leader advancement 

To drive personal urgency, HR must work with business leaders to develop organization-wide DEI strategies that are mutually understood and elevate DEI outcomes to the same priority as other business goals for individual leaders. Specifically, they should implement the following three tactics:

  1. Create standardized mechanisms to monitor and track leaders’ progress against individual DEI goals.
  2. Establish peer-to-peer leader transparency around DEI measures to motivate individuals toward action.
  3. Integrate DEI measures into performance evaluation processes to ensure leaders’ advancement in the organization requires them to lead inclusively. 

“When leaders are not held accountable for advancing DEI goals, yet are personally responsible for advancing talent, this creates a disconnect,” says Duffy.


Consequential accountability helps close these gaps in an accelerated and sustainable way by increasing personal urgency and relevance for leaders, resulting in meaningful change in the organization.

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