Inclusive Leadership & Diversity: 8 Takeaways from Leaders in Sports, Entertainment, Start-Up and Enterprise

Sarah Deane: Founder MEvolution
8 min readDec 27, 2018

A while ago I attended an Inclusive Leadership Summit during Oracle Open World. During the summit we heard from Claudia Saran (Principal, Advisory, U.S. People & Change Leader, KPMG), Rick Welts (President and COO of the Golden State Warriors), Diego Pantoja-Navajas (Founder Logfire), Zara Nanu (CEO Gapsquare), and Nely Galán Author, media personality and first female President of Telemundo) on the topic of inclusive leadership and diversity.

According to stats that KPMG shared at the start of the session, there are huge productivity benefits to be gained, with people performing 80% better in team assessments when they were a part of an inclusive team and employees having 81% better performance when they worked for an inclusive leader. Recently, there has been a lot of light shed on the leadership skills needed to handle the increasing complexity of the world we live in and the leadership gap — with 86% of CEO’s rating leadership as the number one most urgent issue.

Many of the points made during the session validated our findings at EffectUX, where we have extensively studied the behavioral, mindset, and environment needed to foster high-performance, positively energized, engaged cultures using 1000’s of data sources. For those who are working on developing leadership and cultivating workplaces that set both employees and the business up for success, here are some of the key takeaways!

1: New ways of working require leadership styles to evolve and adapt

Saran shared several insights around the fact that as new ways of work emerge, and workforces change, new styles of leadership are needed, succinctly stating that “leaders need to think, work, respond, and engage differently.”

Saran noted that while we all have our ways of thinking, we need to remain mindful of when these mental models are limiting us. In our work cultivating leadership skills such as resiliency, we have found that mental models are something that is critical for success. Our beliefs (what we believe to be true) and our mental models (the way we view the world and parse information) stem from years of experiences, society and our childhoods, and they drive our behaviors. It is critical to look at the mindset of leadership, as when we have negative belief systems in play, it can drive behaviors that hinder us from being our best selves.

Just like there can be a perception gap between what a customer experiences in reality and what a company thinks is their experience, there can also be a perception gap between what leaders assume is happening in their workplace and what is the reality for their employees. To demonstrate this, Saran shared a story where they had to change their traditional way of working in teams, to creating an enriching environment where there were best practices around building teams with diversity, connection, and greater levels of transparency through awareness of team goals and keeping the team members updated and informed. By empowering the people that were actually responsible for crafting the teams, they enabled action that saw measurable results.

2: The strength of purpose and passion

We have seen first-hand how infusing passion and purpose in the lives of employees can have a direct impact on how engaged they feel — how motivated and emotionally invested they are in their efforts. Saran referred to the famous story of a janitor at NASA that told President John F. Kennedy, in response to being asked what he does at NASA, that he is helping put a man on the moon, to illustrate that when we are engaging employees today, we need to go deeper. We need to connect them to the higher purpose of their role. We find that while many organizations define their purpose and communicate it — having it on slides and even wall art — they miss the translation of what it means to people as individuals. Every employee should know how their everyday efforts and tasks contribute value to the bigger picture.

3: Diversity empowers innovation

Pantoja-Navajas spoke to the link between diversity and innovation, speaking about the company that he built, that was then acquired by Oracle. He mentioned how lucky they were to have people from several countries around the world and how this enabled them to challenge the status quo. For example, in their brainstorming sessions, while people had a common goal, they had different experiences, lives, and were not from the same school. This enabled them to bring forward the most innovative ideas — giving them a distinct competitive advantage. It was the differences in perspectives and experiences, that were brought together by a shared purpose, that fostered the conversations in which these ideas could happen.

The bottom line is that innovation is more than a word, it takes practical steps to foster an environment where ideas can thrive, be tried out, and the right ones brought into production.

4: Leaders need to model desired behaviors

Leadership involvement is critical to any employee engagement goals. Simply put, when leadership participates, engagement increases. Defining cultural values and communicating them is not enough — leadership have to demonstrate the values by their behaviors. Many organizations miss the mark as they do not define their values behaviorally or check that they are being demonstrated as well as hired for.

On this topic, I would be amiss to not mention the speaking session from Welts, who delivered a passionate, humble, transparent, and authentic session. This served as a reminder that when people role model their values through their behaviors, you can see it, feel it, and believe it. Having congruence between one’s value system, behaviors, relationships, and work brings internal happiness and comfort.

Galán echoed the fact that “a lack of congruence is the thing that makes people the most unhappy,” and that, “leaders have to lead by example.” When an organization states their values, and then employees do not see this, they feel incongruence and misalignment which leads to lower levels of engagement, and often, attrition.

5: Diversity supports your customer experience efforts and better decision making

Many of the speakers reinforced the fact that diversity enabled customer experience success, with Galán calling diversity, “the greatest asset of a company.” It can be tough in leadership when you bring together different personalities and strong characters, however, Welts gave some practical advice. The difference in personality and perspectives brings value to the discussion, but there has to be a common goal that everyone has a stake in. It is about answering the question, “how do we build the organization and create an infrastructure for sustained success?” When leadership do not truly understand their customers, decisions will be made based on costly assumptions or biases because, as Welts said, “if I walk around the table and everyone looks like me, we are not going to make the best decisions or represent our customers.”

Pantoja-Navajas also drew this parallel, stating that because his company was so diverse, they were closer to their customers and therefore better understood what they needed, which made them more profitable. As Welts elegantly summed it up, “having a diverse group of people at the table leads to a better business.”

6: Having diversity in leadership supports a diverse pipeline and better hiring practices

Nanu joined Pantoja-Navajas on stage, bringing to light that even though DNI increases productivity and the bottom line (stating that a 3% increase in diversity correlates to a 1% increase in earnings) and companies are striving to do more, in some sectors we are a long way off. For example, she mentioned that in STEM, women represent about 15% of the sector and because of this, we are “missing the growth and innovation that comes from a diverse population.”

There are two related, yet distinct, issues — the recruitment of diverse talent and the structures and support that is needed for these candidates to progress and thrive. When looking at hiring, Welts noted that it is important to look at “how to consider people for opportunities that may not usually be a part of the pool.” Indeed, if you do not have diverse candidates on your slate, then you won’t even have the chance to see if they are good for the role.

Nanu also looked at the fact that while more and more employees are demanding “equal pay for equal value,” that the pay gap is only a part of the problem. That, after hiring, without the right environment the problem will remain, noting that women are “leaving the sector after 3–4 years as they feel their talent is not appreciated.”

Welts talked openly about his experience coming out to the world. While it was a big step for him, he commented to the fact that, “if there was even one kid who could look at my story and think it was ok for them,” then it was worth it. This is a testament to how diversity can encourage a diverse pipeline. Seeing people that are like us, that they made it, that we can draw inspiration from and learn from, shows each individual that they can do it too and that there are people that understand what they are going through.

Welts spoke to the Golden State Warriors, how proud he is of them, and that because of their celebrity they have a platform from which people listen. This is the same for organizations. As leadership, you have a platform to reach your employees. Because of this, it is my belief, you have a responsibility to inspire them to be great, be inclusive, and role model the behaviors that make your company, and this world, a place where people can thrive.

7: Planning and talking is not enough, organizations need to act…the right actions that is

Several of the speakers mentioned that organizations can’t just take actions, but need to take the right actions, with Welts stating that things don’t “happen because we want it to, it takes strong, affirmative steps, that puts a stake in the ground for what we stand for.”

In talking about how to decide on what the right actions are, Nanu spoke to the role of data. Data, when gathered correctly with key processes in place, can provide meaningful insights that lead to the best investment decisions. Data can help remove the emotional aspect and drive more meaningful conversations, as well as create awareness to some of the deeper behaviors and mindsets that hinder leaders. While these conversations can be tough to have, the objective, quantified data (not just their perception of themselves) allows a discussion to be had and critical “ah-ha” moments” to occur.

8: Individual accountability and resilience

Galán spoke to the importance of a self-made mindset and that “in order to be successful you have to change your relationship with fear and failure.” We often see female leaders that want to be able to do something, such as talk up in meetings or take more risks. However, this is not a switch you can flip. You have to work on the underlying mindset and behaviors that enable you to do this and take the practice of these behaviors into the context of real life. It is critical to be able to lean into emotions, process the situation, and progress with learning and growth — rather than dwell and ruminate.

Speaking openly to the fact that even though she has 2 or 3 major successes that everyone remembers, she has experienced several professional, and personal, failures. Here, resilience is critical, and is a leadership skill that is experiencing a renewed focus, for organizations to thrive.

Lastly, Galán advised employees that they should, “bring everything you are to the role, your background, and your culture, as this is what adds value.” To do this, you need to cultivate your voice. As we often say, you don’t need to be the loudest, just find a way to communicate your perspective that is authentic to you.

Thanks to all the speakers for sharing their inspiring experiences and their valuable tips and insights! Here is to an inclusive 2019!



Sarah Deane: Founder MEvolution

Energizing souls by relinquishing blockers, reclaiming mental capacity, restoring energy, and redefining human potential.