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Connecting Leadership to Diversity

Updated on January 12, 2015

First, what does leadership mean to you? Second, what does diversity mean to you? Leadership and diversity mean different things to different people.

To some, “leadership” means that you’re the boss, in charge, and accountable for a group of people. To others, leadership doesn’t have anything to do with being “in-charge” of anyone. In fact, some of us have witnessed the most junior member of the team become a leader. Leadership…it does have different meanings to different people.

Leadership can be defined, “…as a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3, Northouse, 2007). Of course, there are many different leadership theories, but this is a basic definition of leadership in the workplace. After all, under any leadership theory, it’s difficult to be a leader without any “followers”, even if the “follower” is yourself as described in self-leadership.

To some, “diversity” only means race; religion; ethnicity; or gender. I have noticed this a great deal in the diversity workshops I hold for companies. A person’s emotions are tied to their perspective of diversity.

I have experienced older workers honing in on generational problems dealing with respect and job security as their perception of diversity. Additionally, I have communicated with several women who home in specifically on gender issues because of the treatment they have faced in the past. Furthermore, some of my diversity workshop participants feel diversity is related specifically to religion because of how they’ve been made to feel about their particular religious practices. Diversity is a very emotional concept.

Of course, diversity is all of those things and more. In fact, recently someone told my course participants about being bullied at work because he drives a foreign-made car. He was told that he’s the reason for the “downfall” of our Country (by his supervisor). Do you think that employee will get a promotion? His preference in vehicles has created a hostile work environment. Believe it or not, sports can create a hostile work environment within some companies too. There are people who feel they’ve been treated poorly, passed over for promotion, and not selected for special assignments because of their choice in sports team. They’ve been harassed, treated poorly, and have even had their personal property damaged because of their choice in sports team.

Diversity includes everything….not just what the law requires for equal employment opportunity.

How does leadership relate to this? In many ways, but this discussion will showcase how the supervisor as the leader connects to diversity. Self-leadership is important too, but that will be discussed in another article.

Leader as the Supervisor

If you are in a supervisory position, hopefully, you also have leadership skills. Not every supervisor is a leader. When you are in a supervisory role, your “craft” is people. Here are some concepts to consider as a leader/supervisor in today’s workplace:

  • Leaders are open and transparent.
  • Leaders ask questions.
  • Leaders start the conversation; they don’t stifle it.
  • Leaders work with their team members to break pattern-thinking and challenge their biases.
  • Leaders learn the law when it comes to fair hiring practices. They teach these laws to their teams.
  • Leaders learn how to interview job candidates fairly and legally.
  • Leaders challenge people to come up with new ideas in being a more inclusive work environment.
  • Leaders offer training and awareness events for their staff.
  • Leaders are consistent in their practices of human resource management.

Just because someone is in a supervisory role and leading a team of people, does not mean these things are easy. How do you become open and transparent? How can you become comfortable in asking questions? How do you “start” the conversation in a way that won’t create conflict?

These are good questions. Just being told that you need to do these things isn’t enough. How do you put them into action?

These questions are going to be answered in some upcoming Hub articles that will be available soon. These will be no-nonsense ideas for you to consider.

However, many of the things discussed above are highly reflective concepts. For instance, being open and transparent are more reflective than learned.

It takes self-discipline to learn how to interview people legally and fairly (this is a skill). If you can find a course, seminar, or conference to attend…do that! The person who trains you may not be as aware of the laws or diversity as they need to be. If you are a supervisor, it’s also recommended that you become very familiar with the EEOC laws. You can teach yourself about them at this website:

From my experience and information from research, I will be offering you some guidance in the other areas I discussed above. Those Hub pages will be published shortly.

Leaders seek out mentoring and guidance from other people. This can be especially true in topics like diversity. Having a mentor in how to design a specific piece of software is very different than accepting guidance and mentoring on matters pertaining to diversity. We should all have mentors in areas like diversity, communication, ethics, etc. It adds value to our foundation as a person and as a leader.

Be open and curious when it comes to the human being. We are incredible creatures.


Northouse, P.G. (2007).  Leadership: Theory and practice (4th
 ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

About Dr. Kitty Brandal

Dr. Kitty Brandal is an experienced independent trainer who has been training and teaching for over 20 years. She currently serves as a part-time instructor for college-level business courses and is the President of Corporate Compass Training and Development.

She has designed curriculum and taught various topics while serving in the U.S. Navy, working in higher education, and the corporate sector. Dr. Brandal earned a doctorate degree in Organizational Management and Leadership and is a Certified Stress Management Coach as well as a Reiki Master.

Dr. Brandal offers a variety of leadership development programs, to include: Diversity, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace, First Time Supervisor Workshop, Communication, Dealing with Difficult People/Conflict and many others.

She is also an award winning speaker with Toastmasters International and is a member of the Professional Speakers Guild.



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