Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion Through Transformational Leadership

Leveraging Diversity

Kim Jordan’s appreciation of craft beer was likely a welcome distraction after long days on the job as a social worker. When Jordan and her former husband launched New Belgium Brewing in the early 90s, the Colorado-based entrepreneur envisioned an equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and community-focused business, intent on unleashing great talent to produce great beer. I am not a beer fan at all; however, I have huge respect and admiration for Kim who has championed transparency and diversity among other touchstones in her business plan. Jordan understood that empowering employees from a variety of contexts would lead to New Belgium’s success. Jordan’s job was to channel all that talent into organizational goals and objectives. Fueled by strong leadership, diversity, and an inclusive work environment, the business thrived. In 2012, New Belgium Brewing became 100% employee-owned; in 2013 New Belgium became a B Corp. and was sold for an undisclosed large cash sum in late 2019.

There is no disputing the positive impact of diversity within an organization. From the mailroom to the C-suite, diversity leads to enhanced creativity and innovation. A 2015 study conducted by McKinsey found that diversity in the boardroom is often the catalyst of deeper profits too. Indeed, the study found that businesses in the top quartile of gender, racial, or ethnic diversity tend to have financial returns above industry medians. Alternatively, businesses in the bottom quartile of diversity are far more likely to have subpar financial performance. When a variety of perspectives and life experiences are tapped to inform future opportunities and challenges, good things are bound to happen. But diversity can stoke conflict in settings attempting to move beyond homogenous histories. Often, conflict perpetuates in “diverse” settings because otherwise effective leaders fail to honor the distinction between diversity and inclusion. You can recruit a diverse team all day; however, if your business isn’t built for inclusivity, conflict may ensue. Transformational leaders can replace exclusive structures with inclusive ones.

Transformational leadership is essential if diversity is to propel an organization forward. While definitions of transformational leadership can vary greatly, I believe that transformational leaders tend to be those who inspire their teams, set clear goals and objectives, and effectively keep all accountable to the goals and objectives. Transformational leaders excel at harnessing diversity through conversation, team building, and conflict resolution. A transformational leader constantly articulates the goals and objectives in a personal and persuasive manner, helping individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives see how everyone contributes to the mission of the whole. Instead of shaming those who are not yet on board with inclusive practices, the transformational leader teaches and models the attitudes and interactions she desires from her team. Transformational leaders embody the change they seek in the organizational culture.

New Belgium’s Kim Jordan says her brewery’s success was built upon a shared “we’re in this together” sentiment – a statement of inclusion. She knows far more than great recipes for hoppy beers. Every great organization is successful when the gifts, energies, and experiences of a diverse team share an aspirational direction or outcome. Diversity, in the midst of an inclusive setting, is a tremendous organizational asset. That said, diversity means nothing if the conditions within the organization are toxic to new ideas and faces. Transformative leaders understand that movement toward inclusivity is not a laissez-faire initiative. Instead, leaders must lead by creating the conditions that will truly harness the energy and outcomes diversity affords the organization.