Why CEOs Are Failing At Inclusion — & How To Fix It

“You can’t be an ally or advocate unless you’re willing to take action. Even micro-actions can make an impact.”

This article is part of a series of op-eds by CEOs of companies participating in CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO-led business coalition focused on advancing diversity and inclusion in the U.S.


By Henry Albrecht, CEO, Limeade

Acknowledging reality is a good place to start an uncomfortable and essential journey. Like many CEOs, I’ve been the beneficiary of multiple tailwinds of privilege. I’m slowly becoming aware of what those tailwinds feel like, the advantages they lead to and how — excuse my wind metaphor here — those same winds are headwinds for others. Which is all to say, putting words to my privilege has helped me see things differently.

It’s obvious to me that more diverse and inclusive cultures are good for business and for people. The science on that is clear. I want to invest in diversity and inclusion for selfish reasons, as well. The narrower my networks, the fewer opportunities I have to learn, grow and live a rich, connected, meaningful life.

A few months ago, I signed a commitment pledging to cultivate a workplace in which diverse perspectives and experiences are welcomed and respected, and where employees feel encouraged to discuss diversity and inclusion. With this pledge, I joined a group of more than 700 CEOs and university presidents in the still-growing coalition, CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. This commitment not only requires me to evaluate my own social conditioning and how my mindset, biases, words, actions and inactions might affect others; but also to push our board, leaders and all employees to think and act differently. As a company that makes technology that builds more caring employee experiences and inclusive cultures, it’s essential for us to be at the forefront. We believe well-being, engagement, inclusion and communications are all critical, connected elements of a positive work experience — and that authentically supporting employees enables employers to show their staff members that they care.

We’re not perfect. Frankly, we’re just getting started. But here’s how we’re taking action on diversity and inclusion at Limeade — using inspiration from the coalition to fuel us.

Diversity & Inclusion: Know Your Numbers

The data is crystal clear: Inclusion leads to innovation and better business results. Ultimately, it feels good to work in a place where everyone can bring their whole selves to work. To feel known and valued. In fact, employees who feel included are 28% more engaged and typically intend to stay three times longer with their companies. As a leader, I want to know where we stand at every stage of the hiring and employee experience life cycle — and at every level from intern to VP — with hard data, and make improvements here as we would in any important process journey.

But Then Move Beyond The Numbers

When you’re aware of opportunities to improve, it spurs action. Standard actions like those put forth by members of the CEO Action coalition, help broaden awareness of unconscious bias and encourage hard conversations that are required to move the needle forward.

At Limeade, we’re putting inclusive guidelines into place, and acting on them with real activities, policies and social network support. We’re encouraging our employees to invite co-workers they don’t know to lunch, building employee resource groups, holding introvert-extrovert brown bags and sponsoring hiring from a broad array of backgrounds. We’re launching a corporate giving program to help employees contribute to community causes tied to diversity and inclusion. These standard actions are a key force in making inclusion real.

Bring It To The Board

Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to realize your actions as a leader are noninclusive. Why wait? The newest standard action put forth by the CEO Action coalition is for organizations to engage their boards in their diversity and inclusion journeys — and we wholeheartedly support this. Redefining standard actions requires buy-in at all levels — including active discussion and investment on behalf of the board of directors. Working closely with your board on culture opportunities (and very real risks) is business-critical.

Great companies require a growth and learning mindset. If you have a narrow scope representing your company, you’re inherently limiting your learning and growth, and therefore innovation and your probability to succeed. In my opinion, if you don’t have people of color, introverts, extroverts, women, men, people of different backgrounds, orientations, personalities and so on, you will miss out on the real discussions that make your business better.

Make Inclusion More Than A Checklist

A set of actions — even when they’re focused on crucial topics like inclusion and diversity — is a good place to start. If you can’t actively experiment with and extend the list, you’re missing a huge opportunity to learn. But it’s ultimately not in the complying, it’s in the doing. And the feeling. You can’t be an ally or advocate unless you’re willing to take action. Even micro-actions can make an impact. They force you into hard discussions you might not have had — and these difficult discussions force an adaptive mindset.

Can you imagine the courage it takes for someone to say, “I don’t feel welcomed here”? I’ve seen and heard it firsthand. It was humbling, and frankly it hurt to hear. Let’s honor that courage — and listen even harder so that uncommon courage needn’t be a precursor to change.

I believe that, as CEO, if I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.