Here in the United States, we’re facing two pandemics: one, the coronavirus, has been with us for a matter of months, while the other, systemic racism, has been with us for more than 400 years. We’re in a race against time with the virus, searching for a vaccine to stem the tide of illness and deaths, but we’re also now in a similar race to eliminate the inequities that Black Americans struggle with every day in every facet of their lives, from the criminal justice system to education, healthcare, housing, the arts, science and technology and corporate America.

In a recent webinar, Don’t Talk, Do: Creating a Racially Equitable Future As Inclusive Leaders, Korn Ferry brought together business leaders to discuss what inclusive leadership looks like and how businesses can take action to become champions of racial equity. While the lessons shared were targeted toward executives, they apply equally down the chain of command.

With that in mind, here are three steps that sales leaders and sales managers can take to start building a culture that promotes equity, diversity and inclusion in their sales organizations.

1. Take a Stand

As a leader, you may subscribe to the idea of servant leadership, but in this instance, you cannot stand behind your employees; you have to be front and center. It’s not enough for leaders to proclaim that they aren’t racists; they must speak up and say that they are firmly against racism.

Others will look to you for messaging and action on this critical issue, and your stance must be emphatic and clear.

2. Model the Way

Leaders must lead with purpose. They must articulate that purpose, ensure that everyone buys in to and understands their purpose and emulate the behaviors that they want others to follow. The organization must understand how their purpose affects everyone that they touch—whether it’s their fellow employees, customers or their community—and feel connected to and inspired by that purpose.

To effectuate that purpose, leaders must model the right behaviors—a process that starts with being accountable and consistent. Values—both corporate and personal values—are tools that leaders and managers can use to align their behavior, including how they treat their people and compensate them for their performance, with their purpose. In the webinar, leaders shared values focused on ensuring that employees believe that their workplace and company culture are fair, are physically and emotionally safe, provide equal opportunity and allow them to challenge others’ positions and beliefs and still be listened to.

Take stock of how well you know your company’s values, and spend time setting forth some values of your own. Without these guideposts, it’s difficult to lead—and particularly to lead in an inclusive way. Then disseminate the values to your team and reinforce them in everything you do.

3. Don’t Just Speak About Your Convictions; Actually Do Something

Supporting your employees and customers, particularly those of color, requires more than simply talking the talk. To walk the talk, our panel of experts suggested these steps:

  • Teach your team that how they do something is as meaningful as what they do, reinforcing the importance of your values.
  • Tie diversity and inclusion to your goals as a leader or manager. Link performance on these goals into your compensation structure.
  • Work to eliminate unconscious bias from your hiring, retention and other employment-related processes; create a skills-based system that can help eliminate bias and ensure those rising through the ranks have the training and tools they need to reach the next level.
  • Identify people of color who show potential in lower levels of management and start succession planning for them; consider skip promotions that accelerate their development and move them into higher ranks in a shorter time, through training, coaching and sponsorship.

It’s Never Too Late to Learn—And It’s Critical to Keep Learning and Growing

There are 7 billion people on our planet, and most are people of color. In 20 years, the majority of the American population will be people of color. Now is the time—and it’s really past time—for sales organizations, and their leaders and managers, to rethink how they are preparing their company and workforce to become more diverse and inclusive—and for sales leaders and managers to improve how they lead through the racism pandemic.

To learn more ways that organizations and their leaders can tackle systemic racism and strengthen their diversity and inclusion initiatives, watch our series of Racism Matters webinars.

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