Improving corporate diversity, inclusion and belonging starts with L&D teams

If it’s time for change, Andrea Lipton says it starts with L&D.

The first corporate diversity and inclusion programmes began in the late 70s and early 80s as a separate entity from core human resources, talent, and learning and development functions.

Now, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, diversity and inclusion has moved to the forefront – not just in business but on the front page of newspapers and at the top of social media feeds across the globe.

To effect real and vitally needed change, companies must include diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts into the central facets of their business. And L&D teams can lead the effort to train and develop employees, especially leaders, to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in which all employees feel comfortable and valued.

Improving diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the workforce starts with creating inclusive talent strategies. All talent-related efforts must be aligned and designed to recruit, hire, develop, retain and promote diverse employees.

L&D teams can lead the effort to train and develop employees, especially leaders, to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce in which all employees feel comfortable and valued.

As a starting point, HR professionals should examine their current hiring practices, such as how they are seeking out candidates, how those candidates are vetted and determining whether these practices are helping or hurting D&I efforts.

Following that, L&D should evaluate the inclusivity of their leadership development training and other high-potential programs to see if selection criteria and pipelines are truly inclusive, and whether the programmes address the unique needs of employees from underrepresented and underserved groups.

L&D teams should also look internally to determine their own D&I efforts and whether this impacts the solutions they provide. As part of this process, L&D professionals should develop a baseline understanding of the key D&I uses and how they impact all organisations.

To get a full picture of their current knowledge base, L&D professionals should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What do I know about diversity, inclusion, and belonging – in general and at my organisation?
  • Do I understand the key terms and concepts surrounding DIB, so I can speak knowledgeably about this topic?
  • How inclusive is my organisation today?
  • What is our past track record on issues of diversity, inclusion, and belonging? How might this impact our efforts moving forward?
  • Whose buy-in do I need to move the needle forward on our DIB efforts?


Once L&D teams have answered these questions and studied all facets of DIB efforts in the company and industry-wide, they can begin designing and delivering for inclusion. These programmes should create a supportive learning environment for everyone and ensure that all cohorts feel included.

In creating these programs, L&D professionals should be mindful of providing equitable treatment to all employees. Employees belonging to marginalised groups may choose to ‘code-switch‘ in order to fit in, adjusting their style of speech, appearance, behaviour and expression in ways that will optimise the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality of service and employment opportunities.

By removing this discomfort in the workplace, L&D teams can create diversity, inclusion, and belonging for everyone.

There are demonstrable business imperatives to building diverse and inclusive organisations. First, companies as a whole will be more effective and more impactful. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that diverse and inclusive teams are more effective and make better decisions.

As a result, teams are more profitable, with companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams 21% more likely to have above average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, top-quartile companies were 33% more likely to out-perform on profitability.  

These companies also stand to benefit in bringing in new talent. Among Millennials and Gen X, 86% say that a company’s commitment to workplace diversity affects their decision to work there. With Gen Z entering the workforce as the most diverse generation to date, it will be table-stakes for companies to offer a diverse and inclusive environment to bring in this group of employees.

While the tragic killing of George Floyd in the United States and the global protests that followed, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, have become a catalyst for change, the need for more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplaces has always been there.

In providing these questions to help facilitate difficult conversations and create change, we hope to help steer companies to create a world that works for everyone, regardless of race, gender, country of origin, ability, gender, sexual orientation, or any other classification that today renders us ‘other’.


About the author

Andrea Lipton is senior learning solutions manager at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning.



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