Let’s start with a no-brainer – something that’s been proven beyond a doubt. Companies that focus on diversity and inclusion outperform their peers in nearly every metric imaginable. Study after study has shown this to be true. For instance, a 2018 global report by McKinsey & Company found that organizations with greater racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry averages.

To get even more specific, the potential impact of diversity and inclusion (D&I) on the tech industry’s bottom line is truly profound. A survey conducted by Intel and Dalberg Global Development Advisors entitled “Decoding Diversity: The Financial and Economic Returns to Diversity in Tech” estimated that improving ethnic and gender diversity in the tech workforce could:

  • Add $470 – $570 billion in value for the tech industry
  • Add another 1.2 to 1.6% to our national GDP

Growth on that kind of scale would have a major impact on the labor and consumer markets—new jobs, more innovation and better products driving additional consumer spending.

Expert opinion on the positive potential value of D&I is unanimous, both as it relates to the tech industry and to the economy as a whole. The simple version — companies that get the diversity equation right can better adapt to changing market conditions. The ability to pivot quickly improves operational efficiency. Operational efficiency drives revenue and reduces costs. All of these positives can be leveraged to win top talent, improve customer service and create the kind of increasing annual returns that would make any potential investor jump up and down with delight.

But here’s the irony. Despite the enormous potential upside, most tech companies struggle to convert their diversity and inclusion efforts into measurable and meaningful business results. Why is that? Why are companies that are working with the most advanced technologies and some of the brightest minds in the world struggling to find ways to attract, hire and retain a diverse workforce? And create a culture of inclusion that fosters teamwork and innovation?

The answer to those questions comes via a quote from Warren Bennis, widely regarded as one of the driving forces behind the field of Leadership studies. Bennis summed it up nicely “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” If you want to create real change, you must eventually leave words behind and take action. And to be a true leader, an agent of change, you must act boldly. And decisively.

A recent Diversity Best Practices report on Bold and Inclusive Leadership highlights the need for top executives to do more than talk the talk:

  • A whopping 88% of CEOs have a thoughtful and convincing diversity and inclusion vision and can articulately state their business case
  • Yet only 24% have organization-wide performance objectives tied to D&I
  • And only 39% require direct leadership to report on D&I metrics

The reason why most diversity and inclusion efforts fail to realize their potential? Because there’s too much emphasis placed on words that describe plans, programs and visions of the future. And not enough bold, decisive action that generates results. Noted talent and management consultant, Josh Bersin makes the point in a way that anyone can understand. “Diversity and inclusion is a business strategy. Not an HR program.” The question to ask is, how can I make that business strategy work for my organization?

Let’s consider gender diversity and the promotion of women to senior positions. It’s easy enough to convince talent during the interview process that female candidates are sought after and valued. But the reality for many women doesn’t always reflect the culture they were sold. Some of those realities include:

  • Only 20% of C-suite roles are held by women; this stat falls to 3% when considering women of color
  • Only 2% of women choose to leave the workforce, debunking a myth that females advance at a slower rate because they leave to start a family
  • 50% of men think women are well represented in leadership roles in organizations where 1 in 10 senior leaders is a woman

To effect real change in gender diversity and reach equality, organizations need to dig deeper and understand what the real impediments to success are for their organization. And they need to be willing to act boldly and manage their D&I efforts to reflect the changing priorities and expectations of their workforce and society at large. On the issue of gender diversity, this means looking for opportunities to:

  • Create effective maternity/paternity leave policies
  • Leverage technology to reduce or eliminate excessive travel requirements
  • Offer flexible working hours and off-premise/work from home options
  • Tie gender diversity results to compensation for top executives
  • Promote qualified women to senior leadership positions

The list above is a good start at scratching the surface in terms of supporting gender diversity but success takes more than a few bullet points. It takes careful consideration and planning. For every group that falls under the D&I banner, there will be a set of organizational and/or attitudinal hurdles that will need to be overcome. Savvy and successful organizations will not stop at simply identifying those impediments to progress. Instead, they will go beyond analysis and take the decisive action necessary to drive real change.

Today, we live in a world where authenticity, transparency and honesty are more important than ever. Where action speaks in ways that words simply cannot. Diversity and inclusion efforts can have a tremendous impact on nearly every aspect of a company’s performance but it requires a change in thinking and a willingness to act. The leading companies of tomorrow—the future innovators and change agents that will attract top-tier talent—are the organizations that have the courage to step forward and, through bold action, turn the dream of diversity and inclusion into reality right now.

So, the question to ask yourself is — am I ready to act like a leader?