Ask any practitioner what is the sine qua non for successful diversity and inclusion programs— and, indeed, for almost any human resources-related intervention—and almost invariably the answer will be “commitment from top leadership”. This assumption has become enshrined in best practices studies and “best place to work” lists and is often echoed in discussions in meetings of ORC Worldwide’s diversity networks. However, we have really known very little about the actual benefits and mechanics of leadership commitment. Until now, diversity and HR practitioners have had no objective data to present to executives for whose support they are petitioning, nor have they had the benefit of any evidence beyond intuition when they have had to advise their leaders on how best to spend their precious time.

The diversity community has been essentially working in the dark: we don’t know which leaders’ support is most important or exactly what kinds of support are most effective. We don’t even know with confidence whether there are other factors that might be equally or more critical than support from the top. As a result, diversity strategists in some organizations have assumed from the outset that their diversity performance will be limited because they do not have highly visible and involved leaders. Other companies have watched premier diversity programs wither in the face of regime change, reorganization, or business downturn, because the engine driving the initiative—the CEO’s personal commitment—has evaporated. Could there have been other, more enduring ways to institutionalize diversity efforts?

ORC Worldwide’s Global Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion practice area proposed to answer these questions by conducting a study that would:

  1. Test the hypothesis, “Successfully achieving and managing a diverse, inclusive workforce requires the active involvement of the CEO and top leaders.”
  2. Identify the activities in which top leaders can engage that will have the most impact on diversity performance.
  3. Determine whether there are some key organizational practices that might so embed diversity into the way the organization does business that top leaders no longer need to be the sole sustainers of the initiative.