Women Executives Diversity Inclusion Leadership

Diversity & Inclusion Require Authentic Leadership, says New Research

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Doctoral Program, Leadership, Press Release



Release Date: June 5, 2016

Diversity and inclusion requires authentic leadership

Research says: if you want to create a more diverse and inclusive company, be a more authentic leader

Chicago, IL (June 2016) – Companies looking to advance gender diversity and overall inclusiveness should start with the leadership style of the top executives, says a new body of research conducted through Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership.

In a study of nearly 40 companies listed on the Fortune 1000 list, researchers found a strong and significant relationship between perceptions of the CEO’s authenticity and the company’s level of gender diversity and organizational inclusiveness.

“We’ve had more than 50 years of diversity initiatives in the United States, but within the corporate world progress has been slow,” says Dr. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, who conducted the research. “This research indicates that if we want diverse and inclusive companies, we should start to focus on the leadership styles of the top executives.”

Hopinkah Hannan’s research, conducted through Benedictine University’s executive doctoral program in values-driven leadership, looked at the gender diversity of the company’s management team one and two layers below the CEO, as well as the frequency with which issues of diversity and inclusion were discussed as part of executive team agendas. Comparing that data with the self-reported observations of the organization’s chief human resources or diversity officers, Hopinkah Hannan drew several conclusions, including:

  • Organizations with authentic and transformational leaders are significantly more likely to include diversity and inclusion in executive committee agendas.
  • Authentic and transformational CEOs are more likely to use storytelling to convey the importance of diversity and inclusion.
  • CEOs who are respected for their strong moral compass – their ability to take action on what they know is right – are also more likely to foster gender diversity.

Hopinkah Hannan notes that more research is needed before firm prescriptive guidelines could be established, but in general the research indicates executives who cultivate the characteristics of an authentic and transformational leader will see a correlation to their organization’s gender diversity and overall inclusiveness. In particular, she recommends developing leaders with the capacity to:

  • Model relational transparency, including clarity around personal values and morals and respect for the values and morals of others when making decisions and taking action;
  • Have a clear moral perspective and be willing to take action to advance what is right, especially when concerning equity and fairness, and ethical responsibility;
  • Inspire and motivate others through the communication of a compelling vision that pushes others toward significant goals;
  • Take risks, challenge old assumptions, and be creative in developing solutions while also encouraging others to do the same.
  • Communicate through story-telling, as a way to illustrate organizational priorities such as diversity and inclusion.

Hopinkah Hannan puts her research to work in her own work as senior partner at KPMG, and in her volunteer role as the national board chair for Girl Scouts USA. She says previous research had already established a correlation between diversity and inclusion and factors such as corporate responsibility, innovation, and financial performance.

“What makes me really excited about these findings,” she says, “is that now we know diversity and inclusion are also connected to leadership style.” This, she says, should prompt governance boards to explore leadership style when selecting and assessing CEOs, and should encourage top executives to develop specific leadership qualities in their executive teams.

“For CEOs and top executives, your leadership style has a powerful influence on the culture and character of a company,” says Dr. Jim Ludema, director of Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership, where Hopinkah Hannan completed her doctorate. “Now we know that influence extends to issues of diversity and inclusion.”

“More than anything, I hope this starts a conversation,” Hopinkah Hannan says. “Women are over 50 percent of the population, but hold only 4.6 percent of the Fortune 500 CEO roles. We need every resource possible to move diversity and inclusion forward.”


For photos or more information, or to schedule interviews with Dr. Hopinkah Hannan or Dr. Ludema, please contact Amber Johnson at aajohnson@ben.edu.

About the Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University

The Center for Values-Driven Leadership at Benedictine University helps leaders develop themselves and others, build flourishing companies, and transform business and society. More information about the Center can be found at https://cvdl.ben.edu/ or by calling (630) 829-6225.


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