Diversity in the workplace has risen to the very top of board and CEO agendas. Executives across all industries have religiously studied McKinsey reports and Harvard Business Review articles on the topic, and the evidence is clear: diversity matters. It creates many powerful economic advantages like winning the battle for talent, bringing more ideas to the table during innovation brainstorming sessions, and better serving customers with a wide range of tastes and expectations. 

Yet most companies, by their own admission, have failed to take full advantage of the diverse talent base they've spent years recruiting and cultivating. It's not for lack of effort. Indeed, they work hard identifying, promoting, and grooming diverse talent for key positions throughout their company. So why are they failing? Simple, because they aren't creating an inclusive culture and a safe space for their talent to succeed.  

And here's where it gets interesting. While CEOs openly admit their total commitment to inclusivity, and their willingness to invest corporate resources and personal time to create a more supportive culture, they almost never admit (or maybe they just don't realize) they are personally responsible for their company's lack of inclusivity.

In every organization, culture starts at the very top of the house. Employees will watch what a CEO does and listen carefully to every word they say. Most people even pay attention to the CEO's body language. In essence, the top leader casts a long shadow on the company's culture through words, deeds, behaviors, and actions. CEOs like to talk a big game about the importance of inclusivity, but there's often a disconnect between their rhetoric and the reality of their actions. 

An inclusive culture requires a CEO who is committed to becoming more self-aware. This includes consideration of how they are perceived by others, and reflection on their own hidden baggage and preconceived notions. Most simply aren't aware their path to the top included many breaks that others -- especially minorities -- in the organization simply didn't have. Most CEOs seem to cling to the myth of Horatio Alger and believe their rise to the top is solely through their own hard work and intelligence, and discount things like privilege and luck. Because they're already in a position of power, there's little explicit incentive for them to think otherwise, except for the unintended consequence of destroying their ability to create an inclusive culture.

An inclusive culture also requires a CEO with a high degree of empathy -- the ability to understand what others are thinking, and, more important, what they are feeling, in different settings and contexts. Inclusive CEOs have a deep understanding of their personal strengths, styles, and imperfections. This is what makes all great leaders accessible, thereby allowing them to create strong bonds with others. 

Here's the bottom line. The overwhelming majority of CEOs in corporate America are White, middle-aged, privileged, heterosexual, and well-educated from top universities and boarding schools. They've had many lucky breaks that others have never enjoyed. Although most CEOs in corporate America may not be cut from the exact same cloth, the fabric is similar in look and feel. Without hard work and self-examination, there is simply no way that these CEOs can empathize with a truly diverse workforce. Therefore, they have no chance of creating the kind of inclusive culture needed to support their diverse talent base.

It takes hard work -- like intense coaching, 360 feedback, and even psychological therapy. Thankfully, some CEOs are rising to the challenge and putting in the effort. Bryan Leach, the founder and CEO of a unicorn called Ibotta, rejects the idea that his personal success is a direct result of his individual genius and tenacity. After years of therapy, Leach openly admits that luck, privilege, timing, and other things far beyond his control have contributed largely to his success -- not just his hard work. 

Rather than it being a sign of weakness, Leach believes that admitting this makes him a more accessible and authentic leader and sets a precedent in the corner office that others across the entire organization emulate. A crucial first step to creating an inclusive culture is a CEO that is totally committed to the (sometimes long and difficult) journey toward increased self-awareness.