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November 11, 2022

How leaders can build DEI standards through values-based leadership

Learn how DEI standards and values-based leadership go hand-in-hand. Cynt Marshall shares her wisdom from years of leadership, including in the NBA, at INSIGHTS 2022.

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the forefront of the new world of work. And as CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, Cynt Marshall is one of the foremost leaders in building organizational DEI standards. At Ceridian’s flagship event this year, INSIGHTS 2022, Marshall shared about her success in setting the standard for DEI and values-based leadership in the NBA.

Embrace change, make the future

Cynt Marshall joined the Dallas Mavericks as CEO in 2018 with a vision to help the organization set the standard for DEI in the NBA. In the first 100 days, she evolved the company culture into what it is today: Driven by transparency, values-based leadership, and putting people first.

In her opening moments at INSIGHTS 2022, Marshall declared what would become the mantra of her message: “Embrace change, make the future.” She went on to draw a parallel between her self-described “out-of-body experience” from a cancer diagnosis to what many have experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic. In moments of crisis, we’re faced with three choices: to relish the experience, to have a pity party, or to secure our futures. Again referencing the pandemic, Marshall asked the audience, “How do we respond to our collective out-of-body experience?” And her answer was to make a gameplan for the future.

Marshall shared an acronym to explain her meaning of FUTURE:

  • Find your teammates. No person is an island, and we need to embrace our family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Understand the landscape. We must learn what employees need and how we can empower them.
  • Teach someone to dance. We must lead with inclusion – participation matters.
  • Unlock the power of the total workforce. Full-time, part-time, and contract workers all have a role to play.
  • Reassess your crystal balls and rubber balls. Evaluate whether your priorities revolve around irreplaceable things or elastic things. What are the things that make you and your employees happy?
  • Embrace physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Health and well-being are multi-faceted and essential for our future.

The importance of values-based leadership

At the center of Marshall’s leadership approach, inclusion is placed at a particularly a high value. From the INSIGHTS stage, Marshall explained that “there is a difference between diversity and inclusion.”

“Diversity is about the mix, it’s about the ingredients. But inclusion is about what you do with the mix, the recipe. Diversity is about counting numbers, but inclusion is about making the numbers count. Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

With this driving distinction between general diversity and thoughtful inclusion in mind, Marshall electrified the audience with some hands-on learning. Over the course of several minutes, she conducted an impromptu dance lesson, teaching everybody how to do the Cupid Shuffle. Those who knew the dance were invited on stage and then asked to move into the audience to teach everyone the moves. Then, everyone danced together.

Her poignant display of inclusion is at the core of how she leads. Marshall challenged the audience to make inclusion a priority, saying, “We get to decide how we include people in every aspect of what we do at work and at home. Participation matters.”

Crafting your workforce gameplan for the future

Marshall leads by example – and that’s no accident. For her, DEI change happens when HR leaders can plan for the future. At the conclusion of her keynote, she gave some practical advice about embracing change to make the future happen today.

Transforming company culture is no small undertaking and Marshall provided a handful of guiding questions for HR leaders as they develop their workforce gameplan around intent, inclusion, insight, and inspiration:

  1. What will you be intentional about?
  2. Are you focused on new ways to attract, develop, retain, and serve talent?
  3. How will you foster inclusion?
  4. Who will you teach to dance?
  5. What insight do you need from others?
  6. How will you respond to the new ways of work?
  7. Where will you look for inspiration?
  8. How will you inspire others?

After walking through these questions, Marshall gave a call to action, saying, “Stop looking to the future. Start making the future. The future is now.”

Before stepping off the INSIGHTS stage, Cynt Marshall drove her point home, asking, “Are you all in?”

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