Shark Tank's Emma Grede: How Strong Organizations Use Inclusion as a Superpower

A group of businesspeople shake hands with each other in an office.

Inclusion is a business superpower that drives success and innovation, even in times of economic uncertainty.

Inclusive leadership is a business superpower. That's the leading theme of ADP's 2024 Women@Work summit keynote speech by Emma Grede, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was the first Black woman to guest shark on ABC's "Shark Tank."

But in an era where declining investments in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) see regular news coverage, Grede wants to shine a light on why these investments should remain a priority for HR leaders.

"The business case for the value of inclusion is already established," says Grede. "Company performance expands in almost every metric that matters, and organizations need talent that matches the world they operate in."

Grede wants HR leaders and administrators to know that work around inclusive leadership isn't over. And it's up to all of us to carry the torch into the future so the next generation can see a difference.

Here are three insights Grede shares about how to pioneer inclusive leadership in today's competitive business landscape.

Realize inclusion is personal

As a Black British mother of four, Grede emphasizes the personal impact that inclusive leadership has had on her and the inspiration she wants to offer the next generation. Witnessing progress in this space over the past decade has been inspirational and reassuring. But Grede wants to make sure employers continue to prioritize inclusion, especially in the face of the deprioritization of DE&I investments over the last few years.

"Early on in my career, I've seen what happens when inclusivity isn't prioritized," Grede says. "DE&I is often the first thing cut when a business faces economic challenges, but it's really a super power. Bringing attention to that is a responsibility I feel I owe to my children, my staff and the next generation to really push this conversation forward. I think about this topic from the point of view of race, gender, socioeconomic background and as a woman in business."

To make this connection within your organization, invite your employees to reflect on their relationship with inclusion. What identities, traits and characteristics have caused them to feel excluded, and what experiences do they have feeling valued and seen for their unique traits? Make inclusion personal to each person within your organization, and you'll find it grows deep, long-lasting roots.

Reach for inclusivity in more than hiring

There are many opportunities for inclusivity to influence a business, and it's not just in hiring. Grede emphasizes how much inclusivity broadens an organization's ability to discover new opportunities, pursue them successfully and be commercially successful.

"At Good American, we make decisions about the growth of the business through the lens of inclusivity — beyond resourcing and HR," Grede says. "How are you making decisions? Who gets to make those decisions? Being more inclusive across the board, such as with product development, opens up our market reach and expands our opportunities for success."

To make this connection in your organization, expand your DE&I work beyond your hiring policies and practices. Bring inclusion into the conversation whenever you're interacting with executives across the company — from product development to marketing to operations to sales — so it's clear that the outcome of investing in it will benefit everyone.

Let inclusivity jump off the page

Grede points out that one of the most important things an organization can do is make inclusion a priority supported by the system, not just by executives and policies. Changing and challenging the culture of an organization is one of the hardest things you can do, so you need to reinforce it in the heart of our culture. Leaders need to be able to answer the question, "How do you incorporate inclusivity in your business and how decisions are made?"

"Measure the data and incentivize performance against it," Grede explains. "We're all incentivized against performance, and inclusivity is just another area that requires measurement to take responsibility and accountability for where you are in your journey. When everyone within your organization understands they will be measured against their ability to think inclusively, it is much easier to see the change you wish to see."

Grede shares five standards she maintains in her businesses that others can adopt to make this connection within your organization:

  • Prioritization
  • Systems creation
  • Accountability metrics
  • Consistent measurement of data
  • Incentivizing performance

These five factors together can deliver on the specificity and transparency an organization needs to see real results from inclusion efforts.

Taking inclusion beyond the buzz

Successful organizations know that inclusion is more than a trend. It's a business superpower that drives success and innovation, even during economic uncertainty. As HR leaders and administrators, your journey toward inclusion will always be ongoing. But so will the benefits of this approach: You'll gain innovation, performance and talent for an organization that reflects the diverse world we live in. By applying Grede's insights and championing inclusive leadership, you can navigate today's competitive business landscape with a vision for a brighter, more inclusive future.

Learn impactful strategies from one of the world's most influential businesswomen by watching Emma Grede's full diversity and inclusion talk. Also check out other ADP Women@Work sessions on data, mental health and gen Z.