Stephen Bailey, co-founder and CEO of ExecOnline, is the pioneer of online B2B leadership development solutions. In partnership with 12 leading business schools, ExecOnline is creating a diverse pool of future-ready leaders. Critical to ExecOnline achieving its mission of connecting all leaders to their future potential is “Development Equity,” or the equitable access for underrepresented groups to formalized, career-enhancing development opportunities. Previously, he served as CEO of Frontier Strategy Group (FSG), a software and information services business. He grew the business from an early-stage start-up to a company that serves half the Fortune 500 across international markets and business functions.
Q How has making diversity and inclusion (D&I) a business imperative made your company stronger?
A I founded ExecOnline with diversity, equity and inclusion as core business drivers. Maintaining an unwavering commitment to increasing corporate leadership diversity has helped us recruit a motivated, highly skilled, mission-driven team. That vision also ensures we do all we can as an organization to be representative. Instead of arguing for the benefits that come through a diverse workforce and leadership suite, we can demonstrate firsthand how an organization can experience record growth — even through the difficulty of the past couple of years — because of the diversity of skills, experience and innovative thought our team members bring to the table.
Q How do you work with employees and community partners to advance D&I?
A ExecOnline’s mission is to connect all leaders to their future potential. Our employees support that through high-quality, impactful online learning and development (L&D) experiences, enabling organizations to scale their L&D efforts and democratize access to training that has habitually excluded underrepresented populations. We partner with top business schools like Berkeley and Columbia that understand how strong experiences on topics ranging from business transformation to empathetic leadership to women in leadership can combine with agile technology to expand opportunities for underrepresented professionals to advance into corporate leadership roles. Our program alumni also serve as partners providing feedback to help us offer experiences that meet the needs of leaders in a diverse environment. We have been fortunate to partner with senior-level HR representatives from organizations around the globe to form a Development Equity Council, to create a blueprint to help other organizations provide underrepresented groups more equitable access to career-enhancing development opportunities.
Q What are top lessons learned?
A The key lesson is to meet people where they are. Even with the best intentions, organizations and their leaders may not recognize the barriers that keep them from reaching diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) goals. ExecOnline’s objective is not to admonish organizations that are committed to making progress for falling short, but to provide them with the thinking, tools and experiential leadership development opportunities to overcome these barriers and keep moving forward for everyone’s benefit.
Q What advice would you give both large tech businesses and smaller companies as they build their D&I strategy?
A My advice to both starts with a strategy defined by honest reflections (and hard data) about where you are as an organization versus where you want to be. A DEIB initiative only works when there’s authenticity in your reasons to pursue it, support it and incorporate it into your organization’s culture. Otherwise, the diverse professionals you bring on board won’t feel supported and valued and won’t stay. The language used in your job descriptions, the images and “About” section on your website — these all reflect who you are as an organization, including biases you might not even know you’re exhibiting. The need for self-examination extends to internal talent. How you select internal candidates for leadership development and/or promotion speaks volumes about how you recognize and prioritize equitable opportunity. When people see a defined path, they feel like they have a place in your organization. That makes all the difference in implementing a sustainable strategy that is successful in positioning your organization competitively in the future.