Driving Change: Responsible Leadership and the Path to Diversity and Inclusion

Written by

Natasha Winkler-Titus

Published on

04 Jul 2023

At the Stellenbosch Business School, we prioritize the development of responsible leaders. Recently, I was invited by the International department at Zurich University of Applied Sciences to discuss responsible leadership and its potential impact on diversity and inclusion. In this article, I will share my views on this important topic.


Responsible leadership goes beyond the boundaries of an organization and aims to improve society and the world as a whole. It focuses on three key elements: people, profit, and the planet. It is not just a role; it represents a way of taking responsibility and making positive changes.

One crucial aspect is taking action and implementing processes and practices that align with its principles.

It is essential to examine how organizations are promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) because what happens within organizations often reflects societal trends. Unfortunately, many marginalized workers still face inequality and even worsening conditions, despite the existence of numerous policies and practices in workplaces.

Additionally, some workers who are not officially classified as employees may be excluded from organizational policies and practices, leading to a lack of representation and voice.

This extends beyond the organizational structure and plays a vital role in addressing these issues.

Equality and inequality, intergroup relations, and social justice are significant aspects of our current social landscape. A positive correlation exists between an inclusive and diverse climate and responsible leadership. This leads us to the central research question: Can responsible leadership expedite equity, diversity, and inclusion?

When examining the competencies required for responsible leadership and leading EDI, we find that there is considerable overlap. Responsible leadership competencies include self-awareness, systems thinking, ethics and values, recognizing interconnectedness, stakeholder relationships, driving change and innovation. Similarly, competencies that drive EDI encompass empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, adaptability, collaboration, change facilitation, justice, fairness, ethics, open-mindedness, and accountability.

However, despite this recognition, many corporate scandals highlight a gap between theory and practice. Responsible leadership is often considered an add-on to a company’s core responsibilities, rather than being integrated into the core itself. This demonstrates the need for improvement and a more holistic approach.

Can responsible leadership disrupt the status quo regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion? CEOs are often expected to bring disruption to the market. Initiating transformation towards greater EDI may cause disruptions, challenging established mental models and the status quo, but it is a necessary process.

This is a developing concept that shows promise in driving societal transformation. A groundbreaking study focusing on the base of the pyramid population found that responsible leadership can empower entrepreneurship and business development, particularly when working with non-traditional partners in inclusive supply chains. However, there is still much work to be done in practical terms.

As researchers, it is important for us to provide advice and assistance to leaders who aspire to be considered “responsible” and leave a positive legacy.