10 ways to improve your company's Diversity

Jan 15, 2014
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diversityOk, you understand the importance of diversity in your company. You’ve likely seen the research that points to better business results. Or maybe you intuitively recognize that your customer demographics are shifting, and this will help you address them. Or maybe you view this as a fairness issue, or any of dozens of other reasons. And if your company is of a certain size, you likely already have your diversity network in place, you have your diversity committee meeting regularly and you have your diversity mentoring program going strong.

But if you’re like so many in the corporate world, your diversity progress has stalled. (The numbers here don’t lie, and the “pipeline” excuse may be starting to wear thin.) You may thus recognize intuitively that, despite your best efforts, rather than getting your minorities and women ahead, you may just be making them busier. (Pet peeve: I worked with one company that essentially required its women and minorities to go to half- and full-day diversity symposiums…but then didn’t give them an extra half day to turn in assignments or make up for the full day of lost commissions.)

Same hammer, same nail, likely same result. Recognizing that none of the following are easy….and all take a real commitment from the top and even some money…..how about:

1) Start a sponsorship programSylvia Hewlett’s work on sponsorship has illuminated that, while a mentor is good, a sponsor is better. Sponsors don’t just answer a junior person’s questions, they actively advocate for them…on things like new assignments, jobs and money. So have each of the Management Committee members (or equivalent) at your company choose a minority or woman to sponsor (if they can’t find one, you’ve got a bigger problem) and then make that “sponsee’s” success part of the senior person’s evaluation.

2) Ban “slate sitters.” You know who these people are. They are the women and minority candidates who show up on slate after slate when the senior person / CEO / Board demands a diverse slate for a position. But they never get the job. Make sure to identify why they don’t and then put in place an action plan to deliver the needed skills or experience so that they are not passed over again in 6 months time. Again, hold a specific important someone accountable for this, or it won’t get done. (And while you are at it, fully recognize the research that says that job candidates who look and sound like the individuals in power – ok, we all know I mean white males – are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on experience. Watch for the different standards.)

3) Give responsibility for progress on diversity to a “hipo” (high potential executive), just as you do any other important business initiative. Better yet, a white male “hipo,” partnered with HR. And by “hipo”, this should be someone who has a real shot at becoming CEO of the company and is seen as such. This will signal the importance of this to the company in a way few other measures can.

4) Educate managers on the business differences between men and women in the workplace. A challenge here can be that, in many instances, the women who are most successful have learned to “play the game” the way the guys do. By definition, this then goes some way to negating the positive impact of diversity, which is…..diversity. So communicate to your managers facts such as that women are much less likely than their male counterparts to volunteer for an assignment or promotion, even when equally or more qualified.

5) And then spend even more educating your managers on the difference between men and women…..because we all have day jobs competing for our attention and only retain so much new information.

6) Comb through your performance review systems to root out “cascading bias.”Research has shown that review metrics are often created in the image of those who are already successful, thus perpetuating an existing form of (typically male) leadership. There is not just one way to lead, and having a variety of leadership styles strengthens a company.

7) And, while you’re at it, a lot comes out in the wash when one requires business metrics for promotions, to back up managers’ perspectives. On more than one occasion, I’ve had managers reverse their recommendation for a promotion – to someone who was less like themselves – when required to back up their recommendation with an analysis of candidates’ business results, rather than simply their perception of how effective the candidates are. The people who have delivered are not always the people who are best at marketing that they have delivered.

8) As a company, address and speak to employees’ core motivators. While many managers believe the primary motivator of their employees to be money (and for men it is indeed what they point to first), women report it to be “meaning and purpose.” Recognize this and really “talk the talk” as a company about what you do and why you do it.

9) Encourage participation in outside networks. As the owner of the professional woman’s network, 85 Broads, this one probably doesn’t surprise you. But stay with me, because networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. This is in good part because it expands individuals’ perspectives and knowledge; and it can provide a valuable feedback loop (and a safe setting) in what is essentially a learning process of leadership, as outlined in a recent Harvard Business Review cover article. Yet many women report that they feel like are “cheating” on their company when they spend time with outside networks, and must be encouraged to do so.

10) Work towards a culture that encourages “flexibility without shame.” Yes, you have a flex-work program. But did you know that 60% of full-time working mothers with minor children say they wish they had flexibility?? The gap? The view that those who take advantage of flexible work options are not serious about their careers. The smart companies will be those that recognize that less-than-100% of an engaged employee’s time can be worth more than 100% of a distracted person’s time (or, of course, 0% of their time if they leave the company).

Extra Credit: Recognize that the genders can potentially have different career trajectories. Some women (and, increasingly, both genders) may take the more “scenic route” professionally during their children’s younger years and then come roaring back when their children are older and more independent. Be careful of interpreting this alternate career arc as a lack of commitment, intensity or ambition. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that making an investment in women during those mid-career years can pay off significantly as their longer lives can lead to longer careers than their male peers….and thus a strong return on the investment that smart companies make in them.

If doing the above were easy, it would be easy. If there were one answer to the diversity challenge, it would have presented itself. Instead, it takes a commitment throughout an organization, starting with the very top, to engaging professionals through the course of their careers, in recognition of the real competitive advantage this can drive.

I’m interested in other ideas for driving diversity. Thoughts?

Written by Sallie Krawcheck. Sally is the Business Leader of the professional woman’s network, 85 Broads. The network is 32,000+ women strong, with members from across industries and around the world.

Photo: DW Hendricks /Flickr