Does Your Leadership Style Support Diversity?

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According to McKinsey & Company, the most ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their industry peers in revenue. And those with the highest gender diversity are 15% more likely to do better financially.

Yet even though the research on the benefits of a more diverse workplace is clear, companies still struggle to recruit, retain, and promote diverse talent. Companies fall short in this area for a variety of reasons, according to diversity experts interviewed for this post.

There is cause for optimism, however. The experts also revealed some surprisingly simple steps company leaders can take to break down the barriers to more diverse and inclusive workplaces that will not only better support people working there but also boost the bottom line.

Barriers to Diversity

It’s not enough to recruit more talent from diverse backgrounds. Companies also need to make sure newcomers feel that their opinions and input matter. In other words, diversity won’t do a workplace much good if it doesn’t go hand in hand with inclusiveness.

As Kelly Primus, COO and President of the Leading Women consultancy, points out, when everyone in a company feels included, collaboration goes up and so does innovation, which in turn boosts the bottom line.

“By adding diversity and being inclusive about it, you have all of these other perspectives,” explains Primus. “The whole point about diversity and inclusion is that it brings such new and dynamic perspectives, that it makes such a huge difference to the way a company performs.”

One of the barriers to getting more diversity not only into the company but also into the decision-making process is a lack of role models for women and people of color. That goes not just for within individual companies, but also entire industries.

For example, a high percentage of women in science and technology fields don’t know other women in their areas, explains Sara Jones, COO for the Women Tech Council (WTC). “It’s really important for women leaders to be visible,” says Jones. “If you don’t know who women leaders are, it’s hard to know who to ask for mentoring.”

Mentors are critical not just for recruiting women into companies and retaining them, but also for inspiring them to enter a given profession to begin with, according to Jones.

“There’s a saying: ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,’’’ she says.

Barriers Within and Without

If you don’t see other people in a given company or other setting who look like you, then you’ll be less likely to join that company, let alone remain there long enough to make a difference, agrees Cameron Williams, Director of Diversity Engagement and Principal Sales Architect at Domo.

“Imagine going to a place every day where nothing that you identify with as yourself is available to you,” says Williams. “What a nightmare that would be, to have to hide who you are on a daily basis.” That, he adds, is a sure productivity killer, and likely to lead to attrition.

Barriers to diversity extend beyond the walls of a given company, says Williams. That’s because even if a company strives for diversity, it may be doomed to fail if recruits don’t feel comfortable in the neighborhoods within commuting range. You can’t nurture a diverse workforce, he says, “if that environment only exists at work."

Solving the Diversity Challenge

But as these experts also explained, business leaders can do much to create diverse workplaces and foster inclusiveness. For Joy Durling, CIO of Vivint Smart Home, the solution starts with the customer.

“When I think about this problem, I think about it pretty simply,” says Durling. “If great companies have one sole objective, the objective is to make their customers wildly successful and satisfied.”

And the only way to do that, she says, is to make sure a workforce reflects its customer base. At Durling’s company, it’s easy to make a case for hiring more women because women make up 80% of Vivint Smart Home’s customers.

How does a company recruit more women into leadership positions? By casting a wider net, says Durling. “The best talent is in many different circles and many different networks.”

Domo’s Williams agrees. He ensures that recruiters at his company engage more than the usual job sites and look to sites that help attract diverse candidates. That includes posting notices and articles on the websites of such organizations as the National Society of Black Engineers and the local Asian and Hispanic chambers of commerce.

The language companies use for recruitment is equally critical, says Leading Women’s Primus. For example, a job description asking for a candidate who “excels at stressful situations” may not appear welcoming to women. Likewise, a company committed to diversity should also reflect that diversity in the recruiting team. “When you send recruiters to college campuses, what do they look like?” she asks.

Working to solve the challenge of creating communities that welcome diversity—and thus create more welcoming environments for employees recruited from out of town—Williams says Domo has partnered with other tech companies in the area to help boost each other’s diversity efforts. The resulting benefits accrue to all participating companies.

Solving the Inclusiveness Challenge

Once recruits are on the job, take the time to help them feel welcome, include them in decision-making, and give them opportunities for advancement. Mentorship can play a crucial role here as well, says Jones. Among other fixes, the Women Tech Council’s 2019 report “The Gender Gap in Tech & How to Fix It” recommends that companies form internal diversity and inclusion groups.

The report cites Domo’s “Women at Domo” events, at which women throughout the company meet to build community and provide opportunities to mentor each other. As the report points out, “When women in a company come together to learn from and support each other, it positively affects individual careers and the success of the company.” Domo must be doing something right; its revenues grew 436% between 2014 and 2017.

Diversity and inclusiveness also have to come from the top. "Active and visible support for gender inclusivity from the CEO and the executive team is integral to creating inclusion,” states the WTC report.

That couldn’t be truer at Domo, says Williams. “[CEO] Josh [James] made it his purpose, making sure that Domo not only was a great place to work for everybody that's already there, but it's a great place to work for the people that we want to engage in the future,” he says.

Making the Commitment

It’s clear that diversity and inclusion are good for professionals, and that they're also good for companies as market forces push them to seek the best talent wherever they can find it while engaging a diverse customer base.

It starts with committing to a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Your employees will thank you and so will your customers and shareholders.

Join a growing number of individuals and companies, including Domo, in taking the Parity Pledge. Learn more here.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.