Changing the Culture of Business

Programmers cooperating at information technology company

I was recently invited to attend and cover an important diversity and inclusion panel, Changing the Culture of Business, at Ellevate’s Mobilize Women Summit.  As we discussed, change isn’t easy.  It requires us to acknowledge current shortcomings and to admit there might be a better way.  It also takes work.  The obstacles to change are even harder when the persons in charge are the very parties deriving privilege from a system that others may deem broken.  Such is the case within many corporations in the United States.  Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, American businesses have been run by men who are more likely to resemble the likes of Elmer Fudd than the various flavors of the melting pot we call America. 

White men hold 68 percent of C-suite positions, compared with 19 percent for white women and 9 percent for men of color, according to the Women in the Workplace 2018 report by LeanIn.Org, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting workplace gender bias, and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Women of color hold just 4 percent of these posts.  This is particularly interesting given only 49% of the population is male according to the most recent U.S. Census data, and women outpace men in achieving advanced degrees at a rate of 167 for every 100 men according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Diversity and Inclusion Lead to Innovation

Setting aside the “fairness” debate, because clearly something is amiss, business is losing out.  Just as it is the melding of cultures that has made America great, it is the merging of ideas, perspectives, understandings and attributes that is needed to catapult business to the next level.  When people with varying backgrounds bring their individual experiences to the table, we benefit as a whole. 

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) bring innovation.  Email is the perfect example of this.  As Haben Girma, a deaf-blind Harvard law graduate and advocate of disability rights who spoke on the importance of inclusion of those with disabilities, explained, email was developed by a member of the deaf community to communicate across the great Atlantic pond.  Yet, it is a mode of communication that far extends its intended reach and benefits more than just the hearing impaired. 

D&I also drives profits.  A study by McKinsey found companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability.  Gender and ethnic diversity correlate, within a company, with higher profitability and value creation.  Why?    Differences spark creativity.  Creativity sparks innovation.  Innovation drives profits.

The business case for hiring diversity is there, yet “we are still having elementary conversations on a topic that we have been discussing for 20 years plus,” says Susan Lee, the Chief People Officer of SeatGeek.  So how do we instill change?  I had the honor of discussing this very issue with a panel of experts at the summit. 

Initiating Inclusion for Success

There are several steps companies can take to expand their role in initiating diversity and inclusion.

D&I is everyone’s responsibility.  In the era of #MeToo, everyone must stand up.  While the tone may be set at the top, it is every employee’s responsibility to respect a co-worker’s differences and to demand the same of the company.  There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy stipulating that any kind of discrimination or harassment will lead to an employee’s dismissal. 

D&I deserves the dedicated attention of a D&I officer.  “Beyond making the world a better place, it is the role of the D&I officer to get great people in line to do great work,” says Tony Prophet, the Chief Equality Officer for Salesforce.  By paying attention to D&I, companies expand their talent pools, attract the best talent, and drive their bottom lines.  Companies can utilize automated resume-screening tools to reduce bias and ensure those making hiring decisions also represent different genders, ethnic groups, ages, sexual orientations and religions.

Companies must use data.  “In the past, companies were rewarded for their efforts, but today’s stakeholders want to see actual results and there is proof in numbers,” says Kiersten Barnet, the Global Head of Gender-Equality Index at Bloomberg.  “Until we measure, we don’t know what problem we’re solving, or how to measure progress.” 

Tony also recommends the use of hiring scorecards to drive company discipline, and force periodic check-ins.  Companies should conduct periodic self-reviews and reward managers who attract and create diverse teams of employees.

Companies must adopt initiatives to attract and retain diverse groups of talent.  The time for excuses is over.  The lack of a talent pipeline no longer abdicates an employer’s responsibility.  Employers need to create spaces of tolerance where inclusion is welcomed and support for family, rituals, and diversity is encouraged.  Employers must be an ally for their employees, and listen to their needs.

By listening to employees’ needs, employers have an opportunity to provide the tools and resources employees value in their professional development and create long-term loyalty that will bolster a company’s pipeline of talent, positively affect D&I data, drive innovation and deliver ROI.  And according to a study published by FastCompany, what workers want above all else is a culture of support.  So how about it CEOs, are you ready for change?

– Debi Yadegari is Founder and CEO of Villyge, a management consulting firm that assists employers in providing better support to its working parents through corporate lactation programs and new parent transition and family coaching services.  Villyge also provides employer resources, including manager sensitivity training, lactation accommodation law guidance and HR support.