Last week marked an historic day during which we saw the first in what will hopefully be a long line of non-White male occupants of our nation’s highest offices. After winning the election, Joe Biden promised to build ‘a Cabinet that looks like America’, indicating that he would nominate a number of underrepresented individuals to high-ranking positions. While saying it and doing it are certainly two different things, it’s nonetheless an extremely exciting proposition.
Perhaps more importantly, having the first Black, first South Asian, first female Vice President in the history of our country now actively serving is progress in and of itself, when taken against our multiple century history of only electing White men of a similar religious affiliation. While we have yet to see a female U.S. president, and have only had one non-White commander in chief, integrating new perspectives gleaned from diverse backgrounds at the top levels of our government is a step in the right direction. Rather than governing from a standpoint of never having lived through any of the events that many Americans experience on a daily basis, having people in elected office who understand can lead to better policies. The same dynamic plays out within companies.
Why it’s critical to have diversity in management
Having diverse leadership in executive, director, and management-level positions is crucial for a number of reasons. For one, BCG found that teams with diverse management vastly outperformed their peers when it came to innovation. According to the study, companies that had above-average levels of diversity among managers reported 19% higher innovation revenues than those with below-average diversity (45% versus 26%). In today’s rapidly evolving market, innovation is quickly becoming a key driver of company success, so suffice it to say that companies with fewer diverse managers should be concerned.
Similarly, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams are more than 20% more likely to have above-average profitability, according to McKinsey. Those in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity were more than 30% more likely to see higher than average profits. Clearly the financial incentives are there, but beyond that, working for a company with diverse leadership is important to employees and job-seekers as well. In fact, nearly 90% of job-seekers believe that the level of diversity at a potential employer is an important factor that impacts their decision whether or not to work for them. If a company’s bottom line needs it, and top talent wants it, then why aren’t more companies taking greater strides to diversify their leadership?
Concrete steps for diversifying your management team
Part of the reason that little has changed in the upper echelons of American companies is that maintaining the status quo benefits those in charge. Ultimately, in order for new, more diverse faces to join their ranks, current leaders will need to move aside, as only so many C-suite and management-level positions can reasonably exist in any given company. Similarly, many people don’t want to have to break out of their shells to learn and consider new ideas. The reason so many companies use the ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ line is because it’s easier than creating and implementing new strategies.
As we just laid out though, this perspective ultimately dampens companies’ profit potential. Accordingly, it follows that those companies that want to succeed should break out of their old ways and move forward into a more diverse, more inclusive future. In order to do so, they’ll need to:
- Strive to eliminate hiring biases. Hiring bias is real, and it is extensive. Work to disarm it at every step in the process including how you write your role descriptions, where you recruit candidates from, how you design your interview process, and beyond. There are so many opportunities for bias to creep in, most of which aren’t even recognized by our conscious brains, so you have to be vigilant and employ tools to help you wherever possible. For instance, there’s software that can help remove gendered wording from job descriptions, and other platforms that will blank out names on resumes to help evaluators be more objective.
- Diversify hiring at all points in the pipeline. Don’t just look to recruit entry-level talent from diverse sources; focus on hiring underrepresented folx at every level and in every department of the company. Having a couple of token leaders from diverse backgrounds won’t do much good if the entire rest of the company remains homogenous and impenetrable to minority candidates. Actively seek to hire the best person for the job in every instance, devoid of bias, and ideally, you’ll see more diversity across your entire workforce.
- Design clear promotion pathways. While it’s one thing to bring diverse hires in the door, it’s entirely another to retain and nurture them. If you want to build a more diverse leadership team, ensure every employee, regardless of background, can grow with your company and rise within the ranks. Empower all individuals, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, with the tools and resources to reach the C-suite, and you’ll wind up with more managers from non-dominant groups across all teams.
- Shift towards a more inclusive culture. In the absence of an inclusive culture, your diverse hires are more likely to leave your company for a more welcoming and supportive competitor, so press for inclusivity early and often. Conduct trainings for employees at all levels to teach them about inclusive behavior and mindsets, make them aware of their biases, and educate them on how to be a true ally. Ensure that diverse employees feel respected and valued, so that they’re interested in staying and incentivized to climb the ladder.
- Repeat. This is a key piece that many companies overlook. Changing the face of management at your company will not happen overnight. It can only be achieved through sustained action on each of these points over the long-term. It’s not a one-and-done type of effort, so build your strategy to go the distance.
While this list may seem daunting, building diverse leadership is ultimately worth it if you want your company to succeed in the new world of work. Set your organization up to win by diversifying your management teams, and building a truly inclusive culture. If you could use some support in getting started, Workrowd has an engagement and culture management platform with diversity, equity, and inclusion resources built right in. Come see us at workrowd.com or reach out directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.