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Diversity in the C-Suite: When All Is Said and Done, More Is Said Than Done

Diversity continues to be a sticky topic of conversation in the business world. While many companies have acknowledged the need for diverse workforces, most Fortune 500 companies have been slow to produce tangible gains within their organizations. While companies are constantly aiming to strengthen their workforce and retain talent with more appealing workspaces and amenities, some fall short when it comes to cultivating a diverse and well-rounded team of individuals. There are countless reasons why diversity plays a critical role to business success, especially within the C-suite, and it is time for executives to recognize and shine a light on why addressing diversity in a meaningful way has been so challenging.

What we know about diversity and its impact on corporations

Diversity in race, ethnicity and gender produces positive business results. According to recent research, companies with a female in the C-Suite are shown to be more profitable than those with all-male teams. Having women in leadership positions also increases the likelihood to have a more balanced overall male to female office ratio, with research suggesting C-suites with women have around 7% more women in their workforce on average. Despite all of this, only 10.9 percent of senior executives are women in the world’s largest 500 companies, according to Weber Schandwick’s Gender Forward Pioneer Index.

Additionally, most companies continue to lag in creating more diversity in race and ethnicity in the executive ranks, despite initiatives being put into practice to help combat this issue. Research shows that racial diversity in leadership has long term effects on the well-being of a company. From accessibility to diverse consumer markets to reduced internal disputes, incorporating people of different backgrounds into executive leadership strengthens the company from the ground up. Still, according to the EEOC, $112.7 million is collected from employers for racial discrimination violations on average each year.

Diversity in leadership sets the standard for all employees, communicating to them that they have equal opportunities to reach leadership roles and that they will be supported through the changes that life brings.

Why is this so hard: barriers to diversity, perceived and real

When recruiting for diverse talent, one often hears two observations:

  • The pool of diverse talent for a particular position is shallow
  • We don’t want to sacrifice candidate quality for diversity

By and large, these are red herrings.  If you can’t find diverse talent, you’re simply not looking hard enough or in the right place.  However, it is true that searching for diversity candidates can take longer, particularly if a company is being thoughtful in creating new sources to identify candidates or ensuring that their employee value proposition has diverse appeal.  Impatience in the hiring process is often more of a barrier than the perception that diverse candidates are in short supply.

People are inherently resistant to change. While many people acknowledge a need for more diversity, participating in diversity programs can often make people feel uncomfortable, as they may have to face their own inherent biases. Because of this, many executives struggle with where to start. They fear that if as a society we still face these issues, how can one company make a difference? This perceived barrier of “impossibility” permits the real barrier to remain in place.

In reality, one of the biggest barriers to implementing diverse practices is the lack of opportunity. Companies and leadership teams cannot build meaningful, successful diversity programs if they do not create positions and opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to educate them. Leadership’s fear of failure creates a very legitimate barrier to move forward.

Ultimately, people who come from different backgrounds can kickstart changes within their organizations. They are instrumental to building environments that fight conformity and can influence decisions, creating newer, more cutting-edge goals for their company.

How to shift the narrative and reach diversity goals

Looking at the bigger picture – change does not exclusively happen from the top down. While the C-Suite needs to build more diversity in its ranks, longer term positive gains will only be achieved by focusing on all hiring within an organization, particularly hiring for entry-level talent.

Here are ways your organization can continue to strengthen its diversity efforts:

  • Develop robust mentorship programs to promote a sense of inclusivity and open communication. It is very important to spend one-on-one time with employees, as it will help them be develop leadership skills for future career shifts. Developing cross-gender/cross-ethnicity relationships can help a mentee develop diverse viewpoints that will follow them into new roles.
  • Focus on who you hire. Being intentional in the hiring process will set a standard as a company begins to grow and develop. By actively ensuring the applicant pool is built of diverse and qualified candidates, a company allows itself to start its diversity efforts from the get-go. It is a great practice for executives to think about succession early on and how those following in their footsteps can lead the company towards a better future.
  • Embrace flex work times or opportunities for employees to work remotely. What benefits the employee will often benefit the company. This flexibility allows for working parents, those with disabilities or those with difficult commute situations to focus more on their work and stress less about not fitting into a cookie cutter standard.
  • Town Halls – A successful workforce champions people of all races, genders and ethnicities. By giving people an open forum to offer suggestions on company practices, companies can be enriched by different backgrounds and points of view. It is especially important to have or create a space where employees of all backgrounds can access executives and can simply offer their insights internally.

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