The importance of diversity and inclusion in business has been proved many times over. Simply put: Data shows that companies with better diversity at both the individual contributor and the management and board levels perform better. There is also a war for talent at these companies, because the best employees will leave if they don’t feel they have a chance to succeed through the leadership pipeline.
Some gains have been achieved as diversity and inclusion have become CEO-level issues around the world. The diversity conversation in business has increased, and the role of diversity in driving bottom-line results has gained greater attention. Understanding unconscious bias has also moved further into the mainstream. Leading organizations now see diversity and inclusion as a comprehensive strategy and an integral part of every aspect of the talent lifecycle to enhance employee engagement, improve the brand, and drive organizational performance.
Despite companies’ investment in the recruitment and hiring of Asians, blacks, and Hispanics, advancement to senior corporate ranks and corporate boards is still highly limited for these talent segments. An Ascend Foundation study, “The Illusion of Asian Success: Scant Progress for Minorities in Cracking the Glass Ceiling,” found that from 2007 to 2015, there has been very little progress made by all minority groups in reaching executive positions at San Francisco Bay Area technology companies. The study shows that race was a more significant factor than gender as an impediment to climbing the management ladder. Asians were the most likely to be hired but least likely to be promoted, and blacks and the Hispanics declined in their representation of the professional workforce—in essence nominal progress.
To make the systemic changes that positively impact and advance results, corporate boards, CEOs, and executive management must continue to actively lead change and drive solutions.
Bending the curve on the promotion of women and minorities
Companies need to keep conducting an in-depth analysis on their current demographic breakdown/pipeline by race and gender. They must start asking questions to understand their issues in the employee population and leadership pipeline:
- Where is the fallout from the pipeline?
- Are there relevant differences in the workplace by region or organizational structure?
- Are biases unwittingly and systematically built into talent-assessment processes?
- What are the best practices?
Part of the reason there has been so little progress in minority upward mobility is that most people are simply not aware of the extent of the problem. There are also cultural issues at play, but the key point to remember is that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution that is applicable to women or all minority groups.
Here are three steps companies can take:
Examine investments in diversity programs to confirm they are aligned with your company’s specific diversity problems. The complexity of workforce diversity is an issue that is not lost on anyone. The hope is that the Ascend Foundation research contributes to higher awareness and begins a more informed and constructive dialogue, which should lead to more specific solutions for each minority group.
Engage minority communities, especially senior executives, to lead process and training changes. Seek out employee resource groups (ERGs) and business resource groups (BRGs) and proactively discuss and work on future strategies. An additional recommendation is for companies to examine internal human resources processes, such as talent assessment, hiring, and promotion processes and leadership development nomination, for any unintended or embedded implicit biases.
Closely follow and investigate available data and have corporate boards, CEOs, and executive management own the results. With actionable insights from research, companies can take steps to drive awareness and offer solutions. In-house leadership development programs can be more focused and targeted to addressing the issues and supplemented with offerings developed by external organizations that provide leadership training and professional development classes grounded in research. These experience-based executive training programs and professional development programs can provide conceptual and pragmatic approaches to addressing the issues raised. Lastly, these programs should be a part of broader succession planning, including monitoring succession and advancement.
In summary, we recommend that companies join together in a cooperative effort to aggregate and analyze their internal data by race and gender; proactively enlist their minority leadership and employee community involvement; and develop joint and individual metrics to bend the curve in companies’ ability to attract, retain, and promote talented women and minorities.