Why You Need to Focus on Diversity Before It's Too Late

Take a lesson from what happened at Uber.

Failing to prioritize diversity leads to disastrous consequences. Take the recent influx of sexism and discrimination claims at Uber, for example.

Related: What Does Uber Need to Do to Fix Its Battered Reputation?

After multiple former employees came forward to claim that their harassment at work was being mishandled by human resources, a number of the company’s top executives stepped down, including, most recently, Uber’s president Jeff Jones.

All of this backlash centered around a key factor missing from the company’s culture: diversity. And while it’s easy to point at Uber right now, a lack of emphasis on diversity causes problems in many other organizations, especially in the tech segment. 

“Despite actions by tech companies to improve diversity, discriminatory behavior is occurring far too frequently,” Raj Mukherjee, SVP of product at Indeed.com in San Francisco, told me. In fact, a December 2016 Indeed survey of more than 1,000 U.S. technology workers found that 24 percent of those respondents said they had personally felt discriminated against at their current company.

That kind of scenario can affect companies beyond the workplace and beyond the stakeholders on site, Mukerjee pointed out. In fact, a truly diverse workplace allows companies to reach a more diverse customer base. “Innovative products that change the world and delight users and customers simply cannot be built without taking into account diverse perspectives, experiences and backgrounds,” Mukerjee pointed out.

Determined that your company will be in that group? Here are five ways to increase diversity at your organization, gleaned from interviews with other leaders in multiple industries:

1. Have diverse leadership.

Having a variety of people with diverse backgrounds at the helm of a a company means there will be a wide range of perspectives and ideas impacting the organization. 

“If your workforce and customer base mirror the changing demographics in society, then your leadership should be diverse,” Greg Reynolds, CEO and co-founder of g-dii in New York, told me. 

Reynolds said he places a lot of importance on diversity and inclusion at his own company. “Our founding team includes African American, Latin American and Caucasians, gay and straight, men and women, baby boomers, Gen X'ers and millennials,” he said. He described how his entire team employed an inclusion assessment to uncover personal biases to work toward a more open and empathetic company culture.

At your company, then, actively curate a diverse executive team by seeking candidates who come from varied backgrounds and bring new ideas to the table. Be a champion for diversity in hiring that continues all the way down through the organization.

Related: 4 Ways to Embrace Diversity for Workplace Success

Encourage growth opportunities at all levels to facilitate a culture where all employees feel valued and can develop into leaders. Tools like Landit, for example, can help your company identify and invest in the development of high-potential employees. This platform in particular looks to help women with career growth.

2. Feature diversity in recruiting materials.

Diversity should be very visible to your company's candidates during the recruitment process. New hires need to see it to believe it.

Just ask Diane Danielson. A commercial real estate franchisor, and chief operating officer at SVN International Corp. in Boston, she says she sees only limited diversity in her industry. One of the biggest tip-offs? “Many of the promotional videos, ads and proposals feature senior white males,” Danielson pointed out.

And while marketing is only a representation of the makeup of that industry, those images send a subtle message to job candidates who don’t fit that mold that diversity is not a priority, she said.

She said that when she  joined SVNIC in 2012, all of the company's imagery featured white men with gray hair, despite the company's claims that it was“different.” When she raised the question, Danielson says,  the CEO and other executives, who were all male, admitted they hadn’t noticed the implicit bias or how it might affect recruitment of talented, diverse candidates.

“Needless to say, we don't use that image anymore,” Danielson said. Of the company's marketing today: “We [now] have a diversified executive team and added two women to our board of directors. We also rolled out and supported programs in the past few years to help our company be more inclusive."  

To make your own company inclusive, be conscientious about using diverse imagery on your recruiting materials to prevent talent from assuming they’d be unwelcome applicants. Leverage diverse job boards like Employ Diversity and WITI4Hire to help attract more diverse talent.

Additionally, make sure to pay close attention to the language in your job descriptions to avoid unconscious bias in word choice, so as not to alienate certain demographics.

3. Get some young blood into your company.

When company leaders are unwilling to evolve to accommodate younger employees, they risk falling behind.

Joey Price is the CEO of Jumpstart:HR in Baltimore, an HR outsourcing and consulting company. He told me that one of his recent client companies had had senior leaders who struggled with adapting their organization to a mobile and remote workforce, a culture many of their young pofessionals preferred.

“If your best and brightest young professionals are walking away from your organization, it's not because they can't perform,” Price said. “They just don't feel you'll let them.”

In this context, the 2017 State of Diversity Report by team collaboration and productivity software company Atlassian surveyed more than 1,400 U.S. tech workers; it found that 19 percent of those respondents said their company had made no improvements in age diversity in recent years.

That's a concern, Price acknowledged, advising: “Bridge the gap in your organization and create opportunities for high-potential, high-performing youngsters." That type of mood, he said, will "influence leadership at your organization and you'll have a truly productive and diverse workforce.

"If there are no millennials or younger people at the company," Price said, "that large portion of the population will be tough to reach."

So, make sure that doesn't happen to your company: Appeal to millennials by calling out benefits they care about in your job ads. Include examples of impactful work they will do. Describe opportunities for work-life balance and philanthropic efforts within the organization.

4. Do "the meeting test."

“The need for gender diversity is palpable in meeting rooms and board rooms across the globe, but what gets less attention is the need for socio-economic and cultural diversity,” Lorna Borenstein, CEO and Founder of Grokker in San Jose, Calif., told me.

She said she recommends what she calls the "meeting room roll-call test": "Look around the room during important meetings where decisions are made, and take note of the group's diversity," Borenstein explained. "If all the faces are the same, it’s time to infuse some diversity into the decision-making process."

She said this method proved useful to her personally when she worked on a campaign for a Canadian market. “When I was arguing for the product-management resources [staff] to change the language to Canadian English, everyone in the room was American born and bred, and there was a fair amount of joking about just how important this could really be,” she said.

But Borenstein had the last laugh: The move her colleagues had scoffed at ended up contributing to a jump in sales.

5. Have an inclusive culture.

Hiring for diversity is not enough. If tyour company lacks an inclusive culture,  it won’t be long before diverse employees leave the company.

Steve Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps in San Francisco, told me he once worked at a company where all the executives except one were white men.

The sole woman on the sales team confided to him that she regularly felt like an outsider. Not only was the culture aggressive, but even the accounts she was assigned were sub-par. These companies led to her leaving the company for a more inclusive culture.

“If the company had had a more diverse leadership team, where women's and other voices could be heard, the organization would have had a far more welcoming culture,” Benson said. “Having a balance of diverse perspectives on a leadership team is one of the most important things a company can do.”

In fact, only 19 percent of employees surveyed in the Atlassian report said their company had an inclusive culture. So, companies need to lead by example, establishing formal programs to educate employees of all levels about the importance of diversity and to develop strategies for dealing with issues when they arise. Employees also have to feel comfortable reporting biases. And those biases need to be addressed.

Related: 5 Tips for Dealing Better with Workplace Diversity

So, don't be like Uber: Make the effort to ensure yours is an inclusive culture -- one that can sttract, hire and retain diverse employees.
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