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How to Successfully Implement Diversity Initiatives

What I learned about the organizational challenge of spearheading diversity efforts at my organization and achieving meaningful change as a result.

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Diversity has emerged as an increasingly vital component to corporate culture, and rightly so, after decades of flying under the radar. Now, businesses that choose to avoid confronting the issue risk alienating both employees and customers; shying away from the topic not only draws immediate public scrutiny, it can also have devastating long-term consequences for even the most benevolent enterprise.

As companies increasingly announce pledges to improve diversity efforts, a stark difference is seen between publicly declaring a commitment and taking actual, substantial action. The latter presents great challenges, certainly, which can be a deterrent to fulfilling proclaimed objectives, but it’s vital.

Typically, failure to act occurs for one of two reasons: diversity may not be important enough to the company’s leadership team, so they put little or no effort behind achieving stated goals, or leadership faces challenges perceived as too burdensome. The first obstacle is one of mindset and may reflect a fundamental problem within a corporate culture. The second, however, is tactical and can be solved with a defined approach.

Five years ago, my company, PubMatic, debuted an annual Diversity & Inclusion Report that details our progress on prioritizing diversity and holding ourselves accountable. Released this summer, the latest report openly discusses our initiatives and accomplishments, as well as areas needing improvement. 

Related: The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion During Uncertain Times

In 2020, we outlined a concrete action plan to tackle areas where we as a company wanted to improve. This year, we tracked progress against those pillars, and I’m happy to report that we’ve made measurable strides. These have not been without challenges, however, and we still have much work to do to, but here are a few necessary ingredients I discovered along the way that are instrumental to true change:

Executive commitment

As a CEO, it’s imperative to earn sincere commitment (call it “buy-in”) from team leaders. Sustainable change requires teamwork beyond the daily bottom line; to drive meaningful change within the organization, team goals must be aligned, in word and deed, with individual executive goals. Diversity is not an initiative that I, as CEO (even in conjunction with the human resources department) can spearhead alone. But leaders must lead, especially through the most evolutionary shifts in corporate culture. So, once we ensured buy-in from upper management and department heads, we had the confidence and momentum to succeed.

Related: 4 Ways Diversity Is Directly Linked to Profitability

Champion internal stakeholders

Aside from executives, identifying and championing internal teams responsible for achieving desired goals — in this case diversity — is critically important. In 2020’s Diversity & Inclusion Report, for example, we made a financial commitment to those efforts, which required coordination with teams making purchasing decisions to ensure that there were funds earmarked and that they were deployed appropriately.  

Recruitment is another area where internal stakeholders play a crucial role. Hiring diverse talent is a skill that starts with fundamental human resource practices, and requires both the use of inclusive language and an understanding of the value-added proposition of a diverse team. So, we introduced manager training to address the potential impact of unconscious bias in the interview process. While the HR and recruitment teams were responsible for achieving diversity targets in hiring, achieving this goal required the active support and buy-in from each hiring manager across the organization.

Establish progress metrics 

Metrics must be built into any attempt at meaningful change in order to track progress and hold all accountable. Sometimes those metrics show lack of progress, and that’s equally important, as success is invariably rooted in acknowledging failure. 

This past year, we promoted women at higher rates, with female share of promotions exceeding overall representation by 5%, which helped drive greater gender diversity at senior levels, with female representation in senior management increasing by 3.5% year over year. However, we noted that representation was decreasing year over year within our technical teams, so knew that improving female representation therein was an important aspect to work on. Without such metrics, we’d be unable to track either progress or sluggish results, and so not know how to plan and allocate resources accordingly. 

Related: 10 Lessons About Failure That Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Be willing to pivot 

Leadership without adaptability and the willingness to embrace failed initiatives as opportunities is not true leadership. The Black Lives Matter movement, for example, spotlighted a need for PubMatic to focus more on racial diversity. This influenced our initially established objectives, and so we pivoted to make a more concerted effort to increase representation and inclusion. Without flexibility, adjusting targets mid-year would be difficult, if not impossible, but we were able to achieve progress in hiring more Black employees. We also, and openly, acknowledged shortcomings in these areas despite these concerted efforts. Accountability of this nature — internally and publicly — compels us to adapt by expanding opportunities for underrepresented populations in management and technical roles within the organization.

Driving change within an organization, no matter the focus, is challenging. Diversity is critically important to the function of an organization, and in the end is an initiative that must be organically planted and cultivated; it is the result of collective effort, and it is a leader’s job to structure initiatives with that in mind.   

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Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Rajeev Goel is co-founder and CEO of PubMatic. Under his leadership, PubMatic has grown and matured into a publicly traded enterprise with more than 600 employees and 14 offices around the world. Goel is a serial entrepreneur with experience navigating large enterprises.