3 Ways to Be a Diversity Role Model Don't look for a role model, become the role model your business deserves.

By Anka Wittenberg

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


What does it take to become an agent of change? To be a role model for others?

It starts by seeing a condition that must be changed, then feeling empowered and motivated to take action. In the case of diversity in the workplace, the evidence and conditions for action are abundantly clear -- especially in the technology industry.

A recent New York Times article stated that women make up only 20 percent of the total workforce in Silicon Valley and a December 2014 USA Today study that focused on leading Silicon Valley-based companies showed data supporting the fact that African Americans and Hispanics are vastly underemployed by tech companies, making up only 5 percent of the companies (versus 14 percent nationally). According to Leaders 2020, a recent global study by Oxford Economics and SAP, diversity has increased substantially among the general workforce over the past three years, but change has been slower to come to mid-level management, and even less evident among senior executives and corporate boards. Additionally, the same survey found that female executives and employees are less optimistic about the state of diversity programs, and are less likely to say their company fills roles from within.

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So what's the setback, and how do we motivate more people to change?

It starts by understanding the value of embracing diversity. In 2016, a commitment to diversity and inclusion is much more than a cultural "nice to have" -- it is a must-have. Driving diversity and gender equality in the workforce are business and economic imperatives. According to McKinsey & Company, diversity can increase economic performance by as much as 2.2 times for profitability and two times stock valuation. Additionally, according to the American Sociological Association, companies with the highest rate of racial diversity brought in nearly 15 times more sales revenue on average than those with the lowest levels.

So, despite the obvious benefits of diversity, why is bias (conscious or unconscious) still widely prevalent? One reason seems to be that inequity, while sometimes unintentional, tends to be the result of biases and stereotypes that have been built up over long periods time -- and left unidentified or corrected, have sadly become "business as usual."

Related: Be a Role Model, Not a Dictator

Moving your business beyond bias is a strategic component to any organization's ability to innovate, understand its customers, outperform the competition and maximize employee productivity. In the technology arena, where the pace of innovation separates the winners from the losers, a greater variety of insights and experiences is needed to create a more compelling climate for new ideas. Thus, diversity and inclusion is even more critical.

While some companies, like SAP, have made (and are actively working to achieve) commitments to increase the percentage of women in management, it is just one step in the journey to reduce bias and reach greater equality in the workplace. Instead of taking the backseat waiting for someone to make a change, I challenge my colleagues in any role, at any company, to be their own agent for change. In other words, don't wait to see a role model, be a role model.

Here are three things you can do today to make your company a better place for all who are underrepresented today…and in the future.

1. Recognize unconscious bias.

Building an equality-based workforce starts by understanding the concept of unconscious bias. We all have unconscious biases based on who we are, our experiences, and how we see the world. It's a natural part of human psychology. There are differences as humans that we see in each other, and we need to understand and embrace those differences, regardless of background. My advice for companies is to strive to create a "judgment-free" environment where all employees can be transparent and acknowledge their biases, which in the end will help everyone. Understanding that a difference exists is the first step to achieving real change.

2. Band together.

Establish and/or join employee network groups at your company -- and band together. I strongly believe that in order to make real change, we need to help each other, to back each other, and to network. By discussing experiences, sharing best-practices and building relationships, we can build a stronger sense of community, better educate others, and help influence decision-makers. Don't over think it -- consider creating an information-sharing meeting at lunch or over coffee or, if you work for a global company, perhaps host a conference call open to interested parties. For example, at SAP we host a monthly, "Women's Professional Growth" webcast series which, to date, has reached close to 10,000 people in more than 40 countries. This has helped our employees, no matter their location, to benefit from leading experts, share and listen to inspirational stories -- and feel more connected to colleagues around the globe who are often facing similar challenges and obstacles. The series has become so popular, that we now open it to our customers on a quarterly basis.

Related: 4 Great Non-Business Role Models for Entrepreneurs

3. Don't strive for diversity, focus on inclusion.

Many companies think about diversity in terms of the end results -- or even in terms of quotas and percentages. While it can be beneficial to set goals, perhaps a better way to describe a true bias-free, equality-based effort is to focus on inclusion. Diversity is not possible without inclusion; it's a necessary action to achieve an end result. Creating an inclusive culture is critical to making your company both a successful company and a great a place to work. At SAP, we're committed not only to the principles that underlie this culture, but to the day-to-day practices that bring it to life.

Being the first to act can be a hard road… but a great opportunity to pave the way for others. But no one gets anywhere without action. Waiting for someone else to act is not the path forward when it comes to reducing bias and improving equality in the workplace. We need to take the lead and set the example for the next generations to come. So here's to being the role model.

Wavy Line
Anka Wittenberg

Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP

Anka Wittenberg, inspired by purposeful leadership, is Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at SAP. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter at @WittenbergAnka.

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