Companies not walking the walk when it comes to diversity, study says

Diversity of London
Companies still have a ways to go with diversity. ("diversity of london" (CC BY 2.0) by jonrawlinson)

Companies say they are making progress in diversity and inclusion (D&I), but a new study indicates otherwise.

When it comes to progress, 72% said “we have a strategy and are making progress” or “we’ve arrived,” according to the report by Allegis Group. Yet only 37% reported having diversity hiring goals, with just 31% saying fairness in compensation is a goal for their organization.

Likewise, only a small portion of respondents claimed D&I goals exist in other areas affecting the employee experience, including leadership and development nominations (11%), midlevel promotions (11%) and senior-level promotions (10%). 

When asked which D&I best practices their company has in place, 27% reported none, the leading response. This finding indicates no D&I best practices for employee resource groups, mentorship, training and awareness, sourcing and recruiting for diverse groups, and tracking diversity in employee pay and promotions.

The report’s issuer, Allegis, says it walks the walk. “We’re achieving our priorities for boosting the presence of underrepresented minorities, and close to half of our new hires are females,” said Tanya Axenson, vice president for human resources. “We regularly communicate this emphasis to our network of companies and monitor progress, which over the years has made D&I a part of our culture.”

The way Allegis does this is by “fostering an inclusive environment, and vital to this is making sure all voices are heard,” Axenson said. “We reaffirm this commitment through activities, from employee councils that inform business strategy, to resource groups that bring diverse employees together.”

“It’s easy to talk the diversity talk, but most organizations unfortunately don’t go further than that,” said Brad Westveld, co-founder of executive search firm ON Partners. “You can’t donate your way to diversity. You need to build it into every facet of the hiring process.”

Awareness among the leadership team “is often the first critical step, ensuring top-down alignment on diversity initiatives,” Westveld said. “Encourage decision makers to look externally to other companies that have successfully built diverse teams as a benchmark. What are their best practices? How and where are they finding the best talent? And why are they winning here?”

Also, “Learn the barriers preventing your organization from finding diverse candidates for certain roles,” Westveld said. “Chances are, they’re artificial. For example, could someone who has managed a team of 250 be as effective as one who has managed 500? Could a multiregional manager with experience overseeing engineering teams in China and North America but not Europe be qualified to run a global, end-to-end team? You’ve drawn a line in the sand around certain criteria, but do you truly understand why those lines are there and if they’re needed?”

Today, “diversity and inclusion is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ it is a critical, strategic component to an organization’s ability to innovate, understand its customers, and maximize employee engagement,” said Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP. “It is essential to instill a culture of diversity and inclusion by hiring and training inclusive leaders.”

In order to enact change, “I believe we need to help each other, back each other, and build strong internal and external networks,” Wittenberg said. “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.”

To be truly innovative, “multiple, highly diverse perspectives are crucial,” said Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing and corporate strategy officer at Reduxio Systems. “At Reduxio, we place great value on a fundamental principle: that the best results come from an intellectually stimulating, collaborative environment with highly empowered teams with lots of autonomy.”

A holistic approach, “encompassing many viewpoints from a wide array of different educational and professional backgrounds, ages, countries of origin, and ethnicities, along with strong gender balance, engenders breakthrough thinking,” Grandinetti said. “The embrace of all ideas as additive and complementary is the key to this success.” 

“Our team is by design made up of people who embrace diversity and see the world differently,” said Patrick Bardsley, CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation. “Problem solving is approached with varying sets of eyes and viewpoints. The biggest threat to inclusivity in a workplace is the development of an us and them ethos, which unfortunately is ingrained in human nature. The process of 'othering' happens almost unconsciously, and it must be recognized and addressed immediately. There is no avoiding the fact that we are all different from one another, but instead of allowing preconceived misconceptions and stereotypes to direct our interactions, we choose to celebrate that difference and all that comes with it.”

Zenefits has launched a Round Table program that invites all employees to discuss “tough” topics such as #MeToo and sexual harassment. “We want employees to know that it’s relevant and we are taking it seriously,” said Beth Steinberg, chief people officer. “The more transparent and open you can be and seek to understand, the better off the company will be. People want to understand that you understand.”

The company also conducts employee engagement surveys. “This is a very valuable tool for companies to understand sentiment among employees,” Steinberg said. Zenefits slices and dices the data by gender, manager, etc., which may allow them to bring to the surface any trends that may occur with certain departments and leaders.

Zenefits has hired more female leaders, and Steinberg says that it has paid off. “It is a big step in making a company more inclusive and diverse,” she said. "If there’s a diverse leadership team, my experience is that it’s much easier to bring issues forward in a more balanced way."

“At LogMeIn, we see diversity and inclusion as essential to building a team with talent and flexibility,” said Amy Appleyard, vice president of sales. “In the last year, we’ve appointed a new leadership team that includes two established female executives as LogMeIn’s senior vice president chief of staff and our chief human resources officer. We are fully committed to further expanding our diversity within the company.”

LogMeIn also launched the LogHerIn initiative, “created specifically to amplify female culture within the company through education, leadership, networking and support,” Appleyard said. “Members of the LogHerIn initiative also participate in local and regional events, supporting a sense of community with opportunities for women to grow in their professional careers.”

Diversity “starts with creative recruiting,” said Ximena Hartsock, president of Phone2Action. “We have two major initiatives that foster a diverse workforce: a referral program that compensates employees financially if they bring in others, and a civic technology fellowship for 14- to 22-year-olds.”

To identify diverse fellows, “we partner with nonprofit organizations that serve minority students,” Hartsock said. “Phone2Action also brings more women into the STEM field by sponsoring school meetups and hackathons. Essentially, we look for candidates in unusual places and incentivize referrals because diverse employees bring in diverse friends.”