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Are There Only White Men At Your Leadership Meetings? If So, Your Business Is In Trouble

08/02/2018 02:32 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2018
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By Zander Lurie, CEO, SurveyMonkey

“Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John.” Headlines like these are shameful and frustrating and raise the question, “What more can I do as a leader?” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) issues aren’t just about personal ethics or best practices for your human resources group. Building a diverse and inclusive team is a foundational element to running a strong organization.

The math here isn’t difficult: Together, women and minorities make up more than half of the workforce. If they don’t feel welcome at your company, you have a big problem. Not only will you miss out on insights and perspectives from employees who feel like they don’t have voices, but you’ll eventually lose top talent across the board, too. In one of the tightest labor markets in history, people will find better places to dedicate their time and experience.

In a SurveyMonkey poll of U.S. workers conducted this past April, 70 percent of white employees felt that their opinions were valued at work. Only 58 percent of black employees felt the same. When participants from the same study were asked whether they thought promotions at their companies were fair, 54 percent of men said yes, but only 44 percent of women concurred.

It’s become obvious to most leaders that diverse teams perform better financially, as well. According to McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians. Less diverse companies have significantly lower returns. It turns out, it’s pretty difficult for a predominantly white male team to market a product or service without knowing what the rest of humanity wants.

Building Diversity Starts With Measuring Inclusion

Hiring people from underrepresented groups is great, but your organization will only reap the benefits if those employees feel truly welcomed and empowered at work. Having diverse viewpoints isn’t valuable if they aren’t shared and acted upon. The I part of “D&I” is just as important as the D, and much more consistently neglected.

Of course, “having an inclusive culture” can feel pretty subjective. In an effort to address that, we recently teamed up with Paradigm to develop a Belonging and Inclusion survey that helps companies create more inclusive cultures. Based on Stanford University research in behavioral science, this survey is an easy tool for every CEO and HR team to use in order to examine belonging and inclusion in a data-driven way. Paradigm’s Joelle Emerson said it well when sharing why we created this template: “I can’t tell you how often I hear people say, ‘You can measure diversity, but you can’t measure inclusion.’ Yes you can!”

I’m applying these lessons myself, too. I’m excited to be part of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion group with more than 450 other company leaders committed to advancing workplace diversity. I know that together we can make a difference by seeking employee feedback and making data-driven decisions about the goals we need to set and the actions we need to take.

I believe that good leaders should treat D&I goals with the same urgency as they do sales goals. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Diversity fosters curiosity, which in turn drives innovation. A team made up of people with different cultural heritages, life experiences and points of view will learn more and innovate more. Already, over 40 percent of millennial workers are concerned about how their questions will be perceived in a workplace. A more diverse, inclusive environment will empower employees to be more curious, feel comfortable challenging the status quo and, ultimately, disrupt industries.

  • Diverse leaders pay it forward by hiring, mentoring and preparing more diverse groups of future leaders. Your board and/or management is probably getting asked some pointed questions by investors, such as, “Why is this company’s leadership not representative of its customer base, company values or employee community?” So, ask yourself, “Who do we employ? Who do we promote? Are we treating our employees fairly?” The truth will set you free!

In our survey with Vanity Fair’s Hive and theSkimm, 66 percent of millennials said that they believe women have fewer promotion opportunities than men. One way to address that is by elevating more women into leadership roles. That way, they can act as mentors for the next generation, creating a ripple effect to help underrepresented groups get ahead in their careers. I am proud that we were able to attract change agents like Serena Williams and Sue Decker to our board last year, putting SurveyMonkey on the list of companies with the most diverse boards. We’re currently collaborating on initiatives around gender equality that really resonate in the business community.

  • Diverse leaders can help drive better engagement and decrease attrition. Leaders with unique backgrounds will be conscious of unique needs. For example, women in leadership might create better parental leave policies, and leaders with international backgrounds might be more attentive to time differences when scheduling mandatory global conference calls. Also, seeing people from different backgrounds in powerful positions can inspire employees to stay longer at an organization and strive for more responsibility or promotions.

  • Diverse teams are better equipped to really hear their customers. Curious leaders who listen to the diverse range of voices of their customers and employees are innovating, executing and winning faster than ever. Why did our new TV ad not resonate with our customers? Why is one product selling much better than another? These are the kinds of questions that diverse perspectives can often shed important light on.

Some companies are even demanding more diverse teams from their third-party vendors and agencies, in order to get better context and insights about public reception. A more diverse team has a much better chance of not missing critical opportunities, as well as making the right calls about potentially sensitive decisions.

Fixing problems starts with acknowledging them. Companies need to take an honest audit of their D&I efforts, and then make positive changes. For example, testing our new Belonging and Inclusion survey internally at SurveyMonkey wasn’t just an attempt to confirm the template’s validity. It was our first look beyond our diversity numbers in an effort to measure the lived experiences of our employees. While some of our results were very positive, we also uncovered several key areas for improvement that we’ve been working to address — from providing our employees with further clarity around resolutions when they’ve escalated concerns, to offering additional tools and opportunity for career growth.

There is a lot of positive change happening — from Amazon’s and Facebook’s commitment to adopting the “Rooney Rule” for their board appointments, to a wave of curious and strong female leaders getting promoted for the right reasons across industries, from venture capital to beauty. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do. Make the changes before another company capitalizes on your missteps.

CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion was spearheaded by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan.

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