Diversity Initiatives Need to Start With the CEO

August 17, 2017

3:50 pm

A study by McKinsey and Company has found companies that have a diverse workforce are “35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

A survey by Stefanie Johnson, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, interviewed 11 CEOs who have made a public commitment to diversity and shared how it impacted the company.

Johnson said the CEOs raised a variety of reasons for the important of diversity and inclusion with “the most common being that they believed greater diversity leads to greater diversity of thought, [as well as] the ability to attract and retain top talent, and to a better understanding of their customer base.” The CEOs also recognized that a diverse workforce will “boost innovation and employee engagement.”

But for a diversity program to truly succeed, it has to come from the top, here are some advice and lessons learned from her interview with top CEOs.

Set the Example

Over 250 CEOs from major tech companies such as SaleForce, SurveyMonkey and Adobe to have come together to join the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative, a collective response to the documented harassment charges stemming from prejudices in the tech community.

Leading by example means for CEOs to make the commitment to change and execute a plan on how to best cultivate a welcoming, collaborative, and thriving environment for employees.

“A CEO’s actions, whether on or off the job, signal the extent to which diversity is valued. [For example,] David Cohen (Techstars) started the Techstars Foundation to promote diversity in entrepreneurship by funding women-led companies and projects that promote more women in tech,” Johnson said.

Stay Accountable

Saying you’ll implement diversity and inclusion initiatives is one thing, but measuring the impact and staying accountable to those goals is another.

“Indeed, research has shown that setting and following through on diversity goals is the most effective method for increasing underrepresentation of women and minorities,” Johnson said.

Diversity Throughout the Whole Company

As we’ve seen with other tech company diversity reports, you might see an impact in a few parts of the company, But to make an impact, CEOs need to build in a plan to spread this initiative throughout their company.

“CEOs talked about the importance of having diverse teams at all levels of the company – from the front lines to middle management to senior leadership,” Johnson said.

CEOs also learned that by taking action and having a diverse workforce helps attract and retain talent and their products began to appeal to a wider customer base, Johnson said.

Open Your Mind

The workforce is changing, and by having an inclusive environment for LGBTQ workers, veterans, and people with disabilities it will bring about a different perspective.

“The CEOs talked about realizing that equality is not just giving everyone the same things, but about giving people what they need,” Johnson said.

Provide Support

With any transition comes the need to support people and bring about awareness. The CEOs recognized that at work people need to feel safe. Johnson reported some of the CEOs instituted a non-discriminatory policy “that includes explicit protections and expanded definitions related to gender identity and expression, disability, citizenship, and ancestry.”

Johnson said, “Many of the leaders I interviewed have been recognized for addressing racial and gender diversity at their companies, but also issues faced by LGBTQ workers, veterans, and people with disabilities.”

The main take away from this survey was that a diversity program is great to have in place, but leadership, and specifically the CEO, needs to champion this change.

Read more about building a diverse team at TechCo

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Tishin is a technology journalist and correspondent. She has written for TechCrunch, Demand Studios and Fitness, and has regular network segments on local Phoenix affiliate stations. She holds a Master's degree in Clinical and Sport psychology, and has covered many areas of technology ranging from 3D printing and game development to neurotech and funding for over 15 years.