Making the Executive Suite More Diverse

4/14/2015

In much of the developed world, countries’ populations are increasingly diverse, and companies in these countries are changing, too. But while many organizations have female, multi-generational and multi-racial workers at the bottom and middle levels, the top positions are normally quite homogenous.

However, even though there is still a “glass ceiling” blocking many women, young people, and religious and ethnic minorities from top spots in large companies, the glass is thinner than before. And at the rate the workforce is diversifying and that the college-educated population is more heterogeneous, soon we’ll be seeing many more diverse executives.

On the talent side, how can we promote an environment that encourages women, young people, and religious and ethnic minorities who already work in these companies to strive for the top? By fostering internal cultures that make them feel more valued and supported. The key to this is deliberately pushing diversity awareness and acceptance. 

This could mean changing a company’s mission statement to include diversity as a major point and dispersing the new statement to all employees and associates. Human Resources departments can give brief training sessions to employees about cultural competence and acceptance – for example, how to foster an environment of inclusiveness and how to handle differences among team members. And leaders should make it clear that open displays of prejudice, insensitive comments deliberate exclusion of certain groups will not be tolerated.

At the higher level, leaders need to make a conscious effort to bring more diversity to the executive ranks. Diversity in the boardroom has been linked to more innovation, smarter risk-taking, and greater shareholder and customer satisfaction. In order to do that, leaders should support diverse employees already in the company by giving them training and leadership guidance to help them ascend the ranks. Hiring managers should be advised of diversity efforts prior to the process of recruiting new talent.

Diversity is good for organizations, both internally and externally. Making sure a diverse group of employees makes it to the top is as important for those employees themselves as it is for the company as a whole.

Cheryl Williams