The Corporate Diversity Dilemma?

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The Corporate Diversity Dilemma?

By: Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Bloomberg LP
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Monday, March 7, 2016 - 2:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Bloomberg: Philanthropy & Engagement

CONTENT: Blog

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Critics argue that corporate diversity and inclusion programs fail to make a real difference. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying.

I’ve built much of my career in diversity and inclusion around the idea that each of us has the power to make change happen. It's a belief I was raised on, and one I found reaffirmed throughout my first career as a banker, beginning with the diversity program that launched my 15 year career in the industry. My time in both professions has convinced me that there's no reason to stand back and criticize the status quo or resign ourselves to the way things are - which is why I find the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of corporate diversity and inclusion programs so frustrating.

It’s certainly true that not enough progress has been made: In 2015, just 14.2% of the top five leadership positions at S&P 500 companies were held by women. And a 2014 survey on corporate diversity found that people of color represented 12.1% of executive team members. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to change the picture: While most members of underrepresented groups understand that policies and training won't guarantee an inclusive environment, I know I would rather work for a company that's raising the issues and trying to address them, rather than ignoring them altogether.

Companies that ignore these issues risk losing the next generation of leaders. A recent Fortune article on black executives profiled several young professionals whose frustrations in the workplace led them to leave corporate America entirely. The broader demographics that feed the available talent pool are changing. If too many diverse young professionals choose to opt out of the corporate workforce, the dearth of talent will be devastating to the global economy.

So how do we do better? As the conversation around diversity and inclusion in the workplace continues to build, diverse individuals are sensitive to being hired or promoted to fulfil this new set of "goals." We need to emphasize that diversity and inclusion is not only about the numbers, race or gender - it's about authenticity and the benefits of bringing different perspectives to the decision-making and product-development process; and inclusion as it pertains to all employee engagement, productivity and retention.

Similarly, we need to help ease the duel-role burden many diverse professionals’ bear, acting in their “day job” and a second imposed role as the "gay executive" or "Latino leader" within the company. That starts with educating managers on how to be inclusive leaders and fostering a workplace environment that's conducive to understanding and valuing the different cultures, backgrounds, abilities and experiences our colleagues bring to bear. Too many people lack familiarity and real engagement with people of difference in their personal and professional lives. We need to challenge our leaders, our colleagues and ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, reach out to others and change that.

Finally, we need to hold ourselves accountable and treat diversity and inclusion like the business initiative it is. The best corporate programs have a clear strategy connected to clients and bottom-line results. And leadership is expected to deliver measurable results: retaining, promoting and recruiting top talent, and building an innovative, productive workforce.  There are consequences when management fails to meet business goals; there need to be consequences here, too.

An entire generation of leaders is at stake and we can't expect to attract and retain them if we don't at least try. Diversity and inclusion affects all of our organizations profoundly, a reality that has to be reflected in the way we nurture all talent and educate all employees. And as agents of change, senior leadership needs to be involved and bear some of that responsibility: No organization with the ambition to become – or remain – a global leader has the luxury of resigning themselves to the way things are.

Keywords: Diversity & Inclusion | Bloomberg | Corporate diversity | Erika Irish Brown | csr | inclusion | women

CAMPAIGN: Bloomberg: Philanthropy & Engagement

CONTENT: Blog

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