The business case for diversity is clear. Diversity can boost innovation and employee engagement, and companies with greater gender and racial diversity financially outperform their peers. Yet progress within organizations has been slow – there is still a lack of women and minorities in leadership positions, and certain industries like tech and finance are lacking diversity at all levels. And many diversity programs fail. Based on evidence that diversity initiatives are more effective if they start at the top, I interviewed 11 CEOs who have made a public commitment to diversity about how they are creating more diverse workforces.
The CEOs raised a variety of reasons for caring about diversity—the most common being that they believed greater diversity leads to greater diversity of thought, to the ability to attract and retain top talent, and to a better understanding of their customer base. Susan Wojcicki of YouTube said that diversity is necessary for preventing homogeneity, falling behind, and losing their competitive edge. And Marc Benioff of Salesforce said, “Diversity is an important part of our culture of equality. Our employees are telling us that they want to work for a company that cares about diversity, and it helps us recruit people whose values align to ours.”
Some of the programs the CEOs discussed include well-funded and executive-sponsored employee resource groups, women’s mentoring and leadership programs, cross-functional task forces, and equitable benefits. For example, Gap Inc. created a program called Women and Opportunity that aims to develop women for future leadership roles at Gap. Nearly 87% of their current female executives (versus 81% of the men) were promoted from within, and 18% of them got their start in a Gap store. YouTube offers paid parental leave to all of its employees as an effort to keep more women in tech. Staples requires its 35 senior vice presidents to sponsor high-potential female talent for leadership positions.
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