HR Policies & Procedures

A New CEO Push for Diversity Success

Did you hear? Earlier this summer, 150 corporate executives from some of America’s largest companies formed a new alliance called CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. Armed with some serious workplace goals, this initiative became—essentially overnight—the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the business community.

It’s a big deal, observers agree, as the likes of Procter & Gamble, New York Life, Accenture, Deloitte U.S., KPMG, PwC and the Boston Consulting Group are among the companies that have joined the group and are steering the effort—and all of their leaders have pledged to take three wide-ranging actions in the near-term:

  • Cultivate workplaces that support open dialogue on complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.
  • Help close the gap around sharing and collaborating valuable experiences and lessons in order to advance this issue through a hub that lets companies publicly share best known actions across different areas of diversity.
  • Agree to introduce or expand unconscious bias training in their organizations.

All of this information gathering and sharing will go on through the website that the group is sponsoring at So far, it features more than 70 examples of the most effective efforts to date developed by companies to advance diversity and inclusion—including gender-equality programs and flexible work practices. Efforts can be searched by industry category.

Driving Diversity

What fueled the new coalition? Leaders have long recognized, of course, that an inherently diverse workforce can lend a competitive edge in terms of marketing goods

or services to diverse customers—or what’s known as “matching the market.” That said, a growing body of research also shows that an inherently diverse workforce can be a potent source of innovation and new market opportunities, as diverse individuals are better attuned to the unmet needs of consumers or clients like themselves.

In a 2016 report titled Maximizing the Gains and Minimizing the Pains of Diversity published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers from seven universities concluded that while diversity increases innovation, promotes higher quality decisions and enhances economic growth, the benefits of diversity aren’t often fully realized. This research is further supported by a new report this year from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a nonprofit think tank in New York, which found that when employees can discuss the topic of race relations at work, they feel significantly more included and that their ideas are heard and recognized.

Bottom line: Stronger business outcomes directly correlate with diverse teams and inclusive workplace environments.

At the same time, however, the CTI report also found that more than two out of three employees are currently uncomfortable discussing race relations, and 29 percent feel it’s never acceptable at their company to speak about experiences of race-based bias.

“We are living in a world of complex divisions and tensions that can have a significant impact on our work environment. Yet, it’s often the case that when we walk into our workplace—where we spend the majority of our time—we don’t openly address these topics,” says Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner of PwC and chair of the steering committee for CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. “CEOs across the country understand this isn’t a competitive issue, but a societal issue, and together we can raise the bar for the entire business community.”

The program’s steering committee plans to hold a summit meeting in November to underscore its commitment to help companies improve dialogue and opportunities for all of their workers.

Where to Start?

With such vast goals, where do companies begin? Most experts advise simply starting from the simple but fundamental understanding that there are different perspectives, each of them valuable, and work to explore and identify the range of barriers holding these individuals back. It’s at that point that organizations can then create inclusive plans and programs that offer options to help everyone find the path that’s right for where they are in their lives and careers.

“Diversity without inclusion is a story of missed opportunities,” believes Laura Sherbin, CFO and director of research at the CTI. It’s easy to measure diversity: It’s a simple matter of headcount. But how can you quantify a company’s level of inclusion? That’s a much tougher attribute to measure, she says.

To begin, let’s look at four “levers” that can turn the spigot wide open in helping to deliver a more inclusive workplace. Researchers at the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit think tank based in New York, believe that the C-suite must focus on framing these four kinds of leadership to bring about real change. The reason: CTI research described in the report, Innovation, Diversity and Market Growth, finds that employees with inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unlocked. Employees who are able to bring their whole selves to work are 42 percent less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. Those with sponsors are 62 percent more likely to have asked for and have received a promotion. And 69 percent of women who off-ramp would have stayed at their companies if they’d had flexible work options.

Here’s a description of the levers that drive inclusion, according to CTI CFO and director of research Laura Sherbin, who discussed the issues in a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review:

Inclusive leaders. This kind of leadership is a mix of six behaviors: ensuring that team members speak up and are heard; making it safe to propose novel ideas; empowering team members to make decisions; taking advice and implementing feedback; giving actionable feedback; and sharing credit for team success.

Authenticity. Everyone represses pieces of their persona in the workplace in some way, Sherbin says. But according to CTI data, 37 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics and 45 percent of Asians say they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style.

Networking and visibility. “For women and people of color, the key to rising above a playing field that remains stubbornly uneven is sponsorship,” she says. A sponsor is a senior-level leader who elevates their protégé’s visibility and advocates for key assignments and promotions for them. The bottom line is that having a sponsor increases the rate of career advancement; whereas lack of such mentorship increases the likelihood of quitting within a year.

Clear career paths. For women, LGBT individuals and people of color, the map to career success is unclear: 29 percent say their career’s unsatisfying and 23 percent feel stalled. LGBT individuals and people of color, too, struggle to name a simple solution to uncover a blocked career path, CTI research shows. Ironically, it’s usually the majority group that presumes to identify the reason these people aren’t advancing, which too often results in the problem being oversimplified, Sherbin concludes.