Is there a new racial corporate culture? According to The Diversity Index: The Alarming Truth About Diversity in Corporate America…and What Can Be Done About It (2011, AMACOM, 978-0-8144-1649-5), there is. In the book, Susan E. Reed looks at Fortune 100 companies and discovers a barrier that has formed as white women have outpaced people of color and, along with white male executives, have wound up creating a persistent racial ceiling. And, according to The Diversity Index, the quest for global profits has created worldwide competition for the corporate suite, and U.S.-born minorities and whites are losing out.
Diversity, however has helped corporate America. Studies point to the fact that businesses with a strong commitment to diversity outperform their competitors. The book takes a look at firms that have attempted to create the perfect leadership mix. In it, Reed tells stories of executives of General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Merck, and PepsiCo. Ultimately, The Diversity Index formulates 10 steps that the most successful companies used to develop integration and empower their employees to develop new products and markets. Reed will be speaking at the 2013 Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity in Minneapolis in April. Here, she talks diversity with TNJ.com.
TNJ.com: Do you feel more companies are paying attention to the diversity issue?
Susan Reed: Companies are definitely paying more attention to diversity. Many want to expand their markets and are turning to their diverse employees to help them make inroads into specific communities and countries. Other organizations want to increase employee engagement and improve productivity. And there will always be companies that ignored diversity, wound up in legal trouble and are desperately seeking solutions.
TNJ.com: How can employees forge a diverse culture in the workplace?
SR: Employees can suggest ways for their employers to expand their businesses, increase worker engagement and avoid diversity-related lawsuits. But they have to understand how the business functions and tie their solutions to how new programs or procedures will enrich the company, not just cost more time and money. In addition, it is helpful to stand up for other groups, not just your own. CEOs get tired of employees who agitate only for themselves, instead of trying to move the whole organization forward.
TNJ.com: What is the biggest mistake companies make when addressing diversity issues?
SR: Some companies make a big effort to roll out diversity initiatives and then they stop trying because they think it has been solved. It is never “solved.” As we go down the diversity path, we find that new, unanticipated issues arise. For instance, most Fortune 100 companies have employee affinity groups to foster leadership development. Over the years, partly because of their high numbers, white women have tended to dominate the women’s groups, while men have tended to dominate the Latino, Asian, or African American groups. Women of color have seldom been able to rise in either group. In my study of executive officers of the Fortune 100, I found that women of color were the least represented. The solution is to create specific groups for women of color so that they can gain greater visibility for their contributions in the corporate world.
TNJ.com: What are three top reasons why diversity in corporate America is important?
SR: 1) Engagement—The human resources firm Mercer did a study that showed that employee engagement is dropping around the world. Workers are unmotivated, apathetic and considering leaving their jobs. Their primary non-pay related concerns were respected for the individual and quality leadership. Modern diversity training teaches employees and managers how to respect and value differences and establishes leadership training. People tend to develop an appreciation for leadership after they have tried, themselves, to lead; 2) Profit–The fastest economic growth is outside of the United States. If employees have already learned how to approach diversity in their own company, they will find it easier to understand significantly different cultures and practices; and 3) Ethics—Having a pro-diversity operation helps companies behave more responsibly because employees’ actions are grounded in respect and tolerance.
Click here for a related diversity article from The Network Journal magazine.