by Stefanie K. Johnson* – The Harvard Business Review
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.
About the Interviews
I wanted to select a diverse group of CEOs from a range of companies that varied by size and industry. I chose eleven CEOs: Art Peck (Gap Inc., retail), Shira Goodman (Staples, retail), Kevin Johnson (Starbucks, food services), Marc Benioff (Salesforce, software), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube, internet media), David Cohen (Techstars, startup accelerator), Bernard J. Tyson (Kaiser Permanente, healthcare), Omar Ishrak (Medtronic, medical technology), Sallie Krawcheck (Ellevest, investing), Kathryn Maher (Wikimedia, encyclopedia), John Rogers (Ariel Investments, financial services).
The structured interviews were conducted by me over the phone, Skype, or in person, between February and June 2017. I asked three questions: Why do you care about diversity? What have you done to promote diversity? What benefits have you seen from having a more diverse company? Interviews were recorded and professionally transcribed. I read the transcripts and looked for common themes in the data.
The idea to do this study and connections with some of the CEOs came from a presentation I gave at the 2016 Billie Jean King Leadership initiative symposium.
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.
My interviews with the CEOs highlighted four key lessons that other leaders should keep in mind when trying to make their organizations more diverse and inclusive.