It’s no secret that the technology market has a serious diversity problem. With more data and social equality movements, we see a broad and vocal demand to pay attention and act to change the vast inequalities in our community, offices and boardrooms.
We know this has been a hot topic in business for many years. Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) is now an everyday part of our vocabulary and there has emerged a new layer of D&I leadership – one that is seeing teams being trained on unconscious bias. There is a proliferation of new technology aimed at helping us solve the diversity “problem,” but even with all this investment we have yet to see meaningful change.
In 2017, we had the most female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500. It was a celebration (there were 32). By 2018, that number had fallen to 24. Today we are creeping back up, as of March 2019 there were 27 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 with much anticipation about the 28th.
Clearly what we’re doing isn’t working. If we use the Fortune 500 as our guide, we have had a glass half full approach, cheering the small victories that in fact have left us with over 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 led by men. Our desire to see change means that we are often spinning the truth to find improvement where there is none.
Indeed, early in 2019, MarketWatch looked at the decline in female CEOs since 2017. While representing a disappointing 5.6 per cent all Fortune500 CEOs, the report did find a silver lining – a “positive note”, as it were. They referenced a recent Challenger, Gray & Christmas report which found that “the number of women taking over CEO roles among U.S.-based companies nationwide in 2018 rose to 22 per cent from 18 per cent.”
We know that diversity isn’t just about gender, and we know that every step forward is a good one. But we need to take a closer look at when we start to take those steps to change the story. If we don’t, I fear that by the time 2030 rolls around we will have only seen tiny advances.
In recent years, we have seen more work in the community with companies supporting diversity. There is more community funding to support our kids as they grow up to become our future. This is a good step. “Boys will be boys” is a phrase that will become obsolete and future generations will have been taught to think differently. But that’s the long story and we can’t wait for those kids to grow up. This step-change needs to take place now.
Our responsibility is to build talent and to enable the positive cultural and financial impact of diversity. Legacy strategies like ticking the box or filling a quota won’t work. Ask any female CFO in the Valley, for instance, how often she is called for the next “best” opportunity, and then consider how many times she has simply filled the quota.
Leaders must pursue a more human approach, one that sews inclusion into the very fabric of the company culture and to every layer of the organization. This starts with graduate hiring and runs right through to executive appointments. Too often we see leaders look at their own backgrounds to hire a “mini me” and too often this limits the pool of candidates who can be developed into the leaders of the future. When you start by requiring a top five university or Ivy League graduate as a hiring prerequisite you have already lost.
A diversity agenda will only succeed when it is authentically pursued. When diversity is alive in your organization’s core values, it drives the company’s vision and actions. It permeates through the external brand and social media. It is reflected in the language of the job descriptions and the alignment that is created through the interview and selection process. Candidates look for purpose and vision from a potential employer, by demonstrating an inclusive culture where diversity is represented, respected and appreciated you pave the way for innovation and growth.
Awareness and acknowledgement are the first steps. Publish the numbers, set audacious goals for change and hold one another accountable. Recognize that this is a journey that we must all take. Call out the amazing and call out the unacceptable. By building new networks, training, coaching and mentoring we can encourage confidence and allow the under-represented to raise their hands and keep them raised. We will see progress by continuing to encourage participation from people of all corners of the talent pool, those who are stepping up and those who get to make the decisions.
All of this feels like common sense – include different perspectives, challenge the status quo, embrace ideas, be different – but the reality is that we are not there yet. The pursuit of authenticity, transparency and acknowledgment of the challenges faced by individuals of minority groups will allow this conversation to be out front. As that happens, companies will win by creating environments that celebrate the unique perspectives of people from different backgrounds. These diverse teams can create the foundations for product innovation and an inclusive culture, not just with regards to brand and reputation, but as a non-negotiable component of the DNA of a business.
What are your thoughts on how we can overcome the gender dilemma in boardrooms across the US? I’d be interest to hear your thoughts. Feel free to contact me at any time.