July Corporate Executive Series Program Recap


Setting the Tone from the Top: Diversity and Inclusion as a Strategic Imperative

On Wednesday morning, July 18, local business leaders gathered for a moderated panel discussion on the hot topic of diversity and inclusion. While this subject has been raised numerous times in various ways in the past, it was apparent by the packed ballroom early on a summer morning that there is substantial and renewed interest at this juncture.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, rapid demographic shifts nationally and locally, the influx of millennials in the workforce and broader socio-political discourse, diversity and inclusion has risen to new prominence amongst the prevailing strategic imperatives for business leaders across all industry sectors. In fact, the dialogue around diversity and inclusion has shifted markedly from the historic focus on numbers and checking boxes to crafting genuine, authentic and comprehensive diversity and inclusion plans to impact bottom-line growth and drive innovation in a competitive business landscape.

This broad shift away from the “why” in the realm of diversity and inclusion is supported by compelling data. In January of this year, a leading global consulting firm released its updated study on the impact of diversity on growth and innovation in business, surveying over 1,000 companies from 12 countries worldwide. They determined, among other findings, that companies in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. They also found a statistically significant correlation between diverse leadership and the financial performance of a company. Moreover, over a three-year period, diverse companies saw 2.3 times greater cash flow per employee than their non-diverse peers.

These results are supported by a similar study published by another renown international consulting firm earlier this year, which determined that racially diverse teams outperform their non-diverse competitors by 35 percent. Similarly, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovators in their field. Finally, it is statistically proven that the desire for increased diversity is here to stay, since 57 percent of employees think their companies should be more diverse and 83 percent of millennials are actively engaged in promoting inclusive work cultures; within 10 years, these millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce nationwide. It is this reality that is driving forward-thinking business leaders to assess how to embrace diversity in a way to drive profitability and retain top talent.

With this background, our illustrious panel, featuring Todd Dutkin, CEO of Fresca Foods, Lu Cordova, CEO of CTEK, and Barbara Baumann, president of Cross Creek Energy Corporation, focused on providing the audience with concrete, proscriptive, scalable action items to further their own diversity and inclusion plans. Our panel advised that all organizations come to focus on diversity, in some fashion, out of necessity, whether as a result of searching for a stable, skilled workforce, to meet customers’ desires or to prevent the demise of your own business.

Our panel further indicated that recognition and self-awareness of the diversity driver or hurdle (as the case may be) for your own organization is the first step in crafting an authentic and sustainable diversity initiative. While some organizations use objective standards to measure progress toward stated diversity goals, our panel suggested that codifying a set of core values that permeates all facets of the organization and drives decision-making processes would more successfully guide an organization toward its diversity goals. This authenticity would also resonate with customers and service providers of the organization to amplify the progress and growth. In fact, our panelists suggested that leaning into that mission-driven philosophy not only drives revenue growth but attracts and retains top talent in a competitive market.

It is also obvious to business owners and operators that simply hiring diverse employees does not mean you have achieved a diverse workplace. Rather, our panel warned if the workplace itself is not adequately prepared to embrace the changing workforce, then those employees who have just joined will quickly find new places to work that are more welcoming. This speaks to the truism that “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to dance.”

It is essential then that organizations adequately train and prepare current employees and management to welcome the new diverse members. This can be accomplished by having current board members or senior management assess their personality types and biases to better understand how their instincts, actions and speech are perceived by others and how to appropriately modulate their behavior to achieve enhanced sensitivity and awareness. Alternatively, management should be encouraged to cultivate their own sounding boards to continually identify and consider their own biases and blind spots. Further, organizational consultants can be hired to assist in this transitional period and to facilitate bi-directional onboarding.

More broadly, minor modifications can and should be incorporated into all workplaces to enhance inclusivity, including expanding the list of recognized and celebrated holidays, extending bathroom stalls to run from the floor to the ceiling, adjusting the temperature of your office to ensure all employees are comfortable, hanging posters throughout the office to describe how employees can contribute to an inclusive workplace and ensuring your office decorations and reading materials in public areas promote your core values and represent diverse viewpoints.

Above all else, the panel and associated discussion pointed out that there are numerous subtle and inexpensive yet profoundly impactful ways unique to each and every business that will foster a diverse and inclusive environment that is certain to attract top talent and drive bottom-line growth and innovation.