A recent study finds that while most HR pros believe corporate diversity is a valuable pursuit and important business strategy, a majority also have no plans in place to achieve more diversity where perhaps it matters most - among their company's executive leadership.
"The Changing Face at the Top," the arguably inaccurate title of a survey report by Epsen Fuller/IMD, reveals that although 78% of respondents say diversity is an important strategy and 14% even have a corporate diversity officer on staff, nearly half report there are no women in executive leadership at their companies and fewer than 10% have a C-suite position occupied by someone of an ethnic minority (see charts).
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 54% of U.S. companies have a workplace diversity policy (43% of respondents in the Epsen Fuller/IMD survey have one), most Epsen Fuller respondents (76.8%) have no plans to change the number of women or minorities in executive leadership.
This, despite only 12.9% of HR pros saying they believe the number of minorities in the C-suite will increase over the next three years. For women, the numbers are slightly more encouraging, as 31.3% say the number of women in executive boardrooms will increase in the next three years.
Tom Fuller, general managing partner at Epsen Fuller/IMD, says despite lagging diversity gains, employers are making an effort.
"There's no clear roadmap or something you can purchase out of a box [to achieve senior-level diversity], so companies are struggling with the best way to do that," Fuller says. "It requires a concerted effort on the part of senior managers, and with the day-to-day pressure to deliver results, their attention has become so short-term focused. Achieving senior-level diversity is a long-term initiative."
Women hindered by motherhood
At a time when taking extended leaves from the workforce is growing in popularity among working mothers, Fuller suggests the time away may be harming their chances of ascending to the C-suite.
"It's unrealistic to think that an individual - male or female - can take a multiyear hiatus from their career and then pick up where they left off. Their peers have passed them by. For that reason, it's difficult to find women who are qualified [for C-suite positions]," he says.
Fuller adds that the expansion of work-life benefits, such as "day care, concierge services and flexible hours are all great, but I'm not sure it really hits on how to increase diversity because it doesn't help women gain the breadth of experience that they may have given up due to family."
There is good news to be gleaned from the study, however, Fuller affirms.
"These results are a call to action to the HR community to demonstrate a business proposition for increasing diversity," he says. "A culture change needs to take place at the office of the CEO, and it's the HR exec's job to get the CEO on board by demonstrating the ROI of diversity.
"Often we talk about diversity in social terms," he continues, "but more companies are recognizing diversity as a business strategy - that diversity of culture, gender, thought and perspective creates a better decision-making process."
Improving such processes, Fuller says, can lead to higher profitability. "Everyone's claiming to be global, so they're selling to a diverse community of consumers. Being able to reflect that diversity in your management team can only help. Look at Google, Southwest Airlines, UPS. Those companies [make diversity a high priority] and look how successful they've been."
He says establishing internal mentoring programs and key relationships with women and minority professional organizations can make a difference for employees.
However, he cautions, "mentoring only works if you have diversity in your senior ranks, so that employees see they have role models in executive leadership."
Whatever the strategy, Fuller says HR pros can be the voice that asserts, "we're going to put a stake in the ground and diversify this senior management team."
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