After extensive experience in corporate and international businesses including Cartier, Bausch & Lomb’s Ray-Ban and General Mills, Susan Lucas-Conwell was brought on as the CEO for Great Place to Work, which is known globally for its list of the best companies to work for.
Lucas-Conwell identifies the characteristics of companies that perennially find themselves at the top of the list, and discusses what role diversity and inclusion can play in fostering an environment where all workers feel comfortable.
You’ve had much experience working in corporate America. What are the keys to creating a “great place to work”?
I would say first, it’s the belief in the value in creating a workplace culture that fosters business success. Tending to workplace culture needs to be as central to business strategy as product development or marketing, since it is the workplace culture that facilitates innovation, talent acquisition and retention, client satisfaction and more. Second, I would say it is essential that leaders “walk the talk.” What do I mean by that? I mean that executives exercise the organization’s values and model the behaviors they would like managers and employees to embody.
Great workplaces also recognize the value and contribution of every employee, regardless of role. They find ways to connect the work of all employees to the organization’s strategic objectives, and recognize and reward employees for their contribution toward company goals. All of these behaviors help to create trusting relationships, and high levels of trust between employees and managers is the single most essential characteristic uniformly exhibited in great workplace cultures.
What role does diversity and inclusion play in workplace culture?
The very best companies to work for understand the role of diversity and inclusion in creating a great workplace and achieving organizational goals. We’ve seen many companies put extraordinary effort to align their employee population and management with current demographics. We recently did an analysis of the 100 Best Companies to Work For over the past 10 years, and we saw the number of companies with more than 30 percent of managers coming from diverse populations increase from only four companies in 2002 to 29 companies in 2012. These organizations believe that a diversity of perspectives and opinions is key to innovation and understanding the marketplace.
What solutions would you recommend if a company is struggling to foster diversity in the workplace?
I think there are actually two separate questions here, one about fostering diversity and another about fostering inclusion. Fostering diversity is the simpler of the two. To foster diversity, an organization needs to intentionally recruit from sources of diverse job candidates, and we see many of the best companies already doing this.
Inclusion is another matter, and that’s where it gets complicated, but it’s also where we see great workplaces really excel as well. They offer strong on-boarding, mentoring and training programs to ensure that their diverse employees are set up to succeed. And they offer robust networks and affinity groups for diverse employees to support each other and share their cultures with fellow employees. So many of the 100 Best Companies — American Express, Darden Restaurants and Qualcomm come to mind — take extraordinary efforts to foster inclusion, and this is what makes their diversity efforts a success.
Much of the philosophy of Great Place to Work seems centered on trust. How do you promote trust in an organization?
Trust-based relationships are at the core of every great workplace. Our Great Place to Work Model offers a framework of trust-building behaviors. Many of the behaviors I outlined earlier help management to appear credible. Credible leaders keep employees apprised of important issues and changes, and avoid micromanaging. In addition to credibility, we focus on respect. Treating employees with respect means recognizing that employees are people who have lives outside of the workplace. Respect also entails providing the resources, including a physically and psychologically healthy environment, that allow employees to thrive. Finally, treat people fairly; do not play favorites, ensure that promotions go to those who best deserve them, and pay employees a fair share of the company profits. In concept, it is actually quite simple. The challenge is in the practice.
Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.