Feeling Unwanted

Four other diversity leaders and I participated in an exclusive diversity roundtable session recently. We agreed that progress was painfully slow for female and minority representation on boards and in C-suite positions.

What puzzled us was most of the firms we worked with had very smart, competent senior executives — executives who are mostly white males. These executives have a history of solving problems. Give them a quality issue, they fix it. Give them a safety problem, they make it go away. Give them a product issue, they will resolve it. So why when it came to diversifying their senior ranks did these smart, competent men consistently come up short?

My colleagues and I concluded that maybe they don’t want more female or minority leaders; maybe they are happy maintaining the status quo. After all, what motivation do they have to change work environments where they are in a position of power?

Maybe those of us who have influence over the next generation of leaders should encourage bright females and minorities to forget about corporate America. Maybe they would be better served outside of corporate America — since they are not wanted — and pushed to pursue other careers or encouraged to become entrepreneurs so they can chart their own course.

But we concluded that was the equivalent of throwing in the towel, and we weren’t ready to give up. We came up with a short list for executives who want more females and minorities to assume leadership roles at their firms to consider:

Leader accountability: Your senior directors and vice presidents seed the next generation of leaders. If you don’t have a diverse pipeline, they aren’t aggressively identifying top diverse talent. But if they aren’t held accountable, their actions won’t change. If they don’t develop more female and minority leaders, hold their feet to the fire, slow their ascent and hold them accountable to ensure change.

Sponsorship programs: Executives must use their influence to advocate for up-and-coming females and high-potential minorities. Ironically, top executives often say they are uncomfortable with the sponsorship concept. Yet, my colleagues and I have seen these executives routinely sponsor white males. What they are uncomfortable with is sponsoring females and minorities. It’s time for more public endorsement of women and minorities, and it’s time to quit viewing such appointments as risky.

Allocate resources: Executives cannot claim that diversity and inclusion is a key component of their business strategy and a competitive advantage if they don’t allocate sufficient resources to diversity and inclusion efforts. Executives need to fund diversity programs and training. And, yes, you need a chief diversity officer. When executives talk up the importance of diversity yet don’t fund it, it breeds cynicism and sends a clear message that diversity isn’t really that important.??

Talent acquisition: There are several reasons why the recruiting departments in organizations that lack diversity at the top are woefully ill-equipped to bring in top diverse talent. First, there is often a lack of ethnic and racial diversity within recruiting. Second, they are too quick to say, “There aren’t enough diverse candidates who meet our requirements.”

Often they don’t know what recruiting messages resonate with diverse candidates, nor do they have relationships with diverse leaders in the community, resulting in a lack of ambassadors promoting their organization. Recruiting departments that say, “We’re doing the best we can” may not have a clue what the best diversity recruiting initiatives even look like. As long as recruiting departments are inadequate from a diversity perspective, firms will continue to be chronically short at building their diverse talent pipelines.

I encourage executives to use all their motivation, passion, influence and fortitude to push these and other diversity initiatives forward. Some corporate executives have done great things to promote diversity and inclusion, but not enough have fully embraced such efforts.

If they had, corporate America would be much farther on the path to C-suite representation that mirrors the economic contributions of women and minorities. Hopefully the reason is not because diversity is unwanted, but because they haven’t figured out how.

Robert Rodriguez is president of DRR Advisors LLC, a management and diversity consulting firm, and author of “Latino Talent.” He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.