“Well, it’s a start.” That was my immediate reaction to the Business Roundtable’s recent statement on the purpose of a corporation. The document, released on August 19th, 2019, asserts that corporations should do more than simply serve the interests of their shareholders—they should also invest in employees, protect the environment, and treat their suppliers fairly and ethically.
That’s a big shift, considering the Roundtable had previously argued that a corporation’s only responsibility was to its shareholders. Analysts have theorized that the Roundtable’s updated position is in response to what the New York Times called “mounting global discontent” with income disparity, harmful products and poor working conditions.
Whatever the impetus, the statement is meaningful because it was signed by nearly 200 CEOs, most of them leaders of global firms. What particularly caught my eye was the second of five bullet points, which focused on investing in employees. Here’s the last sentence of that paragraph:
“We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”
At last! A very public affirmation that diversity matters, and that inclusion is a worthy pursuit! Granted, right now the whole document sparkles with what my journalism mentor used to call “glittering generalities.” Critics (and some politicians) have rightly noted that the statement is meaningless if it isn’t backed by action. But to be fair, the Roundtable has promised that action plans are indeed forthcoming. Because I believe that inclusion starts at the top (after all, there are some things that only leaders can do), I’m cheered by the fact that changes are in the works.
In the meantime, here are my—unsolicited—suggestions for how to make sure your organization consistently inspires diversity and inclusion from the top:Make Diversity and Inclusion a Priority
A recent study by the executive search firm Russell Reynolds found that top diversity officers working in the S&P 500 feel they don’t get the resources they need and that diversity initiatives are last on the list of eight potential corporate priorities. That’s a big disconnect from its second-place ranking on the Roundtable’s statement. If leaders are serious about inclusion, the entire organization needs to understand that it’s a high priority and not merely window dressing.Establish Metrics to Track Progress
As long as diversity and inclusion (and particularly the latter) are perceived as touchy-feely, progress will be hard. But they shouldn’t be, because they aren’t. In fact, diversity and inclusion can be tangibly measured. For example, leaders can set targets for the representation they’d like to see at all levels, and they can ask that turnover, employee engagement, and other indicators of inclusion be measured. We don’t rely on anecdotal data in any other facet of business. Why should we when it comes to diversity and inclusion?Set Standards by Holding Everyone Accountable
y el corraMetrics and targets won’t matter if no one is responsible for meeting them. From front-line supervisors to the C-suite, leaders at every level should be accountable for meeting targets. And the accountability should be public. No, I’m not suggesting that companies publicly shame managers who miss their goals. But I am suggesting that diversity and inclusion metrics be included in the annual report, be published online and be distributed to all employees. Transparency is a hallmark of inclusion, which is one reason why Google and Microsoft are among the companies that publish their inclusion goals and metrics.If Leaders (and Employees) Fail to Model Inclusivity, Don’t Give Them a Free Pass
No employee—no matter how big a star—should be allowed to behave in ways that are inconsistent with inclusion values. The op salesperson, for example, can’t be allowed to get away with racist jokes or sexual harassment. Nor should any leader be allowed to pass on mentoring others or otherwise sit out on initiatives that his or her peers are expected to support.Set the Example for Your Entire Organization
As long as we’re talking about not giving anyone a free pass, don’t let yourself off the hook, either. After all, if you don’t care about diversity and inclusion (or don’t seem to care about it), why should anyone else? As Kevin Johnson, president and CEO of Starbucks, observed in a Harvard Business Review article, “In order to make great progress [in diversity and inclusion], the CEO needs to take this on as one of those personal initiatives that they’re going to be involved with and personally drive.”When it Comes to Diversity and Inclusion, Leaders Can’t Just Talk the Talk…
They also need to walk the talk. Fortunately, there are many ways to do so. Some are simple and largely symbolic, like when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff marched with his employees at a women’s march. Others are more complex and help re-shape a business culture. One of the most profound ways to do so is to assemble a diverse team. That’s not always easy, but there are steps you can take to improve your odds of success. At Starbucks, Johnson refuses to fill leadership positions until he has a diverse slate of candidates to review. And Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck deliberately hires for what she calls “culture add,” not culture fit.A Leader’s Day-to-Day Actions Can Change Team Dynamics for the Better
As much as hiring matters, there are only so many positions to fill. Ultimately, then, a leader’s day-to-day interaction is the most powerful tool he or she has to set an example and drive change. I’m always looking for examples of what that looks like, and one comes to mind now:
At the Association for Talent Development’s annual conference last year, former President Obama talked about his decision-making process. He described meetings in which cabinet secretaries or other dignitaries sat around a large table, while staff members sat around the perimeter of the room. Obama had a habit of asking those staff members for their insights and opinions, on the theory that they might well tell him something he otherwise wouldn’t hear. In turn, the additional information could lead to a different—and maybe better—decision.
Consider, for a moment, how that sort of outreach from a leader changed the dynamic of those meetings. Now imagine how it could have changed the dynamic outside the meetings—I’m sure no one wanted to be unprepared if he asked a question. By itself, of course, that new, more holistic dynamic won’t get you to full inclusion. But can you think of a better way to start building momentum?
Learn more about inclusion with our new Global Inclusion Course.