What’s the Key to Success in Diversity Management?

What's the one factor that determines whether your company's diversity efforts will succeed or fail?

By Luke Visconti

I was invited to speak at Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a division of WellPoint, No. 34 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. After I spoke, their President and CEO Mark Wagar talked about his business, specifically about the company’s customers and employees, and consistently and emotionally used the words “us,” “our” and “we.” There was no mention of “those people” or “them.” Mr. Wagar sees people as his brothers and sisters. Watch Wagar’s keynote at our DiversityInc Top 50 event.

He also spoke, with deep respect, of his community’s diversity and the need to focus on it—in the context of service.

Earlier in the year, I was invited to speak to the Wells Fargo Advisors (whose parent company, Wells Fargo & Co., is No. 33 in the DiversityInc Top 50). Their president and CEO, Danny Ludeman, closed out the event. Speaking to the audience of roughly 200 senior leaders, he asked how many of the (mostly white) men had attended an resource-group meeting; about one-third of the hands went up. Mr. Ludeman said: “The next time we meet, it had better be all of you.”

Point made. I’ll bet it will be.

Ten years ago, I did not see the consistency of switched-on leadership that I see today. More than half of Fortune 500 companies had no diversity efforts; today, I’d estimate that more than half do (even if a significant number of those company’s diversity efforts are little more than having tacos in the cafeteria on May 5). 

Recently, I was asked an interesting question. A senior executive of a firm at the top of our list asked me if I felt that the questions we ask on our survey end up directing the reality we measure. In other words, if we focus on management techniques like mentoring and employee-resource groups, isn’t that what we end up seeing in our numbers?

No doubt there is a trailing effect of those questions on decisions being made by companies just starting out on the path of managing diversity, but there’s a definite path.

The DiversityInc Top 50 survey has evolved over the past 12 years, but it is an evolution based on cause and effect. Our ability to measure outcome as expressed in human capital (there are other measurements of the outcome of corporate culture, but none as accurately and consistently measured by every company as human capital) has allowed us to ask questions about best practices. Given our enormous base of 587 participants, it enables us to see, by correlation, what works.

Management best practices, such as diversity councilsresource groups, structured mentoringgoal-setting and, most importantly,accountability, have statistically valid correlations to equitable outcome in accomplishment.

In other words, we’re not making this stuff up—we’re reporting data-driven results.

Our ability to accumulate the data—and disseminate it through our publicationevents and our benchmarking service—has certainly encouraged a direct path to the most rapid improvement for hundreds of companies. In turn, they have asked their suppliers for their diversity questions on RFPs and by tracking Tier II (subcontractor) supplier diversity.

So yes, there is a connection between the questions we ask and the reality we measure, but it is one created by the companies themselves. For example, the percentage of managers in mentoring and people in employee-resource groups has more than doubled in the past five years. Yes, we’re measuring both, but our measurement of those programs wouldn’t continue if there weren’t corresponding benefits. 

In my opinion, the most important best practice we measure is the percentage of CEO direct reports’ bonuses that is tied to diversity-management results. This has gone from 5 percent to 12.3 percent in the past five years. It’s not logical to think that this level of reward is because of our competition—it has increased because smart CEOs want to make sure they’re putting the spurs to their diversity efforts.

It is the personal commitment of those at the top of organizations that makes the success or failure of managing diversity.

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  • Couldn’t agree more. CEO involvement in diversity is where the rubber hits the road.

  • I believe your efforts with Diversity, Inc have had a major impact on diversity in corporate America. Your research has always been solid, timely, most appropriate, and compelling. If companies choose to follow and implement programs that closely match your findings, best practices, and guidance it is excellent. What I believe with my head and my heart is that you are helping change the culture to one that values the individual and her/his contribution to the bottom line. Changing the culture is the most difficult but if companies keep listening to “the white man” Luke Visconti we will make progress much faster than we have done with civil rights legislation. Keep up the good work and how about helping out with diversity in federal government?

  • I agree that sustainable cultural change should start at the top of organizations, particularly, when it come leadership in diversity. However, I just don’t see it happening very much among many mature U.S. corporations today. I can’t think of one industry where diversity representation is making significant gains compared to the management and compensation levels of mainstream America. These are the areas I would expect to see growth. In light of the economy and ultra conservative political views, which are shared by many heads of corporations, I believe that diversity efforts have taken a major hit, which is indicative of the consistent shedding of minority jobs and declining wages. Many of the organizations that still talk diversity has not funding any measurable efforts to create change in years! Very few devote long-term resources in cultivating diversity compared to finding ways to cut working class jobs, which impact potential diversity candidates the most. The “powers that be” heads continue to be stuck in the mud on matters of diversity and from my vantage point, (all be it limited) I see losses and very little diversity gains if any. It’s easy to provide lots of lip service when you don’t live with the pain.

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