In our 10 years of providing a standardized measurement of diversity-management practices and outcomes, we've been able to see how "diversity" is much more than a simple management practice. It's a value—supported, nurtured and enforced by the CEO.
The CEOs I've met—mostly white men—have had an epiphany about people. They personally see the connection between equity and quality, profitability and sustainability.
There are huge differences between CEOs and industries. Consider the chain of shortcuts, errors and public-relations disasters that BP has committed as the worst environmental disaster to hit our country unfolded. Not one oil company, including BP, has ever made the DiversityInc Top 50 list. Also consider the subprime-mortgage crisis, which destroyed more household wealth in Black and Latino families than any other factor—and the stinginess of Wall Street companies such as Goldman Sachs, which profited from this disaster but whose philanthropic spend was 1 percent of the average DiversityInc Top 50 company (relative to gross revenue) in 2008.
Good leadership sets quite a different tone. Consider this quote:
"No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."
Admiral Michael Mullen said this in a Congressional hearing about ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy (DADT). The clarity and simplicity of his statement paved the way for President Obama setting a timetable for the end of DADT—and Congress almost immediately passing its repeal. It's not a done deal yet, but we have definitive direction.
Expressing diversity values requires a very personal approach. I'll never forget AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson at our March 2010 event discussing his first real experience with race at Oklahoma University. This isn't an easy thing for a leader to do, but it creates the environment for progress.
Firm leadership builds cultures that treat differences as assets and purposefully manage equity. This is the same process that makes an organization more finely tuned to ideas and concepts that maximize responsible market behavior and avert disaster. Forceful leaders create organizations that turn differences into assets, values into accomplishments, and they measure the results. Leaders who mean what they say hold people accountable for upholding organizational values. They are not afraid to stand up and be measured in a competition like the DiversityInc Top 50—even if they know they're not quite ready to make the list. They create organizations where you want to work and companies you want to do business with. They treat their communities with respect and build rather than use.
The following article will give you clear metrics on the state of the art in diversity management. But please keep in mind that it is leadership that sets the pace and is responsible for aligning values with practices: