What Businesses Can Do About the Lack of Diversity in the Workplace

      Originally published in the Portland Business Journal

      Apr 19, 2018

      From Uber to now Nike, you can’t deny diversity issues in corporate America are front and center in today’s news and on the minds of every executive of every major company in the nation.

      Uber experienced an embarrassing meltdown of its founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, followed by a corporate undressing. Nike, on the other hand, appeared to be keeping things tight-lipped with the mysterious early retirements of two top executives, one of which was Trevor Edwards, widely seen as the likely successor to current CEO Mark Parker.

      Only later, Nike’s Chief Human Resource Officer Monique Matheson publicly announced the dismantling of Nike’s toxic “boys club” culture. Take note; Parker knows better than most how to handle these costly public relations fiascos. He has lived through some horrendous corporate scandals. From overseas sweat shops to Lance Armstrong, Michael Vick and Tiger Woods, Nike has lived and learned how best to negotiate stormy weather.

      We don’t have to be Nike to be affected by the same issues. After recently attending a solutions for diversity and inclusion event, I was disappointed by the rehashing of the problem and total lack of solutions presented by the panel of experts. As business owners and leaders, there are action items we can put in place to address and prevent toxic cultures from occurring.

      First, like Nike is implementing, it is important to have a leadership team that equally and fairly represents the community. Now, you may think this is simple or obvious and it is. For example, half the world’s population is women. Does your leadership team represent this? What about your board? Addressing this issue alone can set the tone for the rest of the business and its employees for years to come. Call it a trickle-down affect or not, but achieving executive diversity will immediately and dramatically change your company’s culture, top down.

      Get creative. Former CEO and corporate director at multiple public companies, Colleen Birdnow Brown says when it comes to director searches, “Broadening the scope beyond the traditional CEO and CFO backgrounds by recognizing the complexity and needs in the boardroom have grown and changed over time. For example, by considering CMO, CRO and CHRO positions, the number of female candidates can grow significantly.”

      Another key issue in equitable hiring is having people of color fairly represented in the workplace. Depending on the size, scope and location of your business, attracting and hiring candidates of color can vary. Large companies like Nike attract talent from all over the world and have a sincere obligation to equally represent their globally diverse customers and communities.

      A local business, on the other hand, faces different challenges. Sometimes they can’t expect to pull candidates regionally, let alone nationally or internationally. Setting hiring goals which fairly represent your community and customers is a good start. Holding hiring managers accountable for diversity recruitment within their ranks is actionable. This must be a company-wide initiative to be successful.

      Having trouble finding qualified diversity hires?

      You may have to invest in creative solutions. Whether it be college and or work experience, there may not be sufficient minority candidates to meet your hiring needs because they have not and will not have the opportunity unless you create it.

      Implementing diversity training programs for women and people of color, especially in skilled labor, is an incredibly successful way to invest in the future of your company’s culture and sustainability. This is especially applicable to tech companies. And if done correctly, you will have an unrivaled source of qualified candidates already loyal to your company.

      Lastly, perform a compensation analysis to confirm equal pay and create a culture of professionalism with zero tolerance for sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

      At the end of the day, awareness alone is not going to solve the problem. By taking actionable steps, we can all be a part of creating an equitable and inclusive future.

      Learn more about services at Cowen Partners.

      Cowen Partners supports executive leaders in the pursuit of exceptional talent. The company focuses on delivering stand-out candidates for executive and leadership positions across the country.

      Shawn Cole is an executive recruiter and co-founder of Cowen Partners, a national executive search and consulting firm.

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