Looking to Increase Diversity in Your Company?

You may have read newspaper or popular press articles that outline the benefits of diversity in organizations. The so-called “business case” for diversity states that adding minority members to executive boards and leadership teams improves the bottom line, delivering higher returns and leads to making better financial decisions. Some articles have even suggested that women on boards, a common focus of diversity programs in organizations, will out-perform their male counterparts.

However, many of these claims have been overblown, or are based on selective research. In fact, when we combine the years of research on diversity in executive level positions, particularly gender diversity, we find that adding women to boards has a net-zero impact on the bottom line. That is, increasing diversity doesn’t harm an organization financially, but neither does it provide a guaranteed boost to the bottom line.

That being said, we are still major proponents of increasing diversity at all levels of the organization. Here, we discuss how diversity really impacts the organization, and how to use succession planning to gain the true benefits of diversity in your company.

How Diversity Benefits Organizations

Although the argument that diversity on boards automatically improves the bottom line is largely unsupported, there are a number of benefits to increasing diversity. First, let’s clarify that when we discuss practices to improve diversity, we are referring to merit-based decisions that allow employees of all gender, races, or ethnicities opportunities to grow and thrive. This kind of increased diversity is often seen as more just and fair. In this kind of environment, employees strive for success, increasing their performance in the process, as they know decisions are based on performance, not extraneous factors.

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” – Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google 

This leads to the motivational nature of diversity. It can be confidence-building for employees to see a diverse leadership team. By distributing training and development resources, as well as promotions, among individuals of varied backgrounds, your employees will see that employment decisions are based on merit, not demographics, and that any talented or hard-working individual can access these opportunities. Further, by providing opportunities to employees of different backgrounds, your company also gains valuable leadership and insight from members who may have been overlooked in non-diversity focused program. The different experiences, backgrounds, and education can bring fresh new ideas to your company. Providing opportunities for all members of your team is beneficial for employees and the organization alike.

Finally, increasing diversity helps to balance the demographic characteristics with the characteristics of your customer base. It can improve your company’s public image to have your leadership team reflect the clients that it serves. It also makes it more likely that the experience and background of your leadership team is representative of your clients. This may help your team better connect with the people you serve.

How Succession Planning Can Increase Diversity

1. Add Objectivity

Companies who have struggled with increasing diversity in the past can use succession planning as a way to get them on the right path. We recommend using science-based assessments to introduce objectivity into your talent management process. Validated assessments can be introduced for hiring, as vetting for promotions, or to track the knowledge and skill development of employees over time.

In using objective measures, an effective succession planning process will put these results to good use by creating success profiles for the role you’re looking to replace. These profiles are created from evidence-based benchmarks of all the skills and abilities an individual would need to be successful in a given role. This shifts the focus from the individual as a person to the candidate’s qualifications for a position. Moving the lens from individuals to role fit is much less likely to produce bias that keeps minority groups from upper management and high-responsibility positions.

2. Reduce Bias

Further, succession planning is best conducted with the support of your entire senior management team. Together, your senior leaders make group decisions that are free from the personal biases of any one member. These biases are often unintentional and hard to avoid. One of the easiest ways to reduce the bias in your decision-making is to consult the opinions of trusted others, and a good succession plan will have collaborative decision-making built in to the process.

3. Focus Internally

Finally, succession planning allows you to internally address one of the major barriers to diversity. Some companies looking to increase the diversity of their leadership team have faced a shortage of interested and qualified candidates to choose from. This is rarely due to a lack of intelligent, hard-working individuals, and more often a case of unequal opportunity. Succession planning aims to develop your internal candidate pool by providing training and growth opportunities to staff members across the organization, including those who may be traditionally overlooked. A good succession plan will allow you to create a diverse leadership team from internal resources and candidates.

How SIGMA Can Help

Succession planning can be used to address many concerns most organizations face, from increasing diversity, to creating engagement, to reducing turnover. Learn more about our SIMPLE Succession Planning Process and all our great succession planning offerings. Contact us to learn more about how we can design a personalized succession plan for your company in just 30 days with our Succession Planning Launch Series.