Executive Diversity and Women of Color

We have mentioned the lack of diversity in leadership positions before. The challenge is real and the results might surprise you. Per McKinsey, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.” With results like these, it’s easy to understand why you need executive diversity.

Knowing it matters and implementing a program are two different things. Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) efforts among respondents to the study barely increased over the prior two years, “…increased average gender representation on their executive teams only 2 percentage points, to 14%, and ethnic and cultural diversity by 1 percentage point, to 13%.” Not surprisingly, these companies aren’t sure how to adopt I&D practices to support their growth or value creation goals.

Harvard Business Review, (HBR) addressed this challenge head on in an article entitled, How Women of Color Get to Senior Management. The article looks at the results of research conducted with 23 women of color in mid-senior level roles. If you were not already aware, these women are a force in the U.S. economy. Per HBR, “They are projected to make up the majority of all women by 2060, which means they’ll also likely become the majority of the U.S. workforce. They also generate $1 trillion as consumers and $361 billion in revenue as entrepreneurs, launching companies at 4x the rate of all woman-owned businesses.”

The women in the study displayed four behaviors that helped them advance in their careers. The first is ambition. They wanted more senior roles so they could directly impact the goals and strategy of the organization. The second behavior is confidence. They believe in their ability to perform and handle different situations. They already saw themselves as leaders and were willing to take risks and be uncomfortable.

The third behavior they demonstrated is a bias for action. When presented with a management opportunity, they pursued it. They are willing to make decisions, sacrifices, and take on new challenges to increase their skill set. The final behavior they demonstrated is an understanding of the importance of great mentors. From advice and support, successful women of color are savvy at building key relationships.

These are behaviors that the women demonstrated, but their desire to become leaders must be supported by the company as well. Education is the first step. Many people don’t realize the number of types of challenges women face in the workplace. There are training courses available, and the organization must support an ongoing inclusion practice. A one time or even annual event is not enough to impact the culture. There is an accountability aspect to ensure the program is successful.

Another way for companies to support women of color is to set up sponsorship or mentorship programs. As the article notes, these programs should be safe places to discuss workplace biases. Discussing these issues can be uncomfortable but done properly can unlock potential in up and coming female managers and create a stronger bond between the employee and the company.

If you want to learn more about incorporating diversity into your leadership team, send us a note. At Sheer Velocity, our recruiters have helped clients understand diversity and its impact on culture and we can help you build a strong, dynamic, and diverse executive suite.