Of course it’s the right thing to do. But that’s just one of the reasons to do it.
Diversifying workforces by hiring women, people of color and other members of groups traditionally underrepresented in workplaces would seem fair. For generations, white men have vastly dominated offices, boardrooms, construction sites and executive suites.
But fairness isn’t the only motivation. Simply put, diversity is good for business, according to many employers among the Star Tribune’s 2018 Top Workplaces.
“We’ve moved beyond that ‘It’s the right thing to do’ thing — nobody says that anymore,” said Karin McCabe, outreach director at McGough Construction in Roseville, which placed on this year’s top midsize companies list. “There are plenty of statistics out there that show if you have a more diverse company as opposed to a homogenous company, you have more profits. So it’s a business decision.”
Christy Sovereign, senior managing director at 26th-ranked large company Accenture, agreed. The professional services firm has 1,600 employees in Minneapolis. “Diversity makes us stronger and smarter. Period.”
That’s because employees from a wider range of backgrounds can potentially generate a wider range of ideas. “Diverse [teams] are more creative and innovative,” said Christine Fruechte, CEO of Colle McVoy, a Minneapolis advertising agency and another top midsize employer. “Coming from a different perspective adds more depth to the conversation,” said Molly Weiss, senior director of human resources for 15th-ranked large company Mortenson in Minneapolis.
Employers who select candidates from all demographic groups also have the greatest opportunity to hire the most qualified people. As older employees retire and labor supplies tighten, companies can’t afford to exclude any qualified applicants. Meanwhile, companies with diverse workforces can connect better with diverse customers.
But diversifying is rarely as easy as sitting back and waiting for a flood of applications from women and minorities. Industries that have historically been predominantly white or male tend to attract fewer people who aren’t.
“As a kid, I didn’t think about becoming a financial adviser. A bunch of old white guys? It didn’t interest me,” said Cate Grinney, who is now a certified financial planner at No. 4 large employer Edward Jones.
Grinney is part of a companywide effort to recruit women and minorities and change that “old white guy” image. (Don’t despair, white guys. “We’re certainly focused on hiring white men, as well,” she said.)
Companies can proactively seek out diverse candidates and encourage them to consider their industries. Employers also hire diversity specialists, meet with students in high schools and colleges, host networking events, establish scholarships and offer training and mentorships.
Here are some other strategies that Minnesota’s Top Workplaces have been using.
Encourage employees to form groups of shared backgrounds.
These groups (sometimes called affinity groups or resource groups), organized either by the employees or the company itself, discuss common challenges.
“We host what we call conversations over coffee,” said Erryn Williams, director of human resources for Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies, a real estate and construction firm on our top midsize list. Then-CEO Pat Ryan (he’s now chairman of the board of directors) led meetings inspired by the MeToo movement, the national effort to fight sexual harassment and assault, to stress the importance of “a culture where everyone feels safe, welcomed and valued,” Williams said. Meanwhile, a men’s group has discussed how men can be allies and advocates for women.
“We have amazing men and they really want to be a part of this,” Williams said.
Raise awareness of bias and microaggressions.
Help employees recognize and avoid remarks that indirectly or unintentionally express bias. These include assumptions based on stereotypes (such as Asian-Americans are skilled with technology or that older people are not); interrupting or talking over people; focusing on cultural differences in clothing or hairstyles; greeting an African-American co-worker with “Yo, wassup?” and the like. The construction company Mortenson has provided training sessions (including homework!) for senior leaders and other employees, Weiss said.
“You can’t have a career at Mortenson without understanding unconscious biases,” she said. One important aspect of biases is that everyone holds them, she said. “Nobody needs to feel funny. I have unconscious bias, you have it. ... We don’t want anybody to feel targeted.”
Set hiring goals.
In fiscal year 2017, Edward Jones set a goal of hiring 1,000 women nationally and came close, making it to 950. For fiscal 2018, the company has set the goal at 1,140 women; so far, its hiring rate is running ahead of last year’s numbers.
They’ve done it through networking and recruiting events explaining that financial-advice jobs can be a great fit for women, including those who balance work and family, said Monica Giuseffi, the St. Louis-based company’s principal of inclusion and diversity. Women make up 19.3 percent of Edward Jones’ financial advisers, she said, in line with the national average of 16 to 19 percent. “We believe that reaching gender parity isn’t as far off as folks might think.”
Use blind applications.
McGough is among corporations that have been trying this, McCabe said. Hiring managers review applications that hide some of the applicants’ personal information so they can focus on skills without knowledge of demographic traits.
“A blind application eliminates name, address, year of graduation, school” and other clues to race, age or gender, she said. “If you have two very similar applications but one is Joe Clark and the other is an African-American name that you can’t pronounce, it’s going to be so much easier to call Joe. … It’s not purposeful, but that indeed is a bias.”
Flexibility lets employees adjust their work schedules to accommodate family responsibilities. For example, a requirement to show up for work by 6:30 a.m., common throughout the construction industry, effectively excludes parents (and more often women) who might, for example, need to drop off a child for school before going to work.
Offer parental (not just maternity) leave.
Many companies have instituted paid maternity-leave policies, in a well-intentioned effort to help women balance work and family. However, that “can actually have a counterproductive effect,” Accenture’s Sovereign pointed out. The prospect of providing and paying for maternity leave may make employers reluctant to hire or promote women.
More helpful are policies that grant equal leave to parents of any gender — and encourage them to take it.
Try innovative programs.
York Solutions, an IT consulting firm and top midsize workplace, has a program called Barriers to Entry, or B2E, that recruits people who might have trouble finding jobs, such as former stay-at-home parents, veterans or people making career changes. Many are women and people of color.
Participants receive training, job placement, coaching and mentoring. They needn’t have IT skills, and aren’t necessarily placed in technical jobs. Based on more general aptitudes — such as communication skills or organizational ability — they’re placed in positions including project coordination, quality assurance and business analysis. Mysnikol Miller graduated from the B2E program in April and has been placed in a job in operation support for the IT department at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters.
“Within the technology industry there’s all kinds of roles,” said Silvia Hinton, a York vice president in charge of the program. “The people coming into the program are really talented. Because their skills and background vary so much, we’re able to place them in a variety of roles.”
Encourage employees to be themselves.
Sovereign has been with Accenture for about 30 years. Over the decades she has witnessed vast cultural change.
She remembers when the company dress code prohibited women from wearing pants. Nowadays, Accenture tells employees to “dress for your day” — to wear whatever clothing is appropriate for the day’s activities. “We never ask them to change appearance to conform to a company culture,” Sovereign said.
Years ago, a male co-worker took Sovereign aside and advised her that she was “being too female,” she recalled. “The message was that I was behaving in a way that was different from the [male] cultural norm.”
Recognizing the remark as inappropriate, Sovereign went right on being female. And she rose through the ranks to senior managing director.