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Diversity, Gender, Leadership

McKinsey Research Reveals the Secret to Diversity Success: Passionately Committed Leadership


By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a report in this month’s McKinsey Quarterly, researchers Joanna Barsh, Sandra Nudelman, and Lareina Yee, have significant found real-world evidence to support the research the team has put forth over the past few years on the business case for women. They write:

“Encouragingly, many of the themes identified in our research over the years—for example, the importance of having company leaders take a stand on gender diversity, the impact of corporate culture, and the value of systematic talent-management processes—loom large for these companies. This continuity is reassuring: it’s becoming crystal clear what the most important priorities are for companies and leaders committed to gender-diversity progress.”

Topping the list of what makes diversity programming work is an emotionally committed CEO, who is motivated to tell the diversity story and tout accomplishments in the space not simply because it is good for business, but because he or she feels it is right.

They researchers explain, “CEOs and senior executives of our top companies walk, talk, run, and shout about gender diversity. Their passion goes well beyond logic and economics; it’s emotional.”

Diversity managers can site study after study about the importance of gender equality. But what really hits the point home is a powerful discussion of diversity by corporate leaders, and meaningful action following that guidance.

Diversity, Ethnicity/Nationality

Why Some Team-Building Events Backfire


By Melissa J. Anderson

When managers are looking to increase the collegiality of their employees, one of the standard methods is to hold team-building events – like picnics, happy hours, or other after-work outings (otherwise known as “integration experiences”). The idea is to get people to share information about themselves beyond what happens at work, thereby increasing closeness between coworkers.

And usually, it works – studies show that when colleagues are emotionally closer to one another, they end up working together better. But, according to new research, the “integration experience” method of producing that closeness can backfire.

It turns out that team-building activities can make people feel closer in homogeneous groups. But in diverse groups, that doesn’t necessarily happen. In fact, these activities can go so far as to have the opposite effect, causing minority employees to feel even more isolated. After all, attempts at conversation can sometimes produce more differences, rather than similarities. This ultimately creates a magnified feeling of difference in the person of a demographic minority.

The study, “Getting Closer at the Company Party: Integration Experiences, Racial Dissimilarity, and Workplace Relationships” was written by Tracy L. Dumas, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University; Katherine W. Phillips, Columbia Business School, Columbia University; and Nancy P. Rothbard, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. It was recently published in the journal Organization Science.

The authors write, “These findings highlight the importance of creating the right kind of interactions for building closer relationships between employees, particularly relationships that span racial boundaries.”

Diversity, Gender

Enabling Women to Be Authentic Fuels the Desire to Lead


By Melissa J. Anderson

New research [PDF] out of INSEAD, the world’s largest graduate business school, shows that women leaders experience less stress at work when they feel good about… being women. This finding may seem simple and obvious, but the rigorous study delves deep into identity theory around leadership and gender, with quantitative research on over 600 female leaders across the globe.

The study, “Me, a woman and a leader: Antecedents and consequences of the identity conflict of women leaders,” was written by INSEAD researchers Natalia Karelaia and Laura Guillén. They found that, especially in male dominated organizations, women leaders experience significant conflict regarding their social identities as both a leader and a woman.

Many women in the study reported spending all day conforming to an aggressive, stereotypically “male” leadership identity at work. Feeling forced to behave in a way that was inauthentic to their more traditionally “female” gender identity – warm, nurturing, cooperative – left these women unhappy at work, stressed out, and unmotivated to lead.

These women saw leadership as something the had to do, rather than something they wanted to do.

But, the research shows, this identity conflict seemed to diminish in companies that were more gender balanced at the top, middle, and entry level. In fact, working in organizations where being a woman is seen as explicitly positive left them more motivated to lead.

“By reducing identity conflict, a more positive gender identity increases the joy of leading and decreases the sense of obligation to do so,” Karelaia and Guillén write.

Diversity, Gender

Companies Struggling to Engage White Men on Diversity and Inclusion


By Melissa J. Anderson

A new study out of Greatheart Leader Labs and Georgetown University shows that white men are less likely to be engaged in diversity and inclusion initiatives at companies. This is a problem, write the report authors, Chuck Shelton, managing director at Greatheart Leader Labs, and David A. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“Globally, 32 million white men hold leadership positions, with six million in the United States. White men possess more than 40% of the leadership jobs in most companies, and that percentage increases dramatically by leadership level. The position power and leadership skills that white men possess need to align with the value that diversity and inclusion delivers.”

Because white men tend to dominate the ranks of the world’s largest companies, they hold both the purse strings when it comes to diversity and inclusion programs and the social influence necessary to make these programs work. Shelton and Thomas write that white men are “a significantly underperforming asset in every company’s global D&I investment portfolio.”

Diversity, Gender

Exploring the Connection Between Social Discourse and Corporate Gender Initiatives

Businesswoman with colleagues in the background

By Melissa J. Anderson

A new Harvard Business School study reveals how external forces shape internal corporate action on gender issues. The new working paper by Lakshmi Ramarajan, Kathleen McGinn, and Deborah Kolb reveals that corporate action on gender diversity over the past two decades is the result of a reaction to cultural trends as tracked in the media.

The researchers studied the gender initiatives of one large professional services firm from 1991 to 2009. They found that the focus of initiatives responded to the predominant gender discrepancies being talked about in the media. They explain:

“Regarding timing, as each discourse peaked in the media, internal discrepancies between expectations and outcomes rose, sparking the onset of a new internal analysis phase. Analysis was the firm’s response to internal and external challenges to prevailing beliefs about gender and work. Regarding content, in each cycle, the beliefs seemingly derived through internal analysis echoed the substance of the social discourse at the onset of the analysis period, and these beliefs, formalized in Initiative mission statements and stated in internal documents, directed activities inside the firm during the following action phase.”

The study shows how cultural and media pressure on gender diversity drives change within the corporate environment.

Diversity, Ethnicity/Nationality, Gender

Intersection of Race and Gender Affects Leadership Choices

Diverse team all looking right

By Melissa J. Anderson

We know that race and gender can influence who gets jobs and promotions, and ultimately who becomes a leader within corporations. But new research has revealed that the intersection of race and gender – “gendered race” – also has an impact on leadership decisions.

The study, “Gendered Races: Implications for Interracial Marriage, Leadership Selection, and Athletic Participation” examines how gendered characteristics are implicitly assigned to racial categories. The phenomenon can have a profound affect both in the workplace, when considering what jobs are considered appropriate for individuals of particular race/gender combinations, as well as in people’s lives outside work (from athletic participation to spousal selection).

The researchers, Adam D. Galinsky, Northwestern University; Erika V. Hall, Northwestern University, and Amy J. C. Cuddy, Harvard University, write that the intersection between racial and gender stereotypes has “important real-world consequences.”

They explain, “…we demonstrate that the overlap between racial and gender stereotypes goes beyond facial features and is captured in the content of stereotypes.” Then they performed additional studies to show how these stereotypes play out in real life.

Diversity, Gender

Metrics Needed around Leadership Development


By Melissa J. Anderson

According to new research by Catalyst, companies are putting women high performers through leadership development training earlier and longer than men – yet men are still reaping more rewards from these kinds of programs.

This suggests, the organization believes, that companies should be more strategic around the types of projects people are assigned after they complete these programs – otherwise, companies are missing out on a highly trained and capable segment of their workforce.

“Offering critical assignments to high-potential women as part of an intentional strategy can help break through the logjam that blocks advancement for talented women,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer at Catalyst.

By creating more transparency and accountability around who gets big projects following leadership development training, companies can ensure they retain the best and brightest workers throughout their leadership pipeline.

Diversity, LGBT

New Out & Equal Survey Shows Challenges for LGBT Employees


By Melissa J. Anderson

Out & Equal’s latest Workplace Survey shows that support for LGBT inclusiveness is dropping across the United States.

Last year, 47 percent of all respondents said they supported policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people. This year, that number was 43 percent.

While LGBT support for polices that ban LGBT discrimination increased from 76 percent to 84 percent over the past year, that jump was not enough to counteract the decrease in support from heterosexual people – both allies and non-allies. Support for these policies decreased for allies (from 81 percent last year to 73 percent in 2012) and non-allies (from 29 percent last year to 22 percent in 2012).

Similarly, LGBT individuals are more empowered this year than last when it comes to speaking up about discrimination (an increase from 61 percent to 75 percent). On the other hand, heterosexual support has dropped here as well, from 64 percent to 62 percent for allies, and 16 percent to 10 percent for non-allies.

Nevertheless, the organization says the support LGBT employees do receive from allies is important. “Ending all forms of discrimination in the workplace benefits all employees,” says Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director of the organization. She continues, “It’s breathtaking to see how many more allies gave stronger voice to our issues and stand buy us to defeat unequal treatment.”

Noting the uptick in the percentage of LGBT indivdials feeling empowered to call out discriminatory behavior, Berry added, “We know our mission is strengthened when we see more LGBT employees able to summon the courage to speak up when they see or experience discrimination.”

Diversity, Leadership

Discrepancy between Diversity Belief and Implementation


By Melissa J. Anderson

A new study by executive search firm Egon Zehnder suggests that executives are gaining a firm grasp on the importance of diversity at their companies, even though they may have difficulty in implementing a plan for achieving it.

The study polled 511 global executives who are part of the firm’s “Club of Leaders,” on how they feel about diversity and inclusion and how their companies are working to increase diversity. By and large, leaders felt very positive about diversity, with 96 percent reporting that “working in a diverse and inclusive environment is personally important to them.

Almost all (99 percent) say that there is a strong business case for diversity. But when it comes to implementing corporate programs to develop diversity within their companies, the respondents were less progressive. The study highlights the challenges companies have in bridging the gap between leadership support and line implementation.

Support for Diversity

According to Egon Zehnder, the study respondents were very appreciative of the effects of diversity. Almost three quarters (72 percent) said having a diverse workforce helps them recognize how “their own biases affect their judgment of others.”

This recognition is important, the firm believes.

“Most executives appear to realize that even well-intentioned leaders can succumb to unconscious stereotyping of those who are in some way different from themselves. This finding hints at a broad awakening. Facing the fact of bias, rather than pretending it does not exist, is a critical step toward crafting a Diversity and Inclusion culture that explicitly helps people manage their inevitable biases to the common good.”

Nine out of ten respondents (91 percent) said diversity helps broaden their horizons. Four out of five (81 percent) said diversity fosters more lively discussions. And almost three quarters (73 percent) said diversity “creates an organization that shows more respect for each individual.”

On the other hand, leaders also suggested a downside to diversity. The study says:

“Although nearly all the study participants say D&I is personally important to them, less than half suggest that working in a diverse environment is easy. Many apparently wonder about the potential downsides of D&I, such as positive discrimination, slower decision-making, increased operating costs and even the risk of undermining coherence and alignment.”

These doubts could be part of the reason executive support for diversity has not yet been realized in overwhelming action for building diversity within companies.

Practical Challenges

While the executives polled for the study came out strongly in support of diversity – and 80 percent say their companies actively pursue diversity – how they intend to get there is less clear. Only half (53 percent) say their company is making good progress on diversity.

When asked how their company encourages and enables diversity and inclusion, 58 percent said “top management commitment (with 32 percent reporting to be “in progress” on this method). On the other hand, only 24 percent said performance evaluations at their company assess individual contributions to D&I (14 percent said they were in progress on this, and seven  percent said they were planning it). But a full 55 percent said they did not have any plans in the works to include D&I as part of employee performance evaluations.

The report also notes that approaches to diversity are highly “numbers oriented.” It explains, “Nearly three-fourths of participants count gender among their company’s top three diversity priorities, but only half say their company gives similar weight to the more qualitative D&I dimension: “Diversity of perspectives and thinking.”

Finally, the study says, “Fewer than a third of the respondents report that their company has publicly communicated its diversity commitment.”

This is surprising – making a public commitment to diversity seems like the easiest thing a company can do, and may suggest that business leaders are uneasy about how the public will perceive a commitment to diversity and inclusion, especially at a time of economic uncertainty. Perhaps companies won’t fully strive toward workplace diversity until they are convinced the marketplace fully believes in the value of diversity.

Diversity, Ethnicity/Nationality

Sponsorship Needed for Minority Employees


By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

A new study by the Center for Talent Innovation has revealed the importance of sponsorship to for the advancement and retention of people of color.

The study also highlights the link between sponsorship and building a culture of inclusiveness where minority employees feel comfortable being themselves and see themselves as leaders. The report, “Vaulting the Color Bar: How Sponsorship Leavers Multicultural Professionals into Leadership” was written by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Maggie Jackson, and Ellis Cose, with Courtney Emerson and outlines the challenges people of color face in making it to leadership in corporate America.

The authors write:

“Despite an abundance of drive and tremendous gains in the workplace, too many African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans are stalled several layers below the C-suite, facing lingering bias and entrenched ideals of white male leadership. Why is this impressive talent pool unable to break into the uppermost echelons again and again?”

According to the researchers, a confluence of factors – subtle bias, feelings of not fitting in, and most notably a lack or sponsorship – are hindering the advancement of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian employees. The upside, CTI believes, is that a focus on sponsorship can help dislodge these barriers.