Whether in the realm of data science or beyond, diversity in the workplace continues to remain relatively low, while the barriers to diversity remain relatively high. At the same time, we now know the benefits of employing a more diverse workforce, including improved productivity, smarter decision making, and better results. In fact, McKinsey & Company predicts that narrowing the gender gap could generate an additional $12 trillion in global GDP by 2025.

But we’re not there yet. Today, women hold just 24 percent of board seats in the S&P 500, yet make up 47 percent of the workforce and drive 70 to 80 percent of consumer spending. Furthermore, companies that are in the top 25 percent in terms of diversity generate 21 percent more profit than those companies in the bottom 25 percent.

So, what can we do to improve?

In a recent podcast, MIT Sloan Management Review interviewed PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan on the progress—or lack thereof—in advancing diversity in the workplace, taking a close look at the specific role that CEO plays. When it comes to workplace diversity, “Moving the needle meaningfully and permanently requires nothing less than the full commitment of the CEO,” according to Ryan. The podcast goes on to underscore key learnings to date, as well as some repeatable practices to help. Here are the key takeaways:

Collective Action Needed

According to Ryan, workplace diversity impacts our lives beyond business. Diversity impacts society as a whole, representing huge challenges, but also huge opportunities. “If we figure this out, the economic prosperity that we will all achieve, in the sense of fairness and decency across all of our people in our communities, will be amazing,” says Ryan. By working together and taking a broader view of diversity, including the implications of gender and race outside of the workplace, business leaders can better understand the core issues and be better prepared to help solve them.

Dialogue is Key

Ryan notes that advancing diversity in the workplace requires having difficult conversations to uncover the root causes of issues, a process PwC started in 2016. In order for this to take hold within companies, executives and the C-suite must lead by example, starting these difficult conversations to better understand people’s experiences based on gender and race. “By driving it from the top down, we gave permission. We started to develop a culture,” says Ryan. Having both internal and external conversations and working together with other CEOs across industries are also ways to achieve meaningful results in less time.

CEOs and Boards Share Accountability

CEOs are not—and should not—be alone in efforts to improve workplace diversity, according to Ryan. They should enlist help from the board of directors by positioning workplace diversity as an opportunity. By underscoring the value to the business, and society as a whole, CEOs are not only better positioned to get buy in from the board of directors, but they can even garner support and specific actions to help the cause.

If you’d like to learn more, you can listen to the complete MIT Sloan Management Review podcast here.

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