7 Critical Elements of Best-in-Class Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

This article was originally published here.

We are at a tipping point for women’s issues in corporate America. For the past 20 years, women have been clustered just below senior management with many engaged in staff functions. Companies are realizing that this strategy will ultimately not lead to gender equity in the C-Suite. Jeffery Tobias Halter, President of YWomen, outlines seven critical elements of best-in-class diversity and inclusion strategies

Ten thousand Boomers a day are leaving the workforce. That’s right — 10,000 a day, every day, every week for the next seven years until all the Boomers are gone. The talent pipeline is composed of millennials, people of color and women. Is your organization poised to address and leverage the shifting workforce?

Best-in-class companies have been watching this phenomenon for decades and are ahead of the curve, utilizing an integrated end-to-end process to embed a Women’s Leadership strategy throughout the organization. This includes having all Operating Functions (i.e. Profit and Loss roles) of the organization such as marketing, sales, and operations aligned to common goals and metrics regarding diversity and inclusion. Today, many organizations still assign the responsibility of the women’s leadership strategy to a Women’s Business Resource Group, the Office of Diversity or HR. While each of these groups plays a critical support role, at the end of the day, the strategy, accountability, and scorecards must be owned by the business. Ask yourself this simple question, “Can your Operating Unit Business Presidents articulate to you in real dollar terms the value of your company’s women’s leadership strategy?” My guess is they cannot because they don’t make the connection to women as a business imperative.

Women are a Business Imperative

There are three compelling business reasons to implement an integrated women’s leadership strategy: To Grow Revenue, Improve Operating Profit and Enhance Your Corporate Reputation. Everything you do must link to one of these key drivers for business leaders to be held accountable.

  • Women Help Grow Revenue: With an incredible $7 trillion in national purchasing power according to she-economy, women drive or influence purchasing decisions in every household. From buying groceries to furniture to new cars, women hold the purse strings. From a customer standpoint, up to 40 percent of Business-to-Business purchasing agents are now women. How are you quantifying your revenue case for women?
  • Women Improve Operating Profits: Operating profit is driven by three factors: Talent, Engagement, and Innovation. In addition to 10,000 Boomers retiring, 85 percent of new entries into the workforce are women, millennials or people of color. By 2020, these three groups will be the largest segment of the workplace. Additionally, studies show that in companies with progressive HR practices, women tend to be more engaged workers than men and employees who report to female managers tend to be more productive. Finally, we all know that a key to innovation is a diversity of thought. How are you quantifying your operating profit business case for talent, engagement, and innovation?
  • Women Enhance Company Reputation: In an increasingly interconnected world, your company has to build and maintain trust, transparency and its reputation with its customers. And with 85 percent of economic consumption being driven by women, it’s fair to extrapolate that 85 percent of your company’s reputation is in their hands (and heads) as well.

My approach is not to reflect on women’s leadership advancement as a “nice thing to do,” but to encourage companies to take it up as a real-time action plan to drive productivity using their most critical asset — their employees. And to help HR drive the initiative.

Accelerate Your Women’s Leadership Strategy

For your Integrated Women’s Leadership Strategy to succeed, you must engage the four most important business functions to operationalize and execute the plan with a sense of urgency. These are 1) Marketing, 2) Operations (Sales, Supply Chain and all P/L Functions), 3) Human Resources and 4) Senior Leadership. This is not to minimize the importance of other key roles such as Finance, IT, Legal and other staff functions, but to truly be successful, your Integrated Women’s Leadership Strategy must be owned by the business.

In my work with Fortune 500 companies and industry trade associations, I’ve found there are seven critical elements of best-in-class diversity and inclusion strategies.

  1. Operationalizing the Business Case
  2. Engaging Sales and Marketing
  3. Integrating Operations/Supply Chain
  4. Leadership from Human Resources
  5. Commitment from Senior Leadership
  6. Developing an Integrated Communications Plan
  7. Implementing Metrics, Measurement, and Scoring

Operationalizing the Business Case: Most employees know that advocating for the business case for women is a good idea. The challenge is that while they think it’s a good idea conceptually, they have not yet operationalized and internalized your Women’s Leadership strategy. This is critical to holding people accountable. The business elements of talent, revenue and engagement make up the foundational business case for advancing women. For each of these elements, you must go through a business analysis process, doing the hard work necessary so that every level of the organization understands and has measures, metrics, and goals for success.

Engaging Sales and Marketing: When it comes to making or influencing key purchasing decisions in any household, women hold an incredible amount of power. Many companies assume that marketing is already an integrated part of your women’s strategy, yet this is not always true. It is rare that Chief Marketing Officers and their teams are involved in discussions to closer link their work with a broader organizational strategy around women. Today, it is critical that the CMO and the CDO (Chief Diversity Officer) have shared goals and shared metrics.

Integrating Operations/Supply Chain: This is often the least integrated factor in a women’s leadership strategy. These key jobs — where women are significantly underrepresented — are the pipeline to the C-Suite. Operations and Supply Chain must have key measures and metrics in place around your women’s leadership strategy. I believe a lack of women in Operating roles with P&L responsibilities is the No. 1 reason there’s still only 16 percent of women in the C-Suite. And the ones who are there are in staff functions. If your company wants to break this cycle, it will have to make a 10 to 15-year commitment to advancing women in sales and operations to truly effect change at the top.

Leadership from Human Resources: There has never been a greater time for HR leaders to redefine their roles as strategists and secure a more prominent seat at the table. HR plays a vital role in supporting the company’s women’s strategy  by focusing closely on how female employees are hired, retained and advanced through the ranks. Progressive HR practices such as mandatory diverse slates and panels, transparency in pay equity, open job posting and two-deep succession planning are all critical. Additionally, company policies such as paternity leave and flextime must be monitored for disparate impact so that all employees feel comfortable utilizing them.

Commitment from Senior Leadership: You will never make any women’s advancement strategy work if you do not have a visible and vocal commitment from Senior Management. Too many organizations run the rank and file through programs and training with the belief that senior leaders already have a good understanding of how to make a women’s strategy work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Senior Leadership teams (still 85 percent men in most organizations) have no idea how to support or engage in this work. The key is the visible commitment, which drives action — not just lip service, which the company will see through instantly. In fact, the No. 1 driver of a successful women’s leadership strategy is CEO commitment.

Developing an Integrated Communications Plan: There is a critical need to get the communications plans right, for both internal and external stakeholders. This helps the organization answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”

External Communications:

  • An integrated external communications plan tells your story to consumers, customers, prospective employees and investors.
  • A comprehensive plan takes into account the strategic roles of all of your communications channels, including advertising, public relations and social media, combining them to provide clarity and consistency of message and maximum communication impact.

Internal Communications:

Your entire integrated communications plan is built upon your CEO’s and senior leadership’s commitment. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Internally with employees and externally with key stakeholders, does your CEO and senior leadership team have the succinct sound bites to tell the organization why we are doing this “women’s thing?”
  • Do they own the message and is it in their words or just corporate-speak? Employees will know in a nanosecond if something is genuine or not.

Implementing Metrics, Measurement, and Scoring

Do this: Click on your company’s website and go to the Diversity Page. Chances are you will see happy smiling faces of all cultures and genders saying wonderful things about the company. Now click on the Executive Team. Chances are, 85 percent of the faces looking back at you are white men. Now ask yourself this question. If I’m a bright, talented woman or person of color, do I see people like myself in leadership? Do I think I’ll have a chance to move up and be equitably treated? Now, go to Glassdoor.com and see what employees are saying about your company and its leadership team.

Senior leaders need to ask three simple questions of every direct report.

  1. What was the turnover rate in your division of women and men, and what are you doing to address it? (Hint, women’s turnover in most companies is higher than men’s.)
  2. What is your plan for next year to recruit, develop and advance women?
  3. How are you pushing this down into the organization including middle management and specifically, men?

Women’s issues and advancement are often deemed “women’s topics” and in many companies, the topic is run by women, for women, and about women. It’s time we reframe the topic as an organizational issue and realize that active male engagement is one of the most critical elements in driving long-term systemic change in organizations. I’ve found that 20 percent of men are interested in helping. They simply want an invitation to the conversation and some direction on how to get involved. Encourage men to attend your women’s ERG/BRG programs and take an active listening role to listen and learn before diving into action.

My closing thought is that if you examine women’s advancement at all levels of the organization, you will see women are congregated in middle-tier staff roles and no real advancement (think 20 to 30 percent increases) has taken place to move women into senior roles. Are you satisfied with status quo regarding women’s advancement in your company? What do your numbers look like over the past 10 years? If you’re doing it well, are you satisfied or do you want to go even higher? Best-in-class companies are never satisfied with status quo, and it’s time to raise the bar, regardless of where your company is now.

Finally, while these seven areas highlight women, the same principles apply to other dimensions of diversity as well. In fact, it is impossible to have a conversation regarding women without talking about the other dynamics of diversity and inclusion taking place in your company.

Keep reading this article at Google News (Diversity and Inclusion).