Last week I had the privilege of attending the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America meeting. The event brought together nearly 1,000 leaders from business, philanthropy, and government to develop solutions for economic growth, long-term competitiveness, and social mobility in the United States.
While the conference was extremely informative and very inspirational, the words of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper particularly resonated with me when he said “The American dream is embedded in that promise that everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed…regardless of their zip code or where their story began.”
Yet, while women comprise over half of the American workforce, they make up less than 20 percent of S&P 500 board members and still only earn an estimated $0.77 on the dollar when compared to men. In addition, people of color are far more likely to work in low-quality jobs than white workers. Numerous studies suggest that increasing the gender, ethnic, racial, and socio-economic diversity of the corporate workforce and its leadership can pay high dividends in terms of expanded market share and GDP. Improving job quality and workforce diversity is essential not only for employee engagement and retention but also for organization productivity and performance which ultimately strengthens the U.S. economy.
The task seems simple enough, but as the CEO of North America for the 18th largest employer in the world, I can tell you that attracting and retaining top diverse talent presents some challenges that forward-thinking businesses have the opportunity to address head-on.
- Challenge: Recruiting for diversity.
Opportunity: Use open-recruitment tools, such as advertising, employment agencies and associations, rather than relying on informal social networks and referrals to fill positions.
Recruitment from within organizations also should be transparent, with postings of open positions in appropriate and widely accessible venues. Research has shown that such personnel practices increase the numbers of women in managerial roles.
- Challenge: Sustaining engagement of diverse talent, especially when women and people of color can feel isolated.
Opportunity: Help reinforce social networks and promote inclusion.
Women and people of color can gain from strong and supportive mentoring and sponsorship relationships, both formal and informal. Employee Resource Groups are also an excellent source of sustained engagement – they promote networking, professional development, visibility and stretch opportunities.
- Challenge: Identifying Hidden Talent
Opportunity: To uncover talent, create a challenging and stimulating environment for everyone. If employees aren’t given opportunities to grow and develop, the organization will never reach its potential.
While they may be equally qualified, women operators typically do not raise their hand for promotions at the same rate their male counterparts do. In addition, it is human nature to default to the same people for stretch assignments or new responsibilities. Organization’s need to make a conscious effort to recognize this tendency and purposefully seek out the “hidden” talent through development opportunities.
- Challenge: Balancing family and work demands to create a more inclusive workplace.
Opportunity: Establish family-friendly human resources practices.
Work doesn’t happen between the office walls at designated times anymore. Work happens all the time. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the organization to establish policies that foster a balanced approach to work and family. These include flextime, job sharing, telecommuting and part-time options. Any effort toward greater family friendliness should actively recruit male participation to avoid inadvertently making it harder for women to gain access to essential managerial roles.
- Challenge: Women who take time off from their career.
Opportunity: Welcome women back.
It makes sense to give high performing women who step away from the workforce an opportunity to return to responsible positions when their circumstances change. Be attentive to women’s more latticed careers, allowing them to “off ramp” and supporting them when they choose to “on ramp.”
Most companies face the crucial challenge of finding, attracting and developing women and people of color. The bottom line benefits are well-documented – a diverse workforce translates into more engaged employees, which can mean greater performance, productivity, job satisfaction and improved tenure. In a global and competitive environment, the inclusion of a diverse workforce drives innovation, teamwork, and results. With aging baby boomers retiring and the desire to reflect our increasingly diverse population, employers need to seek out diverse talent and resources more than ever.
George Chavel is President & CEO, Sodexo North America.