How Corporate Responsibility Can Address Systemic Barriers to Diversity

The role of Corporate Responsibility (CR) in the enterprise has changed significantly over the years. The original role of CR was to direct philanthropic funds and manage employee volunteer programs. Next came a more strategic approach, which sought to understand the effect of specific business practices on society, with the goal of minimizing harm. This evolved and enlarged the mission of CR to include employee attraction and retention, more ethical supply chains, and the reduction of carbon footprints. For CR to continue to be relevant in the coming decade, the next generation of CR must involve taking on the ongoing challenge of diversity in the enterprise.

The topic of diversity has been hotly debated, especially here in Silicon Valley. Minorities are underrepresented in tech by 16 to 18 percentage points compared with their presence in the US labor force overall. Diversity itself has been broadened to include not only gender and racial diversity, but also workers with disabilities, LGBTQIA communities, and other underrepresented populations. The advantages to diversity in business are well documented, as studies show that diverse organizations can outperform their peers. A McKinsey study showed that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to see financial performances above the national median. A report from Intel found that a diverse workforce increases revenues, profits, and market value. A 2016 study found that 81% of tech founders acknowledge that a diverse workforce enhances creativity and innovation. And yet, the lack of diversity persists.

How can this be changed? Today, “organizational health” indices and checklists can determine how diverse a company really is, and tie that data back to the overall health of a company. These measurements track improvements as companies implement diversity programs. The tools allow organizations to discover and analyze “diversity gaps,” which are often a result of unconscious bias and can be diminished over time as more hiring managers get to know people from different backgrounds. Armed with this information, companies can then create an actionable strategy to address the issue.

Here are three ways the enterprise can enact diversity initiatives that provide a long-term payoff:

Focus Locally.

12 years ago, I helped launch Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Reach Program. After a survey of the local community revealed that Warner Bros. was perceived (quite literally) as an impenetrable fortress, we developed the Reach Program. The program was designed to enable local youth to access job opportunities in the entertainment business, a traditionally difficult field to enter. We focused our efforts on creating opportunities for underrepresented groups within the Burbank area, by recruiting underserved high school juniors interested in the entertainment business. Reach offered high school summer internships, then college scholarships, and finally entry level jobs. This was a successful endeavor that still operates today. By focusing locally, we systematically integrated the local talent pool into the Warner Brothers workforce, and simultaneously strengthened the ties between business and community.

Source Creatively.

For years, enterprise corporations have sourced talent from the same short list of top universities. Microsoft broke that pattern by creating a program specifically targeting individuals on the autism spectrum, providing an entry to employment for individuals who were often invisible to tech recruiters. While autistic candidates frequently possess the aptitude for high-level tech jobs, a lack of social skills holds them back. Recruiters miss the obvious and innate talents of these candidates, due to an over-reliance on interview performance. By incorporating a wide variety of interview techniques designed to measure people differently, such as combining workshops and interviews to help put job candidates at ease, Microsoft now enjoys the benefits of a talented group of employees who provide fresh perspectives and diverse skillsets. This program opened career avenues to underrepresented populations, while increasing the neurodiversity of the overall organization.

Commit Relentlessly.

Most corporate programs provide training or internships, but not both, yet it’s a long-term commitment that will bring about real change. It’s important to bring in underrepresented recruits, but even more important to provide ongoing professional development and the social support system to ensure success. The Adobe Digital Academy provides end-to-end candidate development and continuous on-the-job learning and growth opportunities for employees. We offer immersive training for underrepresented candidates in a supportive learning environment. After participating in an immersive technical training, students are eligible for a three-month internship embedded with a technical team. They receive hands-on job experience, ongoing feedback, mentorship, and peer support. Many of our interns are hired full-time and become a part of our creative community. This long-term focus allows Adobe to move the needle on diversity while enriching our workforce and culture.

If companies are to be a positive transformative force in society, they must embrace diversity as a core tenet of their charters. To create true social impact, the next generation of leaders must take a more comprehensive approach to CR, which includes a commitment to breaking down the systemic barriers to diversity in the enterprise. At Adobe, we are proud to join more than 150 leading companies in signing the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By providing opportunities to underrepresented minority populations, companies use their economic might to financially lift the communities in which they do business. At the same time, successful implementation enables organizations to increase their competitive edge in a global marketplace. The fundamental and far-reaching implications of true commitment to increasing diversity will be the enrichment of the organizational culture, and the strengthening of the global workforce.

This story originally appeared on Michelle Crozier’s LinkedIn page.