4 Groundbreaking Techniques Companies Are Using to Become More Diverse

March 10, 2016

Despite a lot of coverage and a lot of effort, diversity continues to be a lingering problem in today’s business landscape.

Only 4.6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, and a mere 14.6% of executives at those companies are women. Only 1% of those companies have an African American CEO. And only one of those 500 CEOs is openly gay.

Meanwhile, study after study shows that more diverse companies are far more successful, with one finding more diverse companies have 35% higher sales than expected. So not only is more diversity in the world’s best interest, it's in each company’s best interest as well.

To make that happen, some organizations are getting creative. They are implementing unique practices to ensure everyone is given a fair shot, whether it be during hiring, promoting or just to make everyone feel included.

Four methods that particularly jumped out are:

1. Orchestras have been doing blind auditions since the 1950s and now some companies have followed suit when.

Call it The Voice before The Voice. Starting in 1952, the Boston Symphony Orchestra began doing blind auditions. Just like the show The Voice, the orchestra leaders wouldn’t see the performer when they auditioned, and would just hear them play their instrument.

After several high-profile discrimination lawsuits, other orchestras began doing this as well. The results were impressive. Before, orchestras were male-dominated. But blind auditions increased the chances a woman would be hired by orchestras by between 25% and 46%, to the point they were being hired at a slightly higher rate then men.

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Recently, some companies have begun trying the same technique to hire developers. Companies like Bloomberg and Dolby Laboratories have used new software to develop job-specific tests for candidates to take.

If a candidate can do well enough on that test, regardless of their background, they’ll get an interview. Not only does this method level the playing field, it also is a good way to find talent, as research has found assigning a job-specific task is one of the most effective ways to screen candidates. 

2. The director of Star Wars is taking the Rooney Rule to a whole new level.

In 2003, following the firing of two highly esteemed African American coaches, the NFL instituted a new rule: the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule requires that at least one minority coach be interviewed for each NFL head coaching vacancy.

Before the rule was passed, there had never been a black head coach in the Super Bowl. In 2007, just three football seasons after the rule was incorporated, the Super Bowl between the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts featured two black head coaches: Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith; with Dungy becoming the first black coach to win a Super Bowl.

J.J. Abrams, the man who was the executive producer of Lost and director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, took notice.

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Following the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Abrams decided to take the Rooney Rule up a level at his own production company, Bad Robot. Specifically, he teamed with talent agency CAA and required that women and minority candidates are submitted for writing, directing and acting jobs at Bad Robot in proportion to the U.S. population.

That means for all directing roles, for example, half of the candidates should be women, 17% should be Hispanic and 12% should be black.

"We're working to find a rich pool of representative (great) talent and give them the opportunity they deserve and we can all benefit from," Abrams told The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s good for audiences and it’s good for the bottom line."  

3. Salesforce.com is spending $3 million to ensure women are paid fairly.

One of the most prevailing diversity issues out there is the pay gap: Overall, women make $0.78 for every dollar a man makes in the United States. It's such an issue that it’s one of the cornerstones of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Companies have tried to address this problem in a variety of ways. In one notable example, previous Reddit CEO Ellen Pao banned salary negotiations, believing salary negotiations inherently favor men.

Meanwhile, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff had his own solution: If a woman was making less than a man at his company for a similar role, he would pay her more.

Specifically, Benioff ordered a review of all 17,000 employees’ salaries at Salesforce.com, comparing what men made to women in similar roles. Where there were discrepancies, he fixed them by paying the person more, so they were in-line with their peers. The program cost the company $3 million.

“We can say we pay women the same that we pay men,” Benioff said, according to The Atlantic. “We looked at every single salary.”

4. Walgreens is hiring disabled workers and both sides are benefiting greatly.

Most of the time, when there’s an article on diversity in the workforce, it generally focuses on class, race or gender. But one of the groups having the most trouble finding jobs today, at least in the United States, is the disabled.

A mere 20% of Americans with a cognitive or physical disability participate in the workforce, and 12.5% of those are unemployed – more than double the national average. Well, thanks to organizations like Walgreens, that’s starting to change.

Walgreens has made it a priority to hire disabled workers, which account for 10% of their employees who man their distribution centers. And this isn’t just good for disabled workers in desperate need of opportunity, Walgreens is benefiting as well.

For example, the Walgreens distribution center with the highest percentage of disabled workers – their Windsor, Connecticut location, where roughly half the workforce has a disability – is their safest and most productive. And this experience isn’t unique to Walgreens: One study found that disabled workers have a 48% lower turnover rate than that of the nondisabled population, with 67% lower medical costs.

What this all means to you

There’s a chance that one of the four techniques listed above speaks to you, and you’ll try it at your company. There’s a chance that none of them do, and you don’t.

The bigger point is it's worth trying something. As mentioned, studies show being a diverse company is a competitive advantage, because it generally means having more diverse thought and unique perspectives. And yet, few companies today are truly diverse.

Therefore, since so few companies are truly representative of the markets they serve, there aren’t many set-in-stone best practices to becoming diverse. That means it's an area to experiment, an area to take chances and see what works.

Not only does your company stand to benefit; everyone else does, as well.

*Image by eLKayPics / Out

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