Diversity. Walk the Talk

by Chenxi Wang, Eugene Spafford, Zenobia Godschalk

Earlier this year at the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC), Microsoft’s Xbox team hosted an after-party for developers where scantily-clad women dressed in Catholic schoolgirl outfits were dancing on podiums.

Twitter did not take this kindly; the backlash was swift. Microsoft executives issued an apology.

Incidents like the GDC party may be the result of the lack of judgement on the part of some individuals, but the question has to be asked: How do incidents like this happen within a company that has instituted extensive efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Just hours prior to the after-party, Microsoft hosted a gathering at GDC to celebrate women in gaming. Plus, they’ve been rolling out their “Unconscious Bias Training” across the company.

And Microsoft is not alone in this. Incidents like these may not reflect the values of the company, but they directly undermine the good work of the diversity initiatives at the company.


More specifically, it begs the question:


How do diversity programs at companies truly change hearts and minds (hence behavior) and not simply rubber-stamp efforts?


Much has been written on what it takes to be a socially conscious and fully accountable  organization. For many, it was understood principally as the practice of helping charity causes, partnering with like-minded socially responsible entities, modernizing internal hiring processes, and adopting diversity programs. All good things, but stopping at that would be a mistake.

Take the case of diversity programs: Too often companies treat them as a standalone initiative, where executives make appearances occasionally, smile warmly, and congratulate themselves for their own open-mindedness and inclusiveness. There is a distinct danger in this model — the presence of these programs gives an impression that the company is committed to diversity and sometimes that allows questionable practices to persist without being scrutinized. This is problematic in an age where gender and other forms of discrimination still exist, some times at far corners of the organization.

Diversity and inclusiveness are not just labels that you slap on like an “I Voted” sticker and then be done with it. These are tenets that ought to be the very foundation of any business — and not just articulated, but fully embodied in all areas from the words you use to the company culture you develop. Diversity. Walk the Talk.


So what does this mean on a day-to-day basis? Here are some thoughts:


Live diversity, don’t just talk about it

Don’t run diversity programs and initiatives that are superfluous to your business. Find opportunities to truly incorporate social responsibilities into your business models and the company mission.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals tripled its female executive leadership to over 30% after the company made Inclusion a core part of the company value, along with Innovation and Integrity. It also made contribution-to-inclusion part of every leader’s performance review.

Not only has Novartis gained recognition from the effort, but it has become an extremely successful platform for recruiting: Today, five out of the sixteen-member executive team are women.

Infuse diversity principles in business operations

Conduct an evaluation of all major aspects of your operations and determine if anything falls outside inclusive principles. If the answer is yes, establish a targeted program for that part of the business. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, famously reviewed and then added $3 million to female employee salaries to close the gender pay gap. Duo Security, an Ann Arbor-based company, conducts regular reviews of its candidate pipelines and has committed plans to recruit non-traditional talents to foster diverse thinking in the company. Dug Song, Duo’s CEO, says: “Diversity of experience is critical to innovative thinking and the ability to disrupt stagnant business models.” Duo Security now boasts executive leadership that is over 30% female.

As another example, you can implement ongoing reviews and trainings for convention and event staff, which may include external event contractors, to ensure that corporate-sponsored events adhere to ethical and inclusive guidelines.

Engage external diversity leaders and empower internal ones

Daniela and Michal were the first two female software engineers at Google’s research and development center in Tel Aviv, Israel ( read more )

Daniela and Michal were the first two female software engineers at Google’s research and development center in Tel Aviv, Israel (read more)

You have diversity leaders within your company boundaries, so take the time to discover who they are and empower them! Connect them with external leaders to give them inspiration and support. As an example, Google sends a significant number of their female engineers every year to the Grace Hopper conference to be inspired and to engage with industry role models. These engineers in turn become valuable brand ambassadors for Google.

Price-Waterhouse-Cooper has a concerted, company-wide effort to involve, discover, and foster white men as diversity participants and leaders. Oftentimes, companies will select minorities to be their organization’s diversity leaders. But what many people forget is that white men can be effective leaders for this cause, too. Since diversity is about inclusiveness, the point is not to discount an entire group of people when it comes making changes. You’d be surprised how much you can motivate your employees when you empower them with a socially responsible agenda.

There isn’t one right way of being a diverse, inclusive, and socially responsible company, but when things go wrong, everybody notices it. In a world where women are increasingly disrupting traditionally male-dominated fields and culture, we must all live diversity and not just talk about it.