The most well-known diversity initiative is the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission established by The Civil Rights Act of 1991. Its mandate was “to identify the glass ceiling barriers that have blocked the advancement of minorities and women as well as the successful practices and policies that have led to the advancement of minority men and all women into decision-making positions in the private sector”.
The Commission was directed to conduct a study of opportunities for, and artificial barriers to, the advancement of minority men and all women into management and decision-making positions in Corporate America. The Glass Ceiling Commission’s report, which was finalized in 1995, was meant to identify the barriers so that they could be broken. When reviewed today, the document is thorough, relevant and current. Its recommendations became the core of diversity best practices for the next two decades. Unfortunately, it failed in its mission.
The progress of women has been minimal. Women, and minorities, rarely reach the senior levels of corporate ranks. A recent Catalyst report noted women represent <14% of corporate executives at top publicly traded companies, 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 15% of board directors at those companies. Yet, the global workforce is nearly 50% female.
Companies that focus on the business impact of diversity – understanding the commercial impact within each company – show an increase in profitability. This has been known for some time. In 1992, Kotter and Heskett proved that, over a 10-year period, companies that intentionally managed their culture significantly outperformed those that did not. In 1998, a study by Covenant Investment Management showed that “The 100 companies rated lowest in diversity averaged 7.9% annualized stock return; compared to 18.3% for the 100 companies that rated highest”.
The lack of progress can be attributed to the gap between concept and execution. The subject matter of Diversity and Inclusion is unusual in that it touches each individual’s core values, conscious behaviors and subconscious mindsets. For this reason, a fairly simple concept became incredibly challenging to implement.
The solution lies in managing Diversity and Inclusion like the business imperative it is; not as a nice to do, or an altruistic gesture. The thoughtful management of corporate culture is the linchpin to an effective Diversity Program. If diversity is addressed in the same manner as all other business matters - with a strategy based upon facts, figures and measured against for deliverables – it will be achieved.
Strategic Diversity Solutions: Women at the Corporate Helm
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