Diversity Initiatives in Action: The Path to Success is Not Linear
12 December 2023
At IIC Partners, our search consultants are retained to build boardrooms, attract industry-leading executives, and shape high-performing and inclusive teams. The decisions made during recruitment and assessment create ripples that affect lives, mold cultures, and reshape corporate landscapes.
In this lies a profound responsibility. Leaders must wholeheartedly believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is both morally right and essential for success, and ensure their organizations’ resources and actions match this priority. Even as other issues arrive and cost-cutting pressures loom, it is up to each of us to hold the tide on progress made and push for continual improvement.
Let’s take a look at the power of diversity, the barriers restricting progress, and how we can galvanize again for the next wave of change.
The Power of Diversity in Teams and Organizations
Studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative, creative, and resilient than non-diverse teams. They outperform their less diverse counterparts, better capture market opportunities, and build stronger relationships with customers and communities.
Yet, while some progress has been made in recognizing the importance of diversity in organizations, there is still so much work to be done. Too much of what we call progress is ineffective in driving real change. Worse, it allows organizations, corporations, and cultures to make a nominal effort to address DEI without understanding or addressing the underlying issues.
If we want to create real change, we must “walk the talk” by making DEI a practice, not an acronym.
Challenges with DEI
There are plenty of examples of organizations that claim to be diversity-focused but lack processes and mindsets that allow for genuine diversity, equity and inclusion. Let’s explore the adoption of rules that aren’t properly used or that don’t serve their intended purpose to effect change through the example of the National Football League (NFL).
In 2003, the NFL adopted The Rooney Rule: “A policy that mandates league teams must interview at least one woman and one underrepresented minority in the slate of candidates for senior and coaching positions.”
The Rooney Rule was created with the intention of increasing the number of minorities hired in head coach, general manager, and executive positions. And yet, 20 years after that rule was adopted, we see that, while 56% of players in the NFL are Black, there are only three Black head coaches, representing less than 9% of total head coaches.
In the NFL, there is a significant disparity between the diversity of its players and coaching staff — the largest among men’s major sports leagues. This has not changed even though there is a significant and diverse pool of former players who are highly qualified to serve as coaches.
A recent legal case demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the rule.
In 2022, there was an open head coach position for the New York Giants team. Brian Flores, head coach of the Miami Dolphins, was widely considered the top head coach candidate in the NFL after the 2021 season and a likely hire for the Giants position, with an interview lined up for the role.
However, before Flores had been interviewed, another coach, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, texted Flores, congratulating him on landing the job. Belichick’s message said he heard from the Giants and from another team that Brian was “the guy.” That’s when Flores realized Belichick must have meant to text another Brian, Brian Daboll, the candidate who did land the Giants job.
To summarize: An NFL team had a remarkably qualified Black candidate scheduled for an interview, but they had already decided to hire another candidate before he got a chance to present his credentials.
As a result, Brian Flores is suing the NFL and three of its teams with allegations that the league exhibits a continued pattern of racist hiring practices, including racial discrimination during the interview stage.
While the case is pending trial, the ripple effects extend beyond the sports world. Flores’ lawsuit should spur a profound introspection within organizations and their executive search committees. Progress isn’t simply about the existence of regulations like the Rooney Rule but rather the application of these rules to ensure they genuinely serve their intended purpose of fostering diversity in leadership.
The Rise and Decline of DEI Progress in Business
Change is often galvanized by historic and tragic moments; the rise of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is no exception.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 social unrest in the USA, companies scrambled to address diversity issues again. Among other things, we saw a trend to add C-suite leaders dedicated to driving DEI progress in the form of the Chief Diversity Officer role. McKinsey reports that the rate of new hires for a CDO position in 2021 was nearly triple the pre-pandemic rate.
Some three years later, we are seeing a drastically reduced demand for the Chief Diversity Officer role, the elimination of the role in some companies, and signs that those holding the CDO role are not being afforded the budget – or the trust – to drive change. This is happening in major companies like Nike, Disney, Gucci, Uber, Zoom, Pinterest, and Apple, where the position of CDO is either currently vacant or a revolving door, as people who hold the position leave after just a few months on the job.
It’s a dispiriting picture. Many CDOs still lack clear lines of communication with the CEO, real authority or influence with business leaders, or enough resources to help a firm successfully—and sustainably—diversify talent pools and create a more inclusive, inviting culture. Additionally, the role of CDO is seen by many organizations as a “nice to have” rather than a necessary position the organization needs to thrive.
Once again, we have a moment that sparked a response but a failure to turn that response into lasting change because the role was not intentionally or purposefully integrated.
Keep Moving Forward
These examples are disheartening, but all hope is not lost. We have already come so far and there are many new wins on the horizon. For example, the European Union is introducing measures designed to strengthen the application of equal pay for equal work between women and men and to enhance equality in the workplace in general.
There is optimism that the equal pay and pay transparency directive will be an essential step towards removing discrimination between men and women getting paid differently for doing the same job. And while it will come down to organizations’ application of the law—and self-governed policies as we have seen in the NFL—there will be a clear platform for justice.
Within our own organizations, even small decisions can have deeply impactful results. Insisting on diverse candidate slates, allocating budget for DEI assessments, supporting inclusive mentorship programs, setting clear goals tied to performance reviews, and speaking up against bias (even when you are afraid to do so) are just a few ways to keep the momentum of change.
And while it may not always be a straight line of progress, we must keep listening, discussing, internalizing, acting, and moving forward. Each step can bring incredible impact for yourself and your colleagues.
At IIC Partners, we embed diversity, equity and inclusion into our search and assessment processes, and we firmly believe in the value and positive impact it brings to our colleagues, clients, and communities. Join me in reconfirming our commitment to building an inclusive future by setting aside some time to list what actions you can take today. Together we bring the next historic wave of change.