In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Sujin Jang presented the concept of “cultural brokerage” as a way of facilitating interactions across employees from different cultural backgrounds to supporting team creativity. Her research shows that “cultural brokers” (team members with multicultural experience) can act as a link between team members whose experience is mainly limited to only one culture. This research has significant implications for an increasingly global workforce and for HR leaders working to support diversity and inclusion goals.
One key message for HR leaders is that while having diverse teams can foster innovative thinking, all of the members of those teams must also feel included in order to achieve maximum benefit to innovation and productivity. Our research at Gartner on D&I leadership also finds that an inclusive culture can have a major impact on team performance, particularly for diverse teams. (Gartner Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council clients can read our Creating Inclusive Leaders study here to learn more.)
But facilitating an inclusive environment where employees from different cultural backgrounds feel equally valued and included is not an easy task; even with cultural brokers on their team, leaders must be proactive about inclusion and should not depend on these brokers to foster constructive collaboration alone. We recommend four approaches to building inclusive team environments:
- Ensure leader behaviors match inclusive values: Our research shows that interpersonal integrity and productive conflict management are two leadership behaviors that effectively drive inclusive environments for employees.
A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center took a closer look at the gender gaps in corporate leadership in the US, focusing on top-level executive positions and the roles from which senior leaders are most commonly promoted to them. Drew DeSilver wrote up the analysis late last month at Pew’s Fact Tank blog:
Women held only about 10% of the top executive positions (defined as chief executive officers, chief financial officers and the next three highest paid executives) at U.S. companies in 2016-17, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal securities filings by all companies in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 stock index. And at the very top of the corporate ladder, just 5.1% of chief executives of S&P 1500 companies were women.
Nor do many women hold executive positions just below the CEO in the corporate hierarchy in terms of pay and position. Only 651 (11.5%) of the nearly 5,700 executives in this category, which includes such positions as chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO), were women. Although this group in general constitutes a significant pool of potential future CEO candidates, the women officers we identified tended to be in positions such as finance or legal that, previous research suggests, are less likely to lead to the CEO’s chair than other, more operations-focused roles.
That women are underrepresented among CEOs and other high-level executive positions is hardly breaking news. The most interesting finding from Pew’s analysis is that three-quarters of the CEOs studied had previously held leadership roles in operations: a function where women are significantly underrepresented. At the same time, the gains women have made in obtaining executive roles in finance, legal, and HR are not putting these women leaders on the CEO track.
This finding builds on other recent research showing that although women’s representation in management has increased dramatically over the past few decades, women are still segregated into leadership roles that are less production-focused, less highly compensated, and less likely to be career stepping stones toward the top of the pyramid. We see the same thing in boardrooms: Even as more women directors are appointed, they remain less likely than their male colleagues to achieve positions of influence on the board.
According to our research at CEB, now Gartner, even though 85 percent of CEOs believe it enhances business performance, only one third of employees are satisfied with diversity and inclusion at their organization, while nearly 60 percent of heads of HR believe their D&I strategy is ineffective. Many organizations are focused on making their cultures more inclusive and ensuring compliance with evolving legislation, but aren’t always seeing the results they had hoped for.
At our recent summit for HR executives in Johannesburg, more than 100 HR executives from 45 organizations had the opportunity to share ideas and hear from a panel of their peers how progressive organizations in South Africa are addressing the challenge of enhancing and evolving their D&I strategies.
1) Bring the Outside In
When defining what successful D&I looks like, our participants highlighted ideas and innovations, deliberate dialogue and co-creation, and thinking about diversity in all aspects: clients, products, and employees alike. The more integrated these are, the greater the impact. Many companies find that hiring employees from more diverse backgrounds gives them a way to engage new markets through new products, ideas or services. By bringing new perspectives into the organization, companies were better able to address the needs of both employees and customers.
2) Tackle Systems and Processes
Organizations that have made progress on D&I stressed the value of accelerated development programs that have yielded results in nurturing internal talent, including C-suite executives developed from within the organization; as well as the need to make hard decisions such as suspending the promotion process because the pool of candidates was not diverse enough.
Even though 91 percent of S&P global companies offer D&I training with 46 percent of organizations conducting their D&I training to mitigate unconscious bias, but as one participant shared, “It’s hard to catch bias in the moment.” One way to mitigate bias is by creating accountability for decision makers. For example, rather than expecting a hiring manager to make unbiased decisions independently, organizations are using a diverse panel when interviewing candidates. (To learn more, CEB Recruiting Leadership Council members can read our research on Driving Diversity Through Talent Acquisition.)