Professional Development

Diversity Is Not a Band-Aid: A Company Culture Overhaul

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Last week, we hosted an incredible panel on women in technology. It was well received and sparked some phenomenal questions and conversations surrounding diversity and in the workplace. (You can watch it here if you’re interested!) After the panel wrapped, I returned to my desk and talked with a coworker about the most significant takeaways of the day.

“I feel like sometimes companies get into trouble and then immediately appoint a woman into a new position to try and change the narrative,” she said.

“That’s a good point. But women are not band-aids. It’s not their job to make a workplace more diverse, and it’s not a reasonable expectation that on top of their duties, they also have to clean up the mess,” I replied.

This was exactly the point our panelists made: Diversity is not a one-and-done “fix” to culture or performance problems your organization is facing. Rather, it’s a thoughtful commitment to inclusivity and elevating different voices that enriches your organization inside and out.

In this blog, I’ll cover why your company culture might need an overhaul and give a few suggestions from our panel to get you on the road to a more committed view of diversity.

Is It Diversity for Diversity’s Sake?

One of our panelists, Sandra Zoratti, said: “Diversity is a red-hot topic, but diversity for diversity’s sake is not the point. Our differences make us better. Measurably better. Here’s the proof: An MSCI report showed that companies with at least three women on the board had consistently higher returns on equity than companies with less diverse boards (read: a financial and competitive advantage). As a result, Wall Street has rallied to support increased female board membership to enrich corporate diversity. In turn, institutional investment giants like BlackRock and Vanguard have publicly committed to challenging any and all corporations not embracing diversity. It’s time we all embrace diversity and harness it’s powerful force to significantly strengthen us all.”

Appointing a single diverse board member in an otherwise non-diverse board will not turn your company around. Examine your culture through different frameworks. Even if you are not a senior leader, would an employee, no matter their background or seniority, feel comfortable bringing up a problem or a pointing out something that may become a problem down the road? If not, it’s time to ask yourself why even if you might not like the answer. As Jim Ruberto said, “Monoculture dies, diverse culture thrives.” When selecting a team, it’s important to seek a wide variety of diverse opinions to create a more cohesive organization.

Are You Thinking About Age, Too?

“My biggest challenge has been age discrimination. A lot of people based on my age, based on being female, would take one look at me and say, “oh, she has no idea what she’s talking about.” We tried a lot of ways to band-aid that. We changed our appearance, we started wearing suits. We wore glasses instead of contacts. And it still happened. What we figured out was that we needed to attack that head on. We needed to approach people before they approached us and judged us.”—Emily Long, Senior Director of Business Development, Zia Consulting

Workers both young and old can often feel marginalized because of their age. For younger workers, this can keep them locked into a position that they are overqualified to hold. More advanced workers may feel dismissed by younger teammates when it comes to technology discussions despite their experience and historical knowledge. In either case, the true value and unique voice of the employee is lost when assumptions are made.

Not only should your company have a diverse mix of nationalities and gender identities, it’s also important to have a mix of ages. Having trouble with this when it comes to hiring? Strip all of the titles, dates, and company names from a candidate’s resume. What have they accomplished? Do their skills align with what you’re looking for? It’s tough to set aside bias but to build the best possible culture for your organization, it’s important to challenge yourself and your team. Remember: you might fail. It’s okay. Keep trying. Click To Tweet

Is it Safe to Disagree?

“I think with credibility comes authenticity. Your voice comes from authenticity and from your ability to object. I often ask my team to object. I don’t want people to agree with me if they don’t agree with me. Early in your career, you agree with everything. You don’t want to disagree. But that brings no value to anyone.”—Lee Ho, Digital Marketing Director, Avaya

Ask yourself, is “no” an acceptable answer when you pose a question to your team? Are you operating in a culture where it’s not okay to have a different perspective? What do you stand to lose if someone disagrees with your choices? Or, perhaps a better question, what do you stand to gain from disagreement? Whether it’s creating a new campaign, developing the strategy to enter a new market, or diving deeper into an existing issue hoping to find a new solution, constant complacent agreement will never foster progress.

Two Challenges (for Everyone)

I’d like to end this with two challenges: 

“I was with my previous employer for 25 years. So before I took a risk and came over to the Digital Analytics Association 2 years ago, that was a really big, scary move. But I look back and not only was that the best thing I ever did, I probably should have been willing to take risks sooner. A lot of times in my organization, we will talk about how someone feels like they might have messed up. I like to say, “You know what? We don’t cure cancer here. So be willing to go ahead and take a risk. If you make a mistake, it is fixable. You can definitely turn it around.” I think taking a risk is a great opportunity.”—Marilee Yorchak, Executive Director, Digital Analytics Association

Take a risk and revel in the opportunities it will provide for you.

“As a CMO who happens to be female, I must lead the charge for change. It is vital that I not only talk the talk, but walk the walk—for our customers, our partners, and the people I lead and serve. I challenge every CMO to take a hard look at their teams and to recognize any diversity gaps that may exist currently. Fearless leaders know that it’s okay to acknowledge your shortcomings, as long as they are never content with complacency. Without a diverse mix of viewpoints and experiences to pull from in the work we do in our marketing teams each day, we are forever limiting the potential and success of global organizations everywhere.”—Sarah Kennedy, CMO, Marketo

While Sarah challenges CMOs specifically, I’d like to open this up to everyone at every level. The time to make changes is not when you are in the C-suite, it is now. Look at your team, your company, and those around you and consider what change you can encourage now.

How would you rate your company culture right now on a scale of 1-10? Tell me about your company culture in the comments. I’d love to hear about what works and what doesn’t work for you.