Last summer’s protests reignited a movement for racial equality in America. But the call for change didn’t stop on the streets of our nation’s cities and towns; it also took center stage inside company C-suites and corporate boardrooms. Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce has been on the minds of business leaders for some time, but their progress in achieving this goal has been slow, at best.

Consider the facts: In the United States, 68% of C-level executives are White men and 18% are White women, compared to 10% and 4% of men and women of color, respectively, according to a study by McKinsey.

The same study revealed that women make up just 20% of corporate leadership teams, with more than a third of U.S. companies lacking a single female in an executive leadership role.

And a Gender Diversity Index released last summer noted that women occupy 22.6% of company board seats in the Russell 3000 Index. That’s a 6.5% increase in board seats during the past four years, and diversity among companies’ rank-and-file employees is moving in the right direction, too.

Why the senior management teams do not resemble their firms’ larger workforces is the same reason it has been difficult to achieve diversity on corporate boards: Most of the board members are White men. When they retire, they tap their circles of influence for a potential replacement with people who look like them.

For its part, Arizona is faring better than other parts of the nation – at least when it comes to board seats held by women – as one of six states with 20% overall female representation based on data from the Gender Diversity Index.

Yet there is still much work to be done to create a diverse workforce and make today’s companies look more like America’s general population.

To start, employers must undergo a sea change in how they view diversity, equity and inclusion. That is, they must not only look the part by representing a broad range of workers from different backgrounds, but also create a culture where diverse opinions, styles and experiences are welcomed and appreciated.

There must be a commitment to diversity at every touchpoint – from how they speak to existing employees to the way they recruit new ones. This includes revamping job descriptions to eliminate potential bias and use gender-neutral language to attract candidates who are a cultural addition instead of a cultural fit (as the latter could be perceived as hiring more of the same). It also requires looking for discrepancies in pay for open positions and among team members, and then adjusting salaries accordingly; embrace diversity through training.

But diversity isn’t just about hiring new staff; companies also must work harder to keep existing talent in place. That means creating a sense of belonging and developing policies, procedures and practices to keep employees motivated and happy. It’s about opening lines of communication among staff at every level of the organization, conducting “stay” vs. “exit” interviews to keep morale and productivity high, and even changing benefits to improve overall staff retention.

The way a company “lives” diversity and inclusion also must be reflected externally through branding, marketing and how it gives back to the community.

If this sounds like a lot of effort, it is, but the benefits will be immense. A 2017 study by Boston Consulting Group found that diverse teams help drive innovation and grow revenue at their companies by up to 19%. In another study, McKinsey noted that companies ranking highest for ethnic and cultural diversity were 36% more profitable than their less diverse peers.

Conversely, failure to embrace diversity can have adverse effects, particularly when it comes to recruiting younger candidates, who place a premium on working in a diverse and inclusive workplace.


Kathleen Duffy is president and CEO of Duffy Group, Inc., a Phoenix-based recruitment firm that has been sourcing and hiring candidates nationally and internationally for 30 years.