Set performance metrics and keep teams accountable to confront institutional paradigms and biases that perpetuate the status quo.
By Mike Carragher
If you’re a 60 Minutes fan, you may remember a recent episode featuring Salesforce’s Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff discussing his company’s commitment to gender equality. Except there was a twist to this story: A salary audit showed that some female employees actually made less than their male counterparts. Benioff was stunned by the numbers. After all, his company had a reputation for fairness and inclusion, and it had been ranked No. 1 on Fortune’s 2017 list of Best Companies to Work For.
But Benioff did what I could imagine many CEOs and leadership teams would be reluctant to do — he admitted before millions that his company hadn’t lived up to its promise to employees. Not only that, he corrected the salary imbalances to the tune of $6 million. It was the right thing to do, he said.
Call it a great PR move, but what I saw in Benioff’s actions and candor was a leader who’s living out the company’s core values.
Progressive leadership like Benioff’s reflects a refreshing dynamic in corporate America. Industries from tech to transportation to financial and AEC are recognizing that workforce diversity and inclusion are fundamental to their growth and long-term sustainability.
A mountain of research supports this view. McKinsey & Company’s 2015 report, Why Diversity Matters (www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/business%20functions/organization/our%20insights/why%20diversity%20matters/diversity%20matters.ashx), and Deloitte’s Diversity and inclusion: The reality gap 2017 Global Human Capital Trends (www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/diversity-and-inclusion-at-the-workplace.html), highlight data that underscore the positives of diversity and inclusion as a corporate culture.
While the two research papers offer noteworthy perspectives, it’s this key point found in the Deloitte study that says it all: “Companies with inclusive talent practices in hiring, promotion, development, leadership, and team management generate up to 30 percent higher revenue per employee and greater profitability than their competitors.”
And then there’s the perspective of the newest generation of professionals who in 2025 will make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. The Deloitte report observed that this generation sees inclusion as a mandatory part of corporate culture, defining how the company listens to them at work.
So, it stands to reason that employers whose cultures reflect these expectations hold competitive advantages when it comes to recruitment, retention, and performance.
The writing is clearly on the wall: Companies either move forward with diversity and inclusion or fall behind without them.
Based on my own experience as president and CEO of VHB, I know that it takes unwavering commitment from leadership to instill and maintain an inclusive culture.
That’s how VHB has approached its diversity and inclusion ambitions since deciding a few years ago that our company would need a broader array of perspectives, opinions, and life experiences to meet future challenges in the AEC industry. Even with VHB’s solid record on diversity and gender equality, we saw a need to do more to expand recruitment efforts and inspire greater collaboration among our 1,400 employees from diverse backgrounds.
With that thought in mind, last year we created the People and Culture Department. It’s led by a chief people officer who is part of our C-suite and reports directly to me. The department concentrates on employee engagement and enhancing the full employee experience so VHB can provide an environment that encourages each person to fulfill their potential and help our team grow stronger in the process. From employee recruitment and onboarding to career development and ownership opportunities, we’re fostering a healthy, diverse, engaged team. More recently, an employee-led resource group began to hold sessions that raise awareness of diversity and inclusion at VHB.
Advancing a diversity and inclusion agenda takes resolve from the very top because such an undertaking likely will confront institutional paradigms and biases that perpetuate the status quo. Training alone won’t yield a lasting impact on prejudices and practices. For diversity and inclusion to have their desired effects, leadership must set performance metrics and keep teams accountable.
But, as Salesforce’s Benioff proved, the full measurement of a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is in leadership’s actions. We need to set an example by living our core values and acting with integrity and respect for everyone. It’s the right thing to do.
Mike Carragher is the president and CEO of VHB, an engineering, science, planning, and design firm with 1,400 employees in 30 East Coast locations. VHB was named one of the 2017 Best Firms to Work For by Zweig Group and the 2018 Employer of the Year by Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS).