How white is your team?

Missed opportunities due to a lack of intentional focus on economic inclusion

Yes, you read that right. Look around. What does diversity look like on your leadership team? Among your managers and your employees? How many people of color? Women? People under 40?

If you are like most small and middle-market business owners, the people around you probably look a whole lot like you. That’s primarily white (86 percent), middle-aged and male (65 percent).

As part of our work on the Opportunity Akron initiative within our Elevate Greater Akron strategy, we are diving deeper in our region to understand the missed opportunities due to a lack of intentional focus on economic inclusion in our work, our organizations, our systems and our initiatives.

Tangible benefits

This is a “growth” thing, not a “do-gooder” thing. McKinsey & Co. has published work showing that companies with gender-diverse leadership teams are 25 percent more likely to be more profitable than their industry average. Ethnic diversity takes that number up to 33 percent. Other studies show that innovation, culture, profitability and brand all benefit from increased diversity in our businesses.

EY’s 2018 Growth Barometer shows middle-market CEOs are getting it. “Diversity has shot to the top of the recruitment agenda … 41 percent of respondents citing it as the greatest hiring priority compared with only 11 percent in 2017 … ”

So how come we are still so white? Part of the problem is that we don’t know we are discriminating — the data proving this unconscious bias are overwhelming. Doctors diagnose black patients differently. Car salesmen negotiate less aggressively with black customers. Landlords respond to fewer inquiries to emailers with “black names.” White legislators (both Democrats and Republicans) are less likely to respond to constituents with African-American sounding names. And, in the hiring process, for candidates with identical resumes, whites get 36 percent more callbacks. And it hasn’t gotten better in 25 years.

Making a difference

As a business owner with a lot on your plate, you may not be able to take on all aspects of this broad societal phenomenon. However, this is also about helping yourself. You lead your company, and you can improve its results with a more diverse team.

For instance, you can review your staff demographics (race, gender, age) and compare them to your customers and stakeholders. Where are the gaps? Set some achievable goals for one, two and three years from today and start talking with your leadership team.

You can develop two new places to send your job openings that will create new kinds of candidates. And for every new hire in your business, require at least one of your final candidates to be diverse.

Also, learn about your own predispositions. This may hurt, but take one of the tests at implicit.harvard.edu. You may learn something about your own blind spots.
The success of small and middle-market companies will change our region. If you lead on inclusion, you’ll succeed that much more.

Steve Millard is president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber, which is focused on (trying to get more diverse and) driving the success of the region’s business owners and employers to support growth and opportunity for the Greater Akron region.