Written by Angela Tise, Northeast
Regional Director and Membership
Services Chair, The CFO Leadership

In December, our NYC CFO Leadership Council team had a lively discussion with some of our city’s leading CFOs on how to champion the value of diversity and inclusion within their companies. 

After all, there is indisputable evidence that shows diversity in the workplace helps drive economic growth and strength while helping a company’s competitive edge. 

Kim Armor, CFO of Comcast Ventures, kicked off our discussion with a few statistics to consider: 

  • The National Bureau of Economic Research measured the increase of the talent pool in the US economy between 1960-2008 and found that aggregate output per worker had grown by 15-20% due to an improved allocation of talent. 
  • A study from Deloitte found over a 3-year period, diverse companies see 2.3 times the cash flow per employee when compared to less diverse peers. 
  • And a McKinsey study stated that companies in top quartile for racial & ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have returns above national industry medians. 

This alone should motivate company leaders to make sure to embrace diversity in the workplace– but how does one go about championing this? One way is to change our own personal thinking, then change our candidate pool (or vice versa). 

Recognize Our Unconscious Bias

The first step is to recognize our own unconscious bias in our interaction with people. And what is it exactly? In “Unconscious Bias: Strategies to Address Bias and Build More Diverse and Inclusive Organizations,” a white paper authored by Global Training Specialists, explains that:  

At any given moment, our brains are receiving 11 million pieces of information. We can only consciously process about 40 of those pieces. To process the remaining 10,999,960 we rely on our subconscious, which helps us filter information by taking mental shortcuts.

Unconscious bias refers to the information, attitudes, and stereotypes that inform our subconscious information processing and dictates the process by which we take these mental shortcuts. While unconscious information processing is a critical part of human functioning, the shortcuts we take, and the bias that informs those shortcuts, often introduce errors into our decision-making.

Sounds a bit uncontrollable, right? The good news is that there are a wealth of resources available to help us recognize and manage our own personal unconscious bias. We have technology that can help us make unbiased selections (think PyMetrics or other Artificial Intelligence tools) and amazing books (What Works by Iris Bohnet or The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis to name a few) to help us realize our personal and perhaps unconscious bias.

Unconscious Bias and The Quota Effect

Changing the numbers in our own company can be tricky especially if the company has a long history of hiring people that look just like them.  And when that is evident, and quotas are mandated, there tends to be a negative connotation that goes with the idea of filling quotas. 

One recommendation that I thought quite helpful with my own thinking was to think differently about what it means to “meet quotas.” Beth Haggerty, Co-Founder and CEO, Parity Partners encouraged us to “Look to meet the diversity quotas if that is what is being mandated by your company, but don’t let that be a mindset of sacrificing quality”.  She offered out that meeting quotas could be the great incentive to figure out how to increase the candidate pool and fill it with different everything (nationality, ethnicity, gender, etc).

Finding Candidates Beyond Your Own Unconscious Bias

If your HR team is having a tough time in finding diverse candidates that fit the position, look to organizations that can help you search out a larger pool of prospects from different areas so that you are not depending on the same people to hire the same type people – it is a fact that people tend to be attracted to those who look like themselves. 

One exercise that was shared from Nina Boone, Regional Growth Leader, Chair of Aon’s US Diversity and Inclusion Board, Aon Greater NY is that they have yielded great success by having their employees attend diversity job fairs to attain talent from different backgrounds.  Ms. Boone also shared that they are considering partnering with diversity organizations in order to have another avenue in which they can maintain a strong flow of qualified candidates.

Neal Modi, SVP, Finance and Business Operations, Kargo (company is recognized for its  fast paced growth both nationally and globally) shared his philosophy on building a successful diverse team; He expanded his own thoughts that agreed with Ms Boone’s reference to a Harvard Business Journal Article on the importance of utilizing “the company’s whole brain” which is  explained  as using the outlooks of our diverse teams  to establish “creative abrasion”; This creative abrasion is what allows for the different perspectives to intersect with our own thinking and to help us  see the world differently, from their perspective, resulting in us actually embracing their vision rather than staying steadfast with our own.

Initiating this course of action gives others a model to follow and builds a stronger overall vision.

Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Shouldn’t Stop At The Hiring Process

While we spent quite a bit of time discussing how we can find the right candidates beyond our own unconscious bias, we also spent time discussing the importance of the entire lifecycle of your employees – after all, your diversity and inclusion efforts shouldn’t end once your candidates are hired.

Our speakers recommended that to champion the diversity of your team, make sure that you are conscious of how each individual is interacting with the rest of the group. If, for instance, you see that a woman on your team is not speaking up in meetings, take time to meet with her individually and ask her opinion of the conversation. 

Ask if she believes there was anything missing.  Sometimes, it just takes a little “one on one” to pull a person out of their discomfort and make them feel safe in the larger group.  And perhaps without her understanding right away what her new behavior affects, she will give permission to others who look like her, to feel safe to speak up.

The ultimate advice here: Culture can change for the better, one interaction at a time. 

How Do We Move Forward?

As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the good news here is that we are in a time when awareness and focus on diversity and inclusion is top-of-mind for all of us. In my opinion, the missing ingredient to real success is embracing the different perspectives, and allowing our own mindsets to be influenced, and maybe even changed. 

Bottom line is, if you are truly looking to increase the diversity in your company, it doesn’t happen overnight. This change needs to be an intentional effort, both for yourself and your company. 

If you would like to join us in our next meeting, do not hesitate to reach out to me, I am happy to tell you more about the CFO Leadership Council and how you can get more involved. Contact me anytime at [email protected]