We know that diversity matters. In addition to being the right thing to strive for, having a diverse workforce helps companies acquire and retain the best talent, build employee engagement, increase innovation, and improve business performance. Yet corporate diversity still lags, especially at the top levels, which continue to be dominated by white, heterosexual men.
It’s not that effort isn’t being made. As a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group and head of our firm’s diversity efforts, I know companies are investing in diversity programs. In fact, our research in 14 countries shows that 96-98% of large companies (above 1,000 employees) have such programs.
And yet, despite this investment, we’ve found that around three quarters of employees in underrepresented groups — women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ employees — do not feel they’ve personally benefited from their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs.
So what should companies do to make real progress?
We surveyed over 16,000 employees in 14 countries around the world to see what obstacles they face, which diversity and inclusion interventions are used at their workplace, and which they find most effective for women, racial or ethnic minorities (this data is from the U.S., UK, and Brazil only), and LGBTQ employees.
We found that members of majority groups continue to underestimate the obstacles – particularly the pervasive, day-to-day bias – that diverse employees face. Half of all diverse employees stated that they see bias as part of their day-to-day work experience. Half said that they don’t believe their companies have the right mechanisms in place to ensure that major decisions (such as who receives promotions and stretch assignments) are free from bias. By contrast, white heterosexual males, who tend to dominate the leadership ranks, were 13 percentage points more likely to say that the day-to-day experience and major decisions are free of bias.
It’s no surprise then that when employees ranked the efficacy of diversity interventions, there was consensus about getting back to basics and rooting out bias. The top-ranked interventions included robust, well-crafted, and consistently followed antidiscrimination policies; effective training to mitigate biases and increase cultural competency; and removing bias from evaluation and promotion decisions. These should be priorities for any organization that wants to improve diversity.