The Business Case for Positive Company Culture

Why do people leave coveted tech jobs? Research shows that problems with culture and workplace equality play a large part. Learn what diversity leaders said at Workday Rising about how to grow and nurture a great company culture.

Why do people leave coveted tech jobs? Problems with culture and workplace equality play a large part, according to Kapor Center’s “The 2017 Tech Leavers Study,” which surveyed 2,000 people who left their jobs in tech in the preceding three years.

Carin Taylor, chief diversity officer at Workday, shared some of the results during a Business Leader Forum at the most recent Workday Rising. Nearly 40 percent of all respondents indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in their decision to leave a company; 30 percent of women of color felt they had been passed up for a promotion; and a large percentage of Asian and Caucasian men and women felt they were treated unfairly by leadership and management. Many LGBT workers told surveyors they had experienced stereotyping or bullying in the workplace. In other words, Taylor summarized, every demographic wrestles with issues of unfairness at work.

Leading the Way

In corporate America and on college campuses, leaders like Lesley Slaton Brown, chief diversity officer at HP Inc., and Larissa Roesch, vice president at Dodge & Cox and chair of the Advisory Council for the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) at the University of California’s business school at Berkeley, are working to increase the diversity of leadership teams, and to create supportive, inclusive environments. They were featured guests at Taylor’s forum.

Having a diverse and inclusive workplace is simply the right thing to do, said Roesch, but it also improves business outcomes—a fact that’s backed by data. For example, she explained, a recent research study showed that companies where at least three women serve on the board had more than 50 percent higher return on invested capital. Another study, she explained, “found that companies with more than 15 percent of women at the senior executive level had 50 percent higher profitability than companies with 10 percent or less.” And these numbers aren’t gleaned from just one study. Roesch added that other studies conducted over the past 30 years show similar results.

At Berkeley Haas business school, which graduates more than 1,000 students each year, the goal is to develop equity-fluent leaders. And if you don’t know what that means, it’s because the students invented the term. Equity-fluent leaders recognize the value of differently-lived experiences and courageously use their power to affect change.

HP Embraces Inclusive Leadership

While change is happening at the college level—Roesch said it was difficult to find funding for EGAL four years ago and now the dollars are pouring in—Brown confirms that it’s happening at the corporate level, too. When HP separated into two companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc., in 2015, “we had the opportunity to do it right the first time around,” she said. “We started by creating one of the most diverse boards of directors in the tech industry.”

Brown and Roesch also discussed the importance of a growth mindset, which is the idea that you believe people can change. Roesch cited recent research from Haas faculty member Laura Kray that shows “if people view images or videos of women as CEOs, or underrepresented minorities in senior positions, they are statistically more likely to view those people as being capable in those roles.” The research proves, she said, “that some of what we believe is just a social construct.”

You hire for tomorrow’s leadership, not for a specific job anymore, according to Brown. “When you think about inclusive leadership, it’s about a culture in which people can bring their ideas to the table,” she said. “As you feel you belong in the company, then you have the power to be more creative and innovate. Then ultimately, you’re growing as an individual and the company’s bottom line is impacted.”

What Diversity Looks Like Today

The women on the panel agreed that everyone must be part of the conversation. “We became siloed because affinity groups gave us a place to feel safe to have conversations,” said Roesch. “But now it’s time to break it open. We need to see different examples of successful people.”

Women and underrepresented minorities can’t tackle challenges they see in the workplace alone, she added. Take the suffragettes as an example. “Both women and men had to convince men in power to give women the right to vote in 1920. We can’t do it alone now. We need to bring other people into the conversation.”

Add millennials and Gen Zs to the mix, too, as they enter the workforce. “They’re demanding that we start to get engaged and address these issues,” said Taylor. “They’re saying, ‘If you’re not helping us address these social issues that are creeping into the workplace and impacting me, I’m not interested in coming to your company—or purchasing from your company.’”

So how can we build more awareness around diversity and inclusion? A willingness to have respectful and courageous conversations, for starters. “We also have to get very comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Brown. “We have to be open to understand, to listen, and to hear. Just as you want to listen to the needs of your customers, you also need to take the time to hear the needs of your employees.”

To watch this Workday Rising Las Vegas Business Leader Forum with Carin Taylor, Lesley Slaton Brown, and Larissa Roesch, register here. Select “Endless Possibilities: The Power of Diversity and Inclusion” under Business Leader Forums.

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