Rosanna Durruthy, vice president of global diversity, LinkedIn. — LinkedIn

Why it matters:

  • Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} in profitability.
  • Yet Black professionals hold just 0.8{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of Fortune 500 CEO positions and only 3.2{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of senior leadership roles at large companies, despite accounting for more than 12{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of the U.S. population.
  • LinkedIn has committed to doubling the number of Black and Latino leaders, managers and senior employees on its U.S. team over the next five years.

LinkedIn is on a mission to chip away at the systemic racism that infects the work world and the hiring process with a spate of new diversity initiatives, like recruiting tools designed to mitigate bias.

But talk is cheap. And LinkedIn knows that first, it must be the change it wants to see in the world, as the saying goes.

The professional network, which connects 740 million professionals and 55 million companies, is revving up its efforts to “create economic opportunities for every member of the global workforce,” Rosanna Durruthy, vice president of global diversity, inclusion and belonging, told CO—. “That cannot happen if we are not creating diversity within.”

The move intersects with a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, as the country and business leaders alike face a national reckoning on race, with corporate America pledging to address systemic racism in unprecedented ways, such as tying executive bonuses to meeting diversity goals.

Companies are also waking up to the notion that a more diverse workforce is not just a moral but a business imperative, as firms with a diverse employee base and leadership teams are more profitable, Durruthy said.

Indeed, “a body of research reveals that companies where one-third of the leadership is comprised of people of color and women outperform the competition,” Durruthy said.

She’s not wrong: Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} in profitability, according to McKinsey research, just as companies in the top quartile for gender-diverse executive teams were 25{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} more likely to generate above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

When women and people of color contribute more equitably to a more fully employed workforce, they can add trillions to the U.S. GDP [gross domestic product], Durruthy said, citing research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

It’s the kind of change that has a societal ripple effect, strengthening communities that have long been excluded from wealth creation, she said. “If we can help change the landscape of opportunity, we can change the future.”

[More here on diversity’s return on investment.]

In the world of workforce solutions that range from sites like LinkedIn and Indeed to staffing firms and the human resources arms of companies worldwide, building more diverse teams “is an extremely hot topic that everyone has woken up to,” as companies scramble to hire consultancies to help guide those efforts, John Nurthen, executive director of global research for Staffing Industry Analysts, told CO—.

It’s why practices such as blind hiring—whereby businesses don’t see the job candidate they’re recruiting—are gaining ground, just as companies explore technology to thwart unconscious bias, he said.

[More here on building diverse teams.]

If we can help change the landscape of opportunity, we can change the future.

Rosanna Durruthy, vice president of global diversity, inclusion and belonging, LinkedIn

Addressing harsh workplace truths

LinkedIn conducted a survey of 2,000 Black professionals, which shined a spotlight on some harsh truths that underscore the need for change.

Black professionals hold just 0.8{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of Fortune 500 CEO positions and only 3.2{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of senior leadership roles at large companies, despite accounting for more than 12{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, 40{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of Black professionals say their biggest career obstacle is not having a clear path to opportunity for advancement at their organization. And while 78{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} of Black professionals surveyed believe diversity and equity are important to the senior leaders at their workplace, 40{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} said this is more talk than action, and their companies have not made any concrete changes to policies or culture, according to the findings.

Addressing the barriers to progress is not something the Black community can solve alone, Durruthy said. “Systems have been built with bias and systemic racism that have ignored people of color and the challenges they face,” she said. “Organizations have to create new systems that are inclusive and have to rewrite how people get hired, and how to reach into communities to identify talent.”

For Durruthy that mission is personal, and she knows of what she speaks.

The New York City native grew up with all the unfettered hopes and dreams of her self-described Middle-class household. But as a woman of color, who later experienced homelessness after her parents split, she has navigated the limiting, corrosive sting of unconscious bias.

After skipping two grades in high school and with her sights set on Harvard, Durruthy’s senior year academic advisor tried to talk her out of applying to the school. “I was dissuaded from the gifted schools,” she said. “There’s a judgement people form by looking at you.”

Nevertheless, she applied to Harvard and was accepted, starting her freshman year there at 16.

Durruthy’s experience points to the need for personal and professional networks that advocate for underrepresented groups, and “connect people to opportunity,” she said, what she calls her life’s work. “It’s hard to be what you can’t see, and it’s hard to have access to opportunity without someone championing you.”

Doubling people of color in its senior ranks

For its part, LinkedIn, Durruthy says, is now building new pathways to opportunities via expanded mentoring and networking initiatives like its upcoming TransformHER conference on March 19, which focuses on women of color in tech and paths to professional development and advancement.

It’s also beefing up diversity-focused management training, while promising to shore up its senior ranks with people of color.

Last fall, the company outlined a diversity strategy that committed to doubling the number of Black and Latino leaders, managers and senior employees on its U.S. team over the next five years. It’s also piloting a hiring program whereby job candidates are considered for their skills rather than just their academic pedigree.

That LinkedIn is committing to doubling the number of African Americans and Latinos in its upper ranks is consistent with the larger trend of glaring inequities in the nation’s C-suites, said Staffing Industry Analysts’ Nurthen. “Clearly, when you look at the data, the lack of diversity is a particular problem at senior levels, where 462 of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are white men,” he said.

As LinkedIn connects millions of professionals to millions of companies, and “companies are the engines of economic opportunity,” the platform is in a unique position to address systemic workplace inequities and the exclusion of underrepresented groups from those opportunities, Durruthy said.

Today, that’s precisely what its customers — both professionals seeking greater access to opportunity and companies looking to create meaningful and measurable diversity — are asking for, she said.

[Read here on establishing diversity, inclusion and equity practices.]

Tackling bias with tech

To that end, tackling bias is another key goal. In February, LinkedIn’s U.S. site added a prompt to members’ profiles, inviting them to self-identify by sharing their demographic information. (The prompt is not publicly visible, nor is it used to identify a member to other members, recruiters or companies without their explicit consent.)

Instead, LinkedIn plans to use the information to evaluate its own products for any biases and introduce new product features, and help hiring managers recruit more diverse teams, in part by helping companies create more diverse and inclusive hiring practices that invite all qualified candidates from every background.

“It’s about ensuring professionals can build strong networks and access opportunities regardless of demographics,” Durruthy said. That’s why “self-identification becomes a really important opportunity for [professionals] to participate in,” so that LinkedIn can deepen its understanding of its members.

A platform for conversations on ‘the undiscussables’

Last year, racial injustice and the growing influence of the Black Lives Matter movement threw systemic inequities into sharp relief. Then the coronavirus’ outsized impact on communities of color only amplified those inequities, Durruthy said.

Against that backdrop, LinkedIn saw member engagement with the diversity and inclusion courses on its Learning path channel surge more than 295{b68d5075d1956219fc4019e54aab7df99be03baa9282ef6dbc4db8370a7cdad9} between June and August as compared with the previous four months.

It’s now expanding that discussion in a bid to help employees and employers be “more effective as an ally, leader and to be a more successful professional” with its Conversations for Change series, she said.

Launched last month, the new discussion platform is designed to shine an unfiltered light on the experiences of Black professionals in life and work, and tackle what Durruthy called the “undiscussables.” These include conversations like the one with Dr. Bernice King (daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), who served up frank talk on how it’s incumbent on corporate America “to save the soul of America,” and with Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad on the “invisible obstacles” she and other minorities face in society. LinkedIn is also encouraging members to share their own stories on access to opportunities, mentorship, inclusion and defining career moments.

All told, narrowing the workplace equity gap is about doing good and doing well, Durruthy said. “We’ve continued to recognize with research that gender, racial and ethnic diversity will yield greater innovation, profitability and performance,” she said. “We recognize that diverse teams win.”

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Published March 03, 2021





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