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Leaders Need to Drop the Lame Excuses for Poor Diversity Numbers

Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gladis, Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer, and Aaron Staton in Mad Men.Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gladis, Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer, and Aaron Staton in Mad Men.
Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gladis, Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer, and Aaron Staton in Mad Men.Courtesy of AMC

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you play a role in advancing workplace equality?” is written by Rod Drury, CEO at Xero.

The word “diversity” is thrown around casually by many organizations. But how many companies are making inroads in workplace equality? As CEO of a cloud accounting innovation company, I see it as a personal obligation to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to progress to leadership positions.

Here’s how I play my part, and how you can too:

The writing’s on the wall

At Xero, our values are inscribed on the walls of our offices worldwide. One of them is #human, which describes our commitment to our people. It means treating others with respect and communicating clearly, openly, and honestly. No organization is perfect, but our people are honest with themselves and each other. That means speaking up when something isn’t right. Within the organization, we’re continuously having conversations about what we can improve on. When it comes to diversity, it is crucial to keep this dialogue open.

It’s not that hard to pledge commitment to equality within your organization, but whether you do so continuously is another matter. Working toward a more diverse workforce isn’t confined to a once-a-year roundtable discussion, but something to maintain constant awareness of. Technology such as Workday, a human resource management software tool, can help you quantify how diverse your business is.

Remove the glass ceiling before they get there

Part of any organization’s future success depends on keeping and nurturing talent. It takes about 15 years for talent to move through a business, so ask yourself now if there are any obstacles preventing women and minorities from career progression. If so, remove them, so that when they arrive there’ll be nothing in the way.

If you’re truly committed to developing women and minorities in your business, offer opportunities for them to advance their skills. If there are people in your organization who want to learn how to run a business, invite them to sit in on business development meetings. If someone wants to learn how to code, help them develop those abilities by funding career development classes.

Last year, I learned how difficult it is for a solo parent to build a career. When chatting to one of my talented sales team members while driving back with her from a business trip, I learned that she would need to pay for a full day of child care in order to take an overnight work trip. Growing her career was causing her financial stress. My organization has realized that we can improve upon helping working parents shoulder the financial burdens associated with work.


Don’t let obstacles stop you

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t roadblocks preventing me from making our company more diverse. Several years ago, I was looking for a director for our Australian board. I was feeling quite exposed, because there were no women on it. I wanted to rectify this, but I didn’t want to make a token hire just to improve our numbers.

What I found was that there weren’t as many women with board experience out there as there were men. Some women fit the bill, but they were in high demand, and as a relatively new company I felt that we had an obligation to find the next generation of talent. I leveraged my network and found a rising star on the fast track at one of the big financial institutions in Australia. I offered her the opportunity for some board experience, and she still serves on our board nearly three years later.

Working toward diversity doesn’t require perfection, but it does require honesty. If your organization is genuinely committed to evaluating your diversity situation and addressing any weaknesses, you’re bound to make progress.

Drury has no investment in Workday.