What interactions are necessary for corporations to enjoy the proven bottom-line benefits of a diverse team at the top?

It is never a one-man or one-woman show. It is a unified effort that permeates the organization to its core. As one of our WOMEN Unlimited clients puts it, for diversity to take hold “it has to be both federal and local.”

It Starts At the Top
The CEO must be committed to diversity; and must be perceived as so. Executives and managers at every level must know that efforts and initiatives are not niceties; they are necessities…that promoting women and advancing diversity are not a “plan de jour” but a long-term commitment by which managers will be measured and held accountable.

If employees at all levels understand the seriousness of top management’s commitment to diversity, it will happen. Old biases, old cultures and old stereotypes will slowly start to fade. Everyone, including the talented women themselves, will know that there is not just room at the top for them; there’s a C-suite waiting.

The Key Players in Advancing Diversity
Once top management has made its message clear, three groups play a necessary role in fostering diversity: male managers, mentors and networks.

Male Managers: The male manager is the front line in making sure that the talented women on his staff understand there is serious top-level interest in female advancement…that he will help them gain the training and development they need to get ahead… and that he will provide honest feedback about performance, behavior and changes needed to advance. Additionally, research shows that male managers often experience growth and development of their own attitudes and competencies when they engage in this process. Of course, talented women need the support of female managers as well, but the reality is that the current power structure (especially at upper-mid management and higher) is male dominated and their role in female advancement is unequalled .

Mentors, male and female, are significant players in helping women advance. Most talented women are savvy enough to know they need mentors, but fall short in how they leverage the relationship. In the mentoring process, women must intentionally prepare for the relationships… intentionally put their mentor’s suggestions into action and intentionally build internal relationships based on these insights. Research shows that mentees who act in this intentional way enjoy significantly higher career success than those who don’t.

Networks: The term network has become an all-encompassing cliché. For the purposes of fostering diversity, a network must encompass talented men and women from inside and outside the organization, with different cultural backgrounds and different corporate points of view. The network should also include people outside of regular contacts and those at leadership levels. A network is NOT a group of friends or a gathering of like-minded thinkers.

Pulling It All Together—a Diversity Trifecta
To summarize, this is the kind of corporate village that makes diversity at the top happen:
• A vocal, pro-diversity CEO
• Managers, networks and mentors, all in play to support female talent
• Women themselves open to the change and to growth needed to achieve their career goals

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.