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Executives from large companies around the world said they’ve made significant progress in diversity and inclusion efforts focused on gender, ethnicity, national origin, race and color, according to a Forbes Insight study, but they face certain barriers as they develop and implement diversity strategies.
The report, Fostering Innovation Through a Diverse Workforce, released July 14, 2011, reflects insights from 321 executives who have direct responsibility or oversight for their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs and who work for large global enterprises with revenues of more than $500 million.
Thirty-five percent of respondents came from the Americas, 34 percent from Asia-Pacific and 31 percent were from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Nearly half of the respondents (44 percent) held C-level titles or were board members. About a third held corporate management positions or were in HR or talent management, while 21 percent came from business operations and 12 percent from finance.
Most respondents (54 percent) cited gender diversity as the area in which they feel they had made the most progress, followed by ethnicity/national origin (mentioned by 42 percent) and race/color diversity (mentioned by 39 percent).
As for areas needing the most improvement, respondents agreed that disability and age topped the list, at 29 and 28 percent respectively, followed by sexual orientation, noted by 23 percent of respondents as an area for improvement.
The executives who responded said they saw a number of barriers that could impact their organizations’ ability to develop or implement a strategy for workplace diversity and inclusion:
Diversity Drives Innovation
Nevertheless, 85 percent of respondents agreed (48 percent strongly so) that diversity is crucial to gaining the perspectives and ideas that foster innovation.
“Diversity fosters creativity,” Frédéric Rozé, CEO for L’Oréal USA, is quoted as saying in the report. “We need to generate the best ideas from our people in all levels of the company and incorporate them into our business practices.”
Consequently, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) said their companies planned to put more focus on leveraging diversity for their business goals, including innovation, over the next three years.
“Executives understand that their companies can’t be successful on a global platform if they don’t have a diverse and inclusive workforce,” the report authors noted. “Multiple voices lead to new ideas, new services and new products and encourage out-of-the-box thinking.”
Finding a way to tap into a diverse pool of employees can even help companies avoid negative media attention such as that experienced by C.B. Fleet Co., Inc., owner of the brand Summer’s Eve, which made headlines for a series of commercials that used various voices and accents that some said reflected racial and ethnic stereotypes, according to an article published by AdWeek July 27, 2011.
Huey Wilson, a member of Mattel’s diversity board, told Forbes Insights that their employee resource groups (ERGs) have been used for just such a purpose: “We have to make sure that we’re culturally sensitive. There have been some big near misses that we might not have avoided without the ERGs.”
When it comes to implementing policy and programs, however, 65 percent of respondents said the responsibility shifts to HR.
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