Measuring Up: Diversity Accountability Scores Big at Catalyst Awards Conference

Image via Catalyst

Image via Catalyst

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Metrics, metrics, metrics was the theme of this year’s Catalyst Awards Conference. Held yesterday in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Conference honored award winners Campbell Soup, Deloitte, LLP, RBC, and Telstra Corporation Limited.

Each of these companies demonstrated a passionate commitment toward promoting workplace gender diversity, and they had the numbers to prove it. The general consensus within the conference, attended by over 70 CEOs and 1500 industry leaders, was: “if you set targets for other parts of your business, why not set gender and diversity targets as well?”.

“The business case for gender diversity is so clear,” commented Julie Nugent, Director, Research and Chair of the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee, referring to recent studies showing that gender diversity at the top ranks of companies improves their bottom line. “This is truly becoming a global initiative.”

With the award winning companies based in the US, Canada, and Australia, Nugent explained that Catalyst received applications from all over the world, citing a particularly large increase in applications from the Asia-Pacific region this year.

The international research-based organization works “with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business.” The awards honor “innovative approaches with proven results taken by organizations to address the recruitment, development, and advancement of all managerial women, including women of color.”

Award Winning Programs: Metrics, Accountability, and Commitment

Each of the award winning companies showed a measurable commitment to gender diversity, with measurable results to prove the program’s success.

For example, Campbell Soup CEO Douglas R. Conant explained how its new product line Select Harvest was not only a product created with women in mind, but it was also driven by women leadership. The soup was the most successful in its category for 2008, and just last week it was named the most successful new food product. By bringing more women into its leadership, Conant said, Campbell “created a $200 million product over night.”

Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer and Inclusion Officer at Campbell explained that the company’s women’s initiative “Winning with Women” was designed to “address the challenges women face,” including work/life issues and child/elder/family care. It allowed women to learn from each other and share ideas.

O’Neale also mentioned that Winning with Women became the model for other affinity groups at Campbell – which is important. Back in 2001, Conant said, the company partnered with Gallop to measure its employee engagement levels – it had the “poorest level of engagement Gallop had ever seen.” After the women’s network and other affinity groups were introduced, the company has seen engagement levels rise significantly – “for the past four years, we’ve been in the top quartile for engagement,” Conant said.

Deloitte’s program, the “Women’s Information Network” (WIN), was designed to improve the retention and advancement of women within the company. Barry Salzberg, Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte, LLP, explained that WIN was implemented in 1993, after the company found that while it was hiring about 50% women, a very small percentage of leadership was made up of women. He continued, “They were not making it through to the top levels.” He continued, “Recruiting was easy, it was the retention and advancement that were difficult for us.” This was not only bad for women at the firm, but it was also bad for business.

“We believe… when you have an increasing amount of diversity being brought to the table… you get multiple perspectives, better thinking, and more creative thoughtful solutions for the client,” he said. Additionally, as the makeup of the marketplace becomes more diverse, clients wanted to see that same diversity from Deloitte.

According to Salzberg, Deloitte has more than doubled the numbers of senior managers who are women, and the rate of attrition of women has dropped significantly. One challenge noted by both Salzberg and Barbara Adachi, National Managing Principal, Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women at Deloitte and Principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, is keeping WIN fresh after 17 years.

For example, Adachi said, “WIN has embarked on “a more focused effort on engaging men.” According to Adachi, the advisory board is now made up of 50% women and 50% men. Additionally, after hearing reports that the events were looking “fluffy,” the program became more business focused – not “fashion shows and tea parties.” Now events must be on business topics and must appeal to both men and women.

Adachi commented “there is no magic formula” to WIN’s success. The reason for its continued relevance is that “WIN is an innovation engine. We’re never satisfied.” Besides WIN, accountability is also key to Deloitte’s continued success in the gender diversity realm. Gender diversity is part of performance reviews, Adachi explained. And while the firm has occasionally encountered pushback on the diversity factor due to the economic climate, another key to success has been making it clear to employees that the diversity aspect of their performance is non-negotiable. “It’s full steam ahead,” she said.

Considering diversity as a business initiative is part of RBC’s success too. RBC, based in Toronto, Canada, has emerged from the economic recession as one of the strongest financial services companies in the world. According to Gordon M. Nixon, President and CEO of RBC, “We look at diversity as the right thing to do,” both for its “social purpose,” and as “a significant business opportunity.”

“The business case for diversity has been a key differentiator in opening the minds of people” he explained. Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer at RBC, further explained the metrics involved in the company’s commitment to diversity. “Each staffing matters,” she said. The company’s goal is that one half of new hires have to be women, and one fifth of new hires have to be a visible minority, she explained.

The company also engages in “diversity dialogues.” Hirji said, “The idea is quite simply about paring a woman or visible minority with a senior leader. And they are really meant to learn from each other. It’s a reciprocal approach.” She continued, “It’s beyond Diveristy 101… and it’s been powerful in inspiring leaders to change their behavior,” regarding diversity.

Regarding criticism of target based approaches, Nixon said, “If you don’t set goals, you don’t achieve success.”

Telstra views gender diversity not only as an internal issue, but as a responsibility to all of Australia. As one of Australia’s “most iconic brands,” the company sought to create a change in “Australia’s blokey culture,” explained, Andrea Grant, Group Managing Director, Human Resources for Telstra Corporation Limited.

“The male dominated culture in Australia was mirrored at Telstra,” she explained. “We want Telstra to lead the way. It’s the responsibility we have toward the woman of Australia.” According to Grant, in 2006, the company took a look at its gender representation – and found it hadn’t changed in 17-18 years. The company set hard targets, worked to connect women, developed male and female leadership, and reached out to the female customers.

“We set gender goals for all of our leaders. They report against their goals on a monthly basis.” Grant noted that the company also works to diminish its internal pay equity gap, as well as building its pipeline of female candidates.

Following tough accountability measures for gender targets as well as virtual and personal mentoring programs, the numbers of women in the organization have risen dramatically – in just a few years. Now the number of women in middle management is 41%, for example. One reason for the success of the program, she said, is that the company is “engaging the entire workforce. This is not just a women’s issue.”

The awards presentations made clear: these companies are not taking their commitment to gender diversity lightly. Their successes show that progress can be achieved. Through top-down leadership, stringent commitment to targets, and perseverance despite detractors, these organizations have shown the way for other companies to work toward gender parity – and they have been rewarded with strong returns in the marketplace as well.

As RBC’s Nixon remarked, the award “does act as a catalyst to push organizations to the next level… and that’s more important that the recognition.”

Highlighting Success: Discussion with Ann Mulcahy, Chairman of Xerox

Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and former CEO of Xerox, was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In introducing Mulcahy, Ilene Lang, CEO of Catalyst, said while we should look to female firsts for inspiration and guidance, “let’s not get distracted by the narrative of female firsts. We still have a long way to go.”

Mulcahy, who has worked for Xerox for 34 years, recalled that when she started as CEO, “there was a desire to make it look not just doable, but easy – and it wasn’t.” At the same time, she said, “sometimes we focus on the downside. But just about everything in life comes with tradeofffs.” According to Mulcahy, the benefits, satisfaction, and fun she’s experienced through her career have far outweighed the downsides.

Continuing the discussion of setting gender targets at corporations, Mulcahy explained that while efforts made toward gender diversity are important, it’s the results that really matter. “I’m a business person, and I think we need to focus on results. Many people in the business community are uncomfortable with setting targets.” She continued, “A bad economic climate is no excuse.”

She also emphasized the importance of succession planning, following her recent handover of the CEO post to Ursula Burns. “We wanted to demonstrate the way it should happen in corporations.” Even still, she continued, “The hardest things I’ve ever done were, first, sharing power and then, letting go.”

When asked what her advice to women would be, she said, “I think for women, I would say, be ambitious – and that’s all about expectations.” She continued, “Aspire to be the highest level that they want to aspire to achieve.”