Blog Post

The Secret to Increasing Diverse Representation in Senior Leadership

By Casey Russo
September 28, 2022

Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) are the mavens of workplace culture, and when asked what their top aspirations are for their organizations, they often reply with three key things: that everyone can equitably advance through the organization; that all employees, regardless of background, are included in driving business decisions; and that senior leaders are authentically invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But corporate leadership reality rarely meets aspirations. Seramount conducted a Global Fortune 500 data analysis based on publicly available employee demographic data and found that only eight percent have reached at least 30 percent parity of race and gender in leadership positions. The rate of change has been frustratingly slow, and if it continues at its current pace, Seramount experts note three specific risks involved:

  • There will be market loss. Seventy-five percent of consumers state that they will boycott organizations that don’t reflect their DEI promise.
  • It will deter the future workforce. Younger generations are 2x more likely to turn down a job with little diversity in leadership.
  • Lack of diversity in leadership will impede DEI progress. It becomes 54 percent less likely to integrate DEI into business goals when leadership is mostly homogeneous. Diverse leaders are more likely to do DEI work daily.

About the Research: Increasing Diverse Representation in Senior Leadership

To provide our CDO Collaborative partners with the answers and research they’ve been searching for to effect lasting DEI change, Seramount set out on a new research initiative, “Increasing Diverse Representation in Senior Leadership: How Exemplar Organizations Are Leading Change,” to discover the top strategies for increasing diverse representation in leadership. The methodology underscored the power of networks by focusing on three components: analyzing senior leader career paths, interviewing exemplar organizations, and learning from the organizations with the greatest growth.

Key Research Takeaways

We discovered that over 85 percent of organizations have implemented preparation programs and accountability policies for diversifying and advancing historically excluded talent (HET). Both are helpful, but alone not enough. The missing link is in building human connections.

Networks don’t just happen on their own, and studies show that it takes about 30 hours of positive interaction to move someone from a position of an acquaintance to a member of an inner professional network. Yet, only 15 percent of organizations have implemented strategies such as HET-focused sponsorship programs and networking events specifically designed to connect HET with senior leaders. It is important to be mindful that traditional networking events often place the onus on HET to conform to White male culture, or they leave “making strong connections” to chance. To prevent senior leaders from falling into inequitable habits—in group favoritism and bias—it’s important to formalize “friction points” to promote equitable senior placement. This may be in the form of designated hiring and promotion disruptors or hiring and promotion justification forms.

Key Expert Recommendations

To truly effect change and increase diverse representation in senior leadership, CDOs must focus their efforts on influencing corporate networks. When designing your DEI strategy, remember these key tips:

  • Design ongoing connection opportunities that last at least 30 hours.
  • Place the onus on senior leaders to foster inclusion by using concrete strategies.
  • Orchestrate unlikely networks as a large part of DEI strategy.

Throughout the course of our research, Seramount uncovered nine different case study examples of how organizations are bringing these concepts to life and seeing tangible results. Members of the CDO Collaborative will have the opportunity to meet with our experts to workshop their strategy and dive deeper into the case study examples that are most relevant to their organization or industry. Interested in learning more about membership? Contact us.

Download the Research Executive Briefing: Increasing Diversity Among Senior Leadership

About the Author

Casey Russo
Associate Director, Product Marketing