Diversity! The topic that has been in the press a lot recently, from the infamous Google employee memo to the discussion about the effectiveness of positive discrimination for college applicants.
As a working mother with three daughters who has spent her entire career in engineering and technology, I find that my thinking on diversity continues to evolve and mature. My awareness began as a college student, when I was one of only three women out of about 60 studying applied physics and electronics. In my first job, I was the only female (and youngest) engineer on the site. I felt I brought a very different perspective and approach, which generated some very interesting discussions. It was often the older engineers who were most supportive, and I was fortunate to find great mentors. This has left me with a passion for encouraging girls to continue in math, science, and technology, as there are many exciting and interesting opportunities in these fields for girls. But they often don’t have role models or mentors to look up to.
However, I realize now that diversity is much more than bringing women into STEM careers or management positions. There are many different dimensions to diversity. Each dimension represents an individual who can bring a unique perspective. Therefore, for any diversity or inclusion program to be successful, all ideas need to be implemented in a holistic way, be embedded into all the operational processes of the company, and include everyone.
Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of policies
Why does all this matter? Studies have shown that diverse teams yield better results (even if the process is sometimes messier and takes longer than usual). Digitalization is changing the world, and the skills needed for today’s workforce are in high demand – but supply is shrinking. Thus, hiring from the widest pool of talent will be important, especially for technology companies. Companies must also look at the ways they develop and retain people once hired. Policies around diversity, families, sustainability, leave, flexibility, and ongoing development can differentiate companies and make employees happier and more loyal.
However, all those policies cost money. Companies will need to regularly ensure that they are cost-effective and recognize that they require ongoing effort to be successful. The finance department needs to lead the way in understanding and articulating the cost/benefit case for all diversity and inclusion programs – especially because the benefits could be even larger that we have imagined. A recent article in The Enlightened Economist stated:
“The evidence we have of diversity bonuses understates the potential contribution of diversity because the evidence comes from the world as it is, not the world as it could be. A more inclusive world would produce larger bonuses.”
Toward that end, SAP and PwC are hosting the first SAP Women Forward luncheon at the SAP Finance Excellence Forum in New York, Oct 10–12, where they will tackle the challenges of taking the high road while managing the bottom line. Join representatives from SAP and PwC along with Caroline Hirsch, founder and owner of Caroline’s on Broadway, and Karen Seminara, CFO of Nickelodeon Kids, in an open discussion about how CFOs can make smart, meaningful investments while realizing financial success.
Follow me on Twitter, @judycubiss.