More than 20% of Fortune 500 companies employ corporate diversity officers who are charged with overseeing the management and development of a culturally diverse workforce to carry out the business.

The idea of creating executive management positions to oversee diversity is relatively new, and it's a departure from simply having a corporate HR department handle new hires, existing employees, and staffing. Why is it catching on?

As of October 2016, the United States had a population of 324,707,000 people, comprising 125.9 million women and 119.4 million men. Within this population are many diverse ethnic and cultural groups.

Yet a survey last year of the top nine Silicon Valley companies revealed that women made up only one-third of their workforces and that only 29% of women held leadership jobs. The same tech workforces are predominantly white, Asian, and male.

At the other end of this spectrum are companies that develop diverse workforces so they can optimize performance from the talent that they have in place.

SEE: Hiring kit: Microsoft Power BI developer

Who's on board?

Google, Johnson & Johnson, and Intel have all focused on workforce diversity--and it has paid off well in their businesses.

  • Google interacts with its worldwide audience in more than 40 languages, so it was important to recruit an ethnically and culturally diverse workforce to meet that challenge.
  • Johnson & Johnson, which has 58% of its business operations outside the US, has a diverse board of directors that includes three African Americans, three women, and one Hispanic.
  • Intel's workforce is 27% minority, 20% female, and 20% Asian--and one-third of its board members are female. It also gets high marks on being a great place to work, which enhances its ability to recruit top talent.

The push for worker diversity in these three examples is not coincidental.

A DiversityInc research study found that 43 of the 50 most diverse companies in the US were 24% more profitable than the S&P 500--and that while these companies made up just 7% of the Fortune 500, they generated 22% of its total revenue.

The bottom line is that it is important for boards, CEOs, and other corporate executives to focus on developing a diverse workforce--and on employing managers capable of managing them.

SEE: IT consultant code of conduct

Steps organizations can take

Build trust through communication. Understanding different languages (like a plant manager being able to speak Spanish) is one path toward building trust through communication, but it is not the only one. In the course of communicating, managers and employees should also be sensitive to different cultural values.

For instance, I once was in charge of acquiring a Japanese company. The first thing I looked at was the company's organization chart. I noticed that none of the female employees had job titles, although I knew that one was chief scientist. It turned out that female employees, even if they were chief scientists or managers, were not accorded job titles by the company. Instead, the boxes around their position descriptions were simply labeled "Female," which was the custom at the company.

Assess the silent messages your corporate culture might be sending. Companies can unintentionally build environments where it appears that some individuals or groups are favored over others. This can create an uneasy climate for other employees. As an example, a Textio tech industry survey revealed that 192 out of 716 women respondents who held tech positions said that they ultimately left these positions because they felt uncomfortable working at their companies.

Train your managers. You can't develop a thriving and diverse workforce if your front line managers and supervisors on up to your C-level officers don't support workforce diversity. If managers need assistance in developing diversity workforce management skills, invest in it.

Lead by example. If you're the CEO of the company, you have to walk the walk. Everyone will follow.

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