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Dialogues, Advocates Key in Creating Diverse Company Culture

Sandy—To create real workplace diversity and equality, dialogues and champions are key, said panelists at the Women’s Tech Council Talent Innovation Summit Tuesday.

While there are many reasons for companies to strive for diversity in the workplace, one is something that virtually every business is always working towards: the bottom line.

“We don’t think about gender because it’s gender—we think about gender in terms of teams,” said Cydni Tetro, co-founder and executive director of the Women’s Tech Council. “There are massive numbers of studies that will tell you teams perform better financially when they have women on that, and they’ve tracked that for many years.”

The Women’s Tech Council has been working to deepen the research and knowledge base on the need for gender diversity in the workplace through collecting data on economic surveys, and publish case studies in partnership with the University of Utah. The group is also outlining benchmarks of what strides it would like to see implemented, as well as driving the adoption of inclusion as a component of culture.

However, looking at diversity as an issue to that needs to only appear solved—having a token female executive, for example—is going about it the wrong way, said Julie Simmons, vice president of education for the Women’s Tech Council.

“If diversity issues are thought of as a standalone rather than a culture issue, we know there’s a problem. It can’t be women verses men—it has to be inclusive,” she said.

Denise Leleux, a member of the group’s advisory board, agreed, and said the group has been working with companies that have shown strong examples of promoting a company culture that supports diversity.

“Inclusion should be the program, and diversity should be the result,” she said.

Simmons said for much of her career, she was the only woman in the room—a fact that didn’t bother her, but did mean that, while she had several strong male mentors, she had few female role models to look up to.

Tetro said more women are present in lower tiers of business, but are still underrepresented in executive positions. For that reason, having male—and female—advocates to help recognize the talents and capabilities of women workers is vital, she said.

“One of the most important things is to find advocates to help you propel your career forward,” she said. “Having this environment where we support each other and encourage each other’s strengths is super important. … We want to create these environments where we’re identifying people’s talents and help them succeed.”

Leleux said being observant can go a long ways in being able to tell if input and contributions are equal among all workers—male or female, and of diverse cultures—in company settings.

“Watch for who’s talking, who’s not talking, who’s at the table,” she said. “Really showing up for people in these small ways adds up over time.”

Asking questions of all employees about company culture or specific issues within the company can also go far—if a manager takes the time and effort to really listen for an answer.

“Ask, but then listen to the response,” she said. “If you listen to people, you’ll get that support. Listening is key.”