You’ve Got Your CEO’s Attention – Now Hold It … Delivering Results With Diversity

Making the business case for diversity & inclusion has been at the top of the agenda for diversity professionals for years. After all, you can’t get the funding and focus that you need without senior level support in the organization – and you can’t get the support without making a clear business case. But you’ve done that now and your CEO is on board. You’ve picked the low hanging fruit: the company’s diversity statement is crafted and communicated, diversity metrics are part of the leadership scorecards and the affinity groups are starting to take root.

When you made your business case to the CEO, you promised not just activity but results. You got his attention but to keep it, you need to deliver those results. Here’s how some firms have done it – and how they translated “tough to qualify” aspirations into tangible improvements.

In 2002, Citigroup used a structured Rapid-Results approach to make measurable progress in diversity-related areas – setting up executives to sponsor key efforts, around which they had personal passion (and where they could see real connections to more effective work outcomes and practices).  One team addressed the issue of “respect” in the workplace – setting up a system to translate “respect” into specific behavioral observations.  Over a 100-day period, with regular surveys, the team ran a series of efforts to drive improvement in the “respect metric” – targeting 15% improvement over the baseline.

In another effort, this one focused on adiversity_in_the_workplaceddressing structural barriers to diversity and inclusion, the claims processing area of a large general insurance company sought to create “win-win” outcomes for staff – setting up flexible work processes, support and policies – and empowering staff to define their collective work schedules and practices to fulfill work commitments.  What made this effort unique was the powerful connection in this project of the staff scheduling and management to tangible business results for the claims unit.  Staff proposed – and management accepted – recommendations for flexible work scheduling that would also deliver improved error rates.  Upon implementation through Rapid-Results 100-day methods, staff achieved a 75% reduction in claims processing errors.

The R&D unit of a global basic materials company also faced productivity challenges – while staff suffered under similar constraints on their time and schedule.  To build retention and engagement, using similar methods (strong sponsorship, active employee engagement on teams formed to address these challenges, short-cycle Rapid-Results-style projects, and clear accountability for implementation), this group was able to drive up the number of innovations they were reporting and tracking by more than 180% in a three-month period.

Finally, as part of one of the most dramatic business-reinvention efforts of recent history, Lou Gerstner made tangible progress on diversity and inclusion a supporting pillar of his turnaround of IBM.  IBM needed a full cultural revival – and a way to translate its long-held values of respect for the individual worker, into meaningful active engagement of a workforce that had grown dramatically more diverse.  In the mid-90’s Gerstner launched a diversity initiative that acknowledged and celebrated the contributions of unique groups (Asian; Gays/ Lesbians; Women) – and to use the learning to discover ways to appeal to a broader array of both employees and customers.  In less than 10 years, IBM reported a threefold increase in the number of women in the executive ranks; greater than a 200% increase in ethnic-minority (non-Caucasian) executives; and more than three times the number of executives with disabilities.  But reporting increases in diversity aren’t the only story, or the only measure.  As David Thomas shared in a 2004 Harvard Business Review article[1], IBM saw the learning and contributions these groups made driving increased revenue in its marketplaces.  In one example, IBM’s Market Development organization (focused on leveraging markets for multicultural and women-owned businesses) grew sales from $10MM to more than $300MM in just five years. 

The diversity & inclusion mission is to strengthen the company by promoting a culture that allows all employees to contribute to their fullest potential.  Yet fervent desires and meaningful strategies still require a mechanism to translate them into tangible, meaningful results that demonstrate business value.  Producing results like these ensures that diversity and inclusion will remain a focus of the CEO, the board and the whole company.

Drawing on years in leadership roles — primarily in human resources — in a variety of corporations, Margaretta Noonan speaks, writes, and consults on how companies can maximize their most precious asset: their people. Learn more at or connect with Margaretta via LinkedIn.

Evan Smith is a Senior Partner with Schaffer Consulting,, focusing on helping leaders achieve seemingly unreasonable goals to grow, innovate, and reinvent, in provocative and creative ways. 

[1] “Diversity as Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, David Thomas, 2004.


Margaretta Noonan
Margaretta Noonan
While still a senior executive at a global company, Margaretta Noonan started asking herself, “Am I All There?” After several years of exploring the topic of employee engagement – her own included; Margaretta co-founded ngage, a technology-enabled solution that creates a continuous connection between employees and managers about the issues that are critical to organizational success;. Margaretta spent 30 years in Human Resources and senior leadership with global Fortune 500 companies in the retail and professional services industries. Knowing that a company is only ever as strong as the talent inside it – in addition to ngage, Margaretta heads a woman-owned consulting business, noonanWorks (, dedicated to working at the intersection of employee engagement / customer engagement and financial results.

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