Diversity is a tricky concept, to say the least. Companies know they want to achieve it, but first, they have to define it. Most businesses hold a common conception of diversity, but whether considering race, gender or other factors, it is important for companies to move beyond the existing paradigm to embrace actual change in corporate culture.
Mike Evers, president of Evers Legal Search, understands off the bat, that his identity as a white male might cause some to raise eyebrows when he talks about diversity. But Evers has taken a thoughtful approach to the topic, looking past current practices to find ways that companies can embrace diversity in new ways. “The paradigm for diversity initiatives, for the most part, is to hire excellent non-white talent, but expect them to assimilate into corporate culture,” he explains. But, he says, a better strategy would be to “challenge white executives to embrace actual change in corporate culture, creating diversity and change within that corporate culture.”
This, of course, is easier said than done. But Evers feels that the place to start is not necessarily in the boardroom. “It has as much to do with what one does after work as what one does during work,” he points out.
Recently, Evers was looking at a magazine that outlined charity and social events in Chicago, and noticed that all of the faces seemed to be white, and that the women featured in the magazine were primarily the spouses of prominent men. While the causes these white executives supported were undoubtedly good, they simply showed a lack of willingness to, as Evers puts it “break out of their comfort zone.”
“Are white executives willing to make true friendships with non-white colleagues? Are they willing to spend time with them socially, and support institutions and events outside their wheelhouse?” he asks. This is a question he plans to ask panelists and attendees at the “Beyond Diversity” panel at the 14th annual SuperConference, scheduled for May 13-14, 2014, in Chicago.
There are two ways to look at diversity, Evers explains: It’s a moral imperative, a worthwhile goal for its own sake; or it’s good for business, as the company benefits from having diverse talents and cultures. He is optimistic that this movement can trickle up to the C-Suite, given time, as diverse talent is being groomed for executive positions. The key, he says, is for white executives to be forward thinking, moving outside of that comfort zone and diversifying their own points of view.
On the subject of gender, Evers sees some efforts to diversify in the C-Suite. However, he notes that the most common positions for female executives are the EVP of HR and the GC, though women hold far less than one third of all general counsel positions in the Fortune 500. The next step, he says, is to elevate women into roles that are more strategic and associated with revenue generation. There is no magic wand to fix this gender imbalance, but businesses are making progress, especially in legal departments.
The 14th Annual SuperConference offers legal professionals the opportunity to evaluate the quality of their performance and learn ways to become strategic partner within their organization. The 14th annual conference will return to Chicago on May 12-14, 2014.