• Revenue Operations

The Business Case for Diversity, in Sales Teams and Beyond

Anne Miller

Anne Miller
Managing Editor

The Business Case for Diversity, in Sales Teams and Beyond

If one business practice could launch your organization into a 19% revenue increase, you’d drop everything, right?

What if that one move isn’t just profitable, but also ethical and socially beneficial?

Diversity, inclusion, and equity, from the boardroom to the sales team, can sometimes feel like corporate buzzwords. Workplace diversity also represents increasingly hard mental, and emotional work, on top of all the coaching, one-on-ones, sales forecasting, and quotas.

But the impact of diversity in the workplace, with diversity in sales and throughout the company, can help everyone excel.

“Companies that reported above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue that was 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity—45% of total revenue versus just 26%,” found a study by the BCG Henderson Institute.

That’s not the only study that’s come to that conclusion about the impact of diversity in business. But the question I want to explore is why those diverse teams net more profit.

What D(iversity) I(nclusion) and E(quity) Really Mean

First, let’s define each of these terms.

Diversity describes the status of the world. This can mean gender diversity, racial diversity, or age and experience diversity. When we're recruiting and hiring, we reflect the diversity in our organizations, whether there are minorities or people from underrepresented communities, or not. Diversity, however, only refers to getting people through the front door. We like to say that diversity is only being invited to the dance.

Inclusion refers to practices that increase the diversity of teams or a corporation, their effectiveness, and opportunity within our organizations. You could call this belonging, with a focus on building an inclusive culture. Inclusion is being asked to dance. It’s the opportunities for advancement and participation in the organization. These ideas were popularized by Verna Myers, an author, speaker, and diversity and inclusion expert. Sometimes people feel that they have to give up their authenticity to assimilate and succeed. We’ve expanded that idea to include belonging and equity. We say belonging is being asked to dance the way you want and still be accepted and embraced.

Equity is having a turn picking the DJ. It means we aren’t just including diverse voices in our organizations, we’re giving them a full hearing and letting them drive decision-making as much as anyone else. The broader goal, for DEI in general, is to create structures that create equity in the organization. It is systems change. Having a turn picking the DJ this is the power to create the organizational culture that is presented to everyone as a standard for success. This is where it matters who is at the executive level setting and reviewing processes. Are people getting paid the same?

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” says Verna Myers, an author, speaker, and diversity and inclusion expert.

Defining an Inclusive Mindset, for the Sales Team and Beyond

Inclusion, an invitation to dance, is access. It's access to opportunity, it's whether you get a mentor, it's whether you get a juicy assignment, it's whether you get a promotion. It’s the set of things that we do to make sure all staff have access to that opportunity.

Having an inclusive mindset as a leader is three things. It's being brave, being humble, and being dedicated.

  1. Being brave means getting outside your comfort zone as a sales leader. You're uncomfortable because having a diverse team takes more work, and it's only effective in a place where you have a mature enough team to recognize you're going to have to work harder to ensure everyone has the same access and voice.
  2. Humble means knowing that you're going to make mistakes as you lead your team on the road to diversity. If you're being brave, you're going to mess up, and then you get to be humble enough to go, "Okay, thank you for the feedback. Feedback is a gift.”
  3. Dedicated is continuing the commitment to equity—bringing people in, creating a culture across your team and the company where they can succeed and be themselves, and looking at business support structures around them.

If you're going to generate the additional revenue that diversity creates, you're going to have to let people belong in ways that make it harder to manage this team, but the payoff is great.

The Inclusive Business Case

So let’s talk money.

One of the biggest costs for any organization is turnover, and bias contributes to those changes. Psychology Today defines bias as, “a natural inclination for or against an idea, object, group, or individual.”

Most of our biases are learned, even subconsciously. Some bias is ok, like a bias toward eating healthy food, as Psychology Today notes, but many biases are based on cultural assumptions that can negatively impact others.

When people don't feel belonging or they feel the presence of bias, they're less likely to contribute ideas. They're less likely to be productive. They're more likely to take sick days. They're more likely to leave. The company has to spend a lot of money to replace them.

Everybody knows the payoff there, so resistance to equating the payoff to including people with marginalized backgrounds or who are underrepresented has to do with our bias. That has to do with our fear of taking a risk, our fear of guilt if we get it wrong, which blocks us.

We also know that people who are out of the box thinkers, or creatives, stimulate our revenue.

Diverse life experiences feed creativity. People with different backgrounds often think differently about things, navigate problem-solving differently, and that strengthens your team.

For example, if your market is primarily Latino, but the C-suite hasn’t invested in building a diverse sales team, there are more likely to be cultural touch points, as well as needs, that are missed. But support goes deeper than that.

“When minorities form a critical mass and leaders value differences, all employees can find senior people to go to bat for compelling ideas and can persuade those in charge of budgets to deploy resources to develop those ideas,” notes a Harvard Business Review article.

Establishing teams and workflows to engage all those voices takes more effort. But the output of those creative teams is greater than anything an echo chamber of similarly-minded people can create.

Flipping the Biased Deck

On a retreat with one B2b SaaS firm, we tried an exercise. The CEO put playing cards on the table, and asked the men and women to play a card when they spoke. The goal was to make men aware of how much they dominated the conversation. Even with that intervention, women would still ask first: "I want to say something."

I like to say that bias isn't the shark, it's the water. We're all swimming in it.

To broach true equity, you have to name bias, and examine where bias comes through in your organization—not if, because the brain science assures us that it does. For all of us.

Opportunity often serves as a good starting point.

  • Who has access to the juicier assignments?
  • Who gets a mentor?
  • Who gets a sponsor?
  • Who gets promoted?
  • Who gets seen as having executive presence?

"Fit" and "executive presence" are the two places where bias hides out the most in organizations.

For example, studies show that in some Asian cultures, someone who pauses, thinks, and then responds to a question holds more sway than someone with the fastest answer. In the American business world, an executive pausing for a few seconds might feel like the difference between insecurity and authoritative action, when in reality, the pause signifies nothing more than a standard cultural difference.

And the perfect next hire, with a different background than all your previous hires, won’t just come to you.

Hiring managers need to educate themselves about communities other than their own. If you are in a position to hire recent college graduates, perhaps for an SDR position, educate yourself about the business schools at historically Black colleges, for example. As much as I love my alma mater, not every candidate is automatically the best person for the job.

But it’s also not as hard as we're making it out to be.

Someone told me the other day, "Well, it's going to be hard for me to find a Black CPA."

If they had just Googled “Black CPA,” they would have found the National Association of Black Accountants.

We just need a few extra minutes — and the will.

If you're interested in learning more, check out:

Dereca Blackmon is the CEO and Founder of the Inclusion Design Group, which works with corporations and educational institutions for inclusivity and cultural inclusion and change. She is also the former Assistant Vice Provost over Stanford’s Diversity and Inclusion office.

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