Business leaders must show link between diversity and bottom line

"Additionally, leaders have to recognize that diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a one-time event."

Are We There Yet?
Lyn Falconio
Chief Marketing Officer
Publicis Health

Tell us about one thing that's happened recently that leads you to believe there's still a problem?

We see statistics in front of us all the time about the under-representation of women in leadership. In 2019, women represented just 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 female CEOs. But there's a difference between reading a percentage on a page and being part of it. Especially as a woman in healthcare marketing, it’s frustrating to see that while females make up the majority of healthcare management and the patient care workforce (e.g. nurses), they are just scratching the surface to break the glass ceiling.

I recently attended the JP Morgan Healthcare Summit in San Francisco—where infamously in previous years, more men named Michael spoke than female CEOs. The absence of women was deeply felt both on stage and throughout the audience. The sea of dark suits at the conference reminded me we have a long road ahead. My responsibility as a female leader is to cultivate a diverse and inclusive organizational culture that reimagines what a healthcare conference will look like and ultimately change the future of our industry.

How about something that proves we're making progress?

There’s finally a movement from simply talking about the need for diversity and inclusion to taking concrete actions to get there, and we are starting to see it at the highest echelon. I look at Emma Walmsley of GSK, the first woman to lead a major pharmaceutical company or Beth Ford at Land O'Lakes—the first openly gay female CEO of a Fortune 500 company—and am encouraged by this new generation of global leadership.

Closer to home, a few years ago, our CEO at the time—a white male—put out a call to action, asking everyone in leadership to take one simple step—have lunch with someone different from yourself once a month. Our CEO's request symbolized a shift from "this is a problem" to "this is what we can all do to drive change." Diverse teams give us diverse opportunities to solve. I find I learn so much from people who seemingly do not have much in common with me or what I do. It helps you look at the world and peoples’ experiences with bigger eyes.

This meaningful shift from talk to action—as well as committing to change—delivers results. We are starting to see that change and are proud that each year at Publicis we are recognized as leaders in our industry for diversity, both within our agencies and on our leadership teams.

What else needs to be done to get there?

For starters, business leaders must continue to highlight the connection between diversity and the bottom line. A diverse and inclusive workforce drives employee engagement and productivity. It also drives innovation and a healthy bottom line, and the data backs it up. Boston Consulting Group found companies with diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenue due to innovation. Wall Street is waking up too, with Goldman Sachs sharing that companies with at least one diverse board member saw a 44 percent jump in their average share price within a year of going public, while those without any diverse board members saw only a 13 percent increase in the share price. Recently, at the World Economic Forum, Goldman announced it wouldn't take companies public unless the company had at least one diverse board member. These findings demonstrate that diversity is more than a metric—it's a business imperative for growth.

Additionally, leaders have to recognize that diversity and inclusion is a journey, not a one-time event. Time-bound and consistent action steps—even small ones like monthly lunches and regular mentoring programs—can deliver a meaningful impact. It's an ongoing discipline.

Finally, ask for what you need and offer up what you can give. I recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of women where we went around the room and asked for what we need—a board position or a new connection—and someone in the room would volunteer to help. All of us have a responsibility and a role to play as we seek to lead and build diverse and inclusive organizations.

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