Expand Your Network
“Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”—Dean Wormer, “Animal House,” 1978
I love “Animal House’s” lampoon of a magic time before affirmative action and the women’s movement, a time when white boys could be boys and achieve success without ever having to consider the world around them. Those were the days. But today, they’re long gone.
And yet, if I may spin off of Dean Wormer: “Stale, male and pale is no way to sustain growth any more, son.”
The United States will soon have no racial majority. Women already match up favorably to men as corporate leaders and more graduate from college than men. And even global B2B giants like Ogilvy & Mather—the iconic marketing firm upon which AMC’s hit TV series “Mad Men” was based—have evolved to teaching their clients how the marketplace has fundamentally changed.
There are, of course, industries that forge ahead in de facto old school “white men only” mode. Keeping this myopic strategy is bad for their future business. They need to get out of their comfort zone, stop limiting their vision by using their preferred network of golf buddies and business acquaintances and start expanding their chances for success. They need to think differently. So let’s explore how they do that.
GET NEW FRIENDS. I started a technology company back in 1999 with high-level backing from AOL, Microsoft and Fannie Mae. I hired a very diverse staff of male and female technologists—Latinos, Blacks, Lebanese, Nigerian, Caucasians—all without using a “diversity screen.”
We were a start-up, so I didn’t feel I had the luxury to “hire for diversity.” But I also didn’t limit my talent search to places where I’d only find people like myself. I had to find the best talent to enable my company to compete. Period.
It was easy for me to see phenomenal talent is found in many skin tones and cultures. And I was already connected to diverse networks before I started the company. So I asked each to send me their best and ended up with a brilliant team.
If I had a hiring firm that is monochromatic and detached from the total market, my business would be too. So if you don’t demand your hiring firms diversify their own staffs, they’ll continue to cripple your industry.
VALUE THEM. It’s not enough to hire one woman or one person of color. You want them in leadership positions believing your firm is on the leading edge of business. Research shows that boards of directors with more minorities on them are actually more profitable than companies without. So pay them what you’d pay the guy that looks like you to do the same job. That’s cutting edge and harder than you might think. Why? Because women and people of color will typically ask for a lower starting wage than a white male in the same role. Harvard Business Review reports this is due to social pressure from their co-workers or bosses if they try to negotiate the same salary as might be paid a white male.
Be prepared to pay your women, people of color and white males the same. No negotiating. It works. Weigh that short-term cost against the long-term benefits of being able to attract the best talent from everywhere because your firm is known to be fair in its hiring.
REDUCE YOUR RISK. I learned words like Spic, Wop, J.A.P., redneck and wetback from my friends at private prep school. Ironically, I had never heard them in the factory town where I grew up. It’s easier to denigrate people we rarely encounter. It’s human nature. So if we’re going to hire women and minorites into environments where they don’t currently exist, we have to set behavior standards that are more like modern men than “Mad Men.”
Borrow a page from the anti-bullying campaigns and tell your employees you expect them to speak up for and correct each other if they see or hear wrong behavior. And establish a practice of dealing swiftly, seriously and consistently with any concerns brought to HR.
There are lots of legal reasons to do this, but the most important is, it’s just the right thing to do. Taken together, these steps will make respect and professionalism a company standard, not just an HR requirement.
Fixing your sourcing, pay and culture is a beginning. During the last 20 years, I’ve been a successful tech entrepreneur and a philanthropist, but now that I’m leading a national network of people committed to American prosperity, I can see the end of an era on the horizon. Those who refuse to accept it will continue to lose market share. More and more these days, valuing all people is the smartest way to prosper. We must reach beyond your current networks to find diversity. The best firms in this business do just that. And remember, doing the same thing over and over gets you the same results.
Expanding our horizons is also a pretty great way to go through life, son. Dean Wormer would be proud.