Inclusion and diversity are vital to our firm’s ability to understand client issues and deliver differentiated solutions—and are embedded in our core values. As we’ve grown to more than 950 people in 10 offices across the United States, fostering an inclusive environment becomes more challenging.
Understanding that you cannot have diversity of thought, experience, and approach without an inclusive environment, we began a journey to strengthen our culture of inclusion. This article is the fourth in a series on what we hope is becoming an open conversation about inclusion and diversity. Our first letter, A conversation about inclusion and diversity, part 1: The tipping point, published in March 2017, discusses observations that led us to begin this journey. The second letter, published in July 2017, reflects on inclusion as a foundation for building a unified team in a merger or acquisition. The third letter, published in October 2017, offered some thoughts on ways we can break down the barriers to inclusion, using our goal of developing more female leaders as an example.
Here, as we look ahead to the next year of this journey, we reflect on the steps we have taken over the past year and some signs of progress.
As we look ahead to the next year of this journey, we reflect on the steps we have taken over the past year and some signs of progress. ”
We are fortunate to have one of the critical pieces of the foundation for an inclusive workplace: the core values that shape our culture. Diversity and inclusion are inherent in our values. Nevertheless, as we grow rapidly – we hired 335 people in 2017 alone, and recently announced plans to double our workforce over the next five years – maintaining a sense of inclusion becomes more and more challenging.
Like-minded teams start sticking more to themselves. We have jobs to finish and pressure to do them fast, efficiently, while ensuring we add value to our clients. When that happens, we tend to turn to what – or who – we know. This raises two potential problems. First, we don’t always have the best possible combination of minds at the table when we solve problems and make decisions. That can influence the outcome. And secondly, depending on the situation, others may feel excluded.
As we developed our inclusion strategy, one thing we did not do was create a top-down “future- state” vision and detailed road map. While we use these tactics often in consulting to help clients conceive and plan for transformation, in this case we believed that the best result would come from helping our people understand the “why”, building a firm-wide foundation of inclusion, and focusing on inclusive collaboration. Without that, we felt we could not build the cultural shift we want. In other words, what could be a more powerful way of strengthening our culture of inclusion than having our whole organization collaborate to define and navigate the journey?
What could be a more powerful way of strengthening our culture of inclusion than having our whole organization collaborate to define and navigate the journey? ”
As leaders, we did commit to setting the right tone from the top, ensuring that inclusion and diversity are central to our strategic agenda. We provided investment – for example, in workshops with Dr. Stephen Robbins to address unconscious bias in the workplace and in several national partnerships, such as one with Ellevate that provides our women with access to mentors and peers. One of our most important steps was commissioning an Inclusion & Diversity Advisory Council to provide a formal mechanism through which our people can work with leadership and help us move the meter. The members of the Council have established an agenda, which includes sharing best practices, working with our Talent Acquisition team to drive sourcing strategies, and building awareness and skills through training.
Based on this pairing, various teams then began to take initiative to influence diversity and inclusion. Our Talent Acquisition team expanded its reach to new schools to diversify our pool of candidates and retooled our interviewing process to focus on hiring based on values rather than perceived fit. Our human resources function formalized policies around flexible work arrangements, parental leave, and flexible time off to reinforce our openness to talking with people about their needs for flexibility.
And for the first time, we added questions to our annual employee engagement survey that specifically target feedback about inclusion: Am I treated with dignity and respect? Has West Monroe created an environment where people with diverse backgrounds can succeed? In my practice, do people accept a variety of ideas, perspectives, and working styles? Does my career advisor value diverse ideas and perspectives? We are proud that 83% of employees responded favorably to the inclusion-oriented questions. The results for the individual questions clearly show us while we are doing well at actions like fostering a culture of respect, we need to focus on accepting diverse experiences and reducing experiences of favoritism. This is valuable feedback we can use for crafting future actions.
Other activities took root locally. For example, in Seattle we hosted a networking event that paired both women and men with local female business leaders for a panel discussion and “speed mentoring” activity. Based on the very positive feedback, other offices are now looking to replicate this type of event. The Seattle Women’s Committee also hosted sessions that engaged both women and men in dialogue about topics that influence the sense of inclusion in our workplace, such as “introverts and extroverts in an office environment” and “techniques for becoming an effective ally and coach.”
Just as we did not create a top down plan, we also did not establish specific quotas. For one thing, promoting inclusion is a journey that is never complete – there is no finite end. Rather, there are many indicators that we observe along the way and metrics we track that provide “landmarks” to know we are moving in the right direction. These help us fine-tune our route, as needed.
This year we have seen tangible improvements in areas such as the diversity of our recruiting,and while inclusion and diversity is not just about recruitment or about aspects such as gender or race, we always must start somewhere. This is one of many small steps that help us move in the direction of one of our bigger priorities, which is to have greater diversity at the managerial and leadership levels within our organization.
For me, the most significant indicatorof progress to date is the growing interest among our people in being part of the conversation. One of the best examples of this was when one of our consultants, concerned about the perception and impact of fasting during Ramadan, invited her colleagues to participate with her – with very positive results. This interest shows that we truly are gaining momentum.
While we are pleased with the progress we have made over the past year, it is more apparent to me than ever that this is a long journey of many steps.
Looking ahead, the most critical thing we can do is to continue to listen when our people tell us what they think and feel. To make sure we are listening, we will extend training in areas such as empathy and equipping managers to have tough, courageous conversations. We will look for additional ways to strengthen mentoring opportunities. We will continue to coach our leaders to make sure they model behaviors that promote inclusion. We will add to the diversity of our collective voice – at all levels, from our incoming interns and recruits to our boardroom.And we will find ever-new and innovative ways to put the spotlight on inclusion and diversity, for example through personal stories and profiles.
Because action starts with open dialogue, we will also keep the conversation about inclusion and diversity going in various ways, including this article series. In particular, we will expand on the perspectives shared by members of our leadership team with contributions from our employees, clients, and advisors such as Dr. Stephen Robbins and others. By bringing new voices to the conversation, we gain new perspectives, find the best solutions, and create the best outcomes.
It has been gratifying and energizing to play a leadership role around inclusion and diversity over the past year. I look forward to a new year and new progress on the journey.
Strengthening our culture of inclusion is a team effort. Each member of our leadership team is passionate about inclusion and personally committed to raising our game. Each brings unique perspectives of and experiences with inclusion and diversity from his or her career. These perspectives are an important part of this conversion; every quarter, one of our leaders will add some thoughts on this topic.
Every day, we make decisions that influence outcomes, and the decisions might be about our firm strategies. More commonly, they are decisions to recommend ideas and strategies to our clients. Either way, the stakes are high.
My experience has taught me that in this business the best ideas are discovered collaboratively. We want and need diversity of thinking, ideas, and experiences to make the right decisions and influence the right outcomes.
How do we ensure this? I keep going back to the set of core values we defined on day one, which includes “diversity of experience and thought.” In today’s world, this manifests itself through attention to inclusion and diversity in our workforce. At one level, this is a people issue in that we need to attract and retain a diverse workforce. We are working diligently to do that, but I think it is much bigger and a more fundamental business issue. We need to be more conscious about having diverse representation at the table, whether we are making decisions about clients and projects or internal matters. When we do that, we create a better result.
When you hear “diversity” in the workforce, you tend to think about aspects such as gender or race; these are important, but they are part of a bigger equation, which I believe is diversity of thought and experience.
Prior to co-founding West Monroe Partners, I spent a number of years at Arthur Andersen, a firm also known for its strong culture. There were a lot of positives in that culture. However, the firm’s audit and tax division was the most influential. Although the technology consulting business played an increasingly important role in our clients’ businesses, the consulting practice had a limited voice, which led to conflict and a feeling of exclusion rather than inclusion. This experience only served to solidify my view that it is necessary to invite the broadest set of perspectives to the table – and listen to all.
You need both. One of the great things about our culture is that while we enable it through strong leadership, it is really a grassroots culture – grown and nurtured by our people.
We recommitted to inclusion and diversity because our people asked us to. In response, we make sure inclusion and diversity is front and center on our strategy boards. As leaders, our role is to listen and enable, not stifle, change. We put resources behind our commitment; we partner with Catalyst to help us understand key issues and with Dr. Stephen Robbins to engage us in meaningful discussion. We do this in conjunction with other initiatives – such as the efforts of our Inclusion & Diversity Council, our business functions, and our Women’s Committee.
As leaders, we are encouraged by some of the accomplishments highlighted in this paper. Our progress in the journey toward building and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workforce is because of the effort and passion that comes from the bottom up. An environment that provides top-down support for the genesis of great ideas is one where I think we can really move the meter significantly – think 1+1=3.
Continue making sure every discussion has the right diversity of thought and experience. If you are inviting people to the table, make sure you are inclusive in doing so and not just turning to those you know. When you stack a team with people you already know, you are creating unconscious bias from the outset. Likewise, if you are invited to the table, show up and understand that your good ideas are welcome and wanted.
As we grow, it is easier for like-minded groups to splinter, so I encourage our people to always look for ways to engage with others outside of their day- to-day responsibilities. We recently celebrated our 15th anniversary by bringing approximately 900 people together for an all-company meeting. During the meeting, we intentionally scrambled the table assignments so people would have the chance to collaborate with new faces. This is an easy concept to extend to our everyday interactions – whether it is a lunch invitation to someone we don’t know well to walking to the train with someone at night. It’s a simple thing to do, but it can have a big impact.