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What The Least Diverse Industries Can Do To Improve

What the Least Diverse Industries Can Do to Improve

Diversity is a popular topic. Today, more companies are hiring Diversity and Inclusion managers than ever before. Yet, some companies continue to struggle with diversity. However, when diversity challenges exist throughout an entire industry, simply thinking about creating lasting change can be overwhelming. This post will examine how leaders in less diverse industries can help their industries improve.

The Most and Least Diverse Industries

While most of the research on diversity has focused on individual companies, researchers are beginning to examine entire industries. The current research has used several factors to evaluate the diversity of various industries.

One of the first ways to examine diversity in an industry is to examine its workforce. A recent article in The Atlantic evaluated the racial composition of workers in various U.S. industries. According to the article, the office support, life science, production, service, and computer science industries were the most racially diverse. By contrast, law, social science, the arts, sales, and education were the least diverse.

While the workforce composition provides some clues, industry leadership provides additional information. Owler, a business research firm, asked employees about the diversity of their leadership teams. The industries employees ranked as having the highest percentages of diversity on leadership teams included retail, transportation, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and hospitality. On the opposite end of the spectrum, employees working in professional services, media, industrial goods, telecommunications, and real estate felt that their leadership lacked diversity.

Some researchers have focused on the composition of corporate boards. PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) examined the gender composition of corporate boards in nine industries. The study also examined which industries had adopted policies that would increase the number of women in the future. The retail and banking industries performed well in several areas, while the insurance and tech industries stumbled.

Steps Industry Leaders Can Take Toward Diversity

Changing a company’s culture is no easy feat, but shifting the norms of an entire industry can seem impossible. Nevertheless, by taking a few simple steps, leaders help move their industries in the right direction.

Pursue relationships with underserved groups. Though there are a variety of steps leaders can take, creating solid partnerships with underserved groups is the most important because the relationships can drive the success or failure of other steps.

Leaders can partner with underserved groups in a variety of ways. For example, industries that lack racial or gender diversity may seek partnerships with women’s colleges or HBCUs. Leaders can reach out to nonprofits that champion particular groups or issues. An industry that wants better stronger representation of people with disabilities might establish a strategic partnership with an organization that can help to create a new pipeline for recruitment.  Leaders should also consider reaching out to affinity or employee resource groups within the industry. These groups understand both the industry and the diversity issues within the sector. Leaders should actively pursue these relationships to help them in their next steps.

Fix leaky pipelines. Some industries lack diversity because members of underrepresented groups are less likely to pursue careers in their field. Industry leaders should resist the temptation to say, “The applicants aren’t there.” Instead, leaders should look for ways to address “pipeline” issues.

Women are less likely than men to pursue degrees in STEM fields. As such, the tech industry suffers from a lack of gender diversity. Nevertheless, after partnering with various groups, the tech industry has developed several initiatives aimed at getting young girls interested in STEM and supporting female students and graduates as they enter the field.

Encourage your industry to research diversity. As stated, most of the research on diversity focuses on individual companies. Leaders should encourage their peers to research the issue at the industry level. Though research about companies can be helpful, examining the industry as a whole will highlight trends and issues that exist throughout the industry. Knowing this information will help leaders learn where changes need to happen.

Consider your industry’s perception in the larger world.   Among other barriers, the tech industry found that girls and children of color avoided tech careers because they felt that people in the field didn’t look them. As such, leaders should constantly be aware of how their industry is portrayed to the public.

There are a number of opportunities to challenge the public’s perception of an industry. Board members and CEOs often speak on behalf of the entire industry. So, diversifying industry leadership is an excellent start.

Industry leaders should also consider their conferences. In recent years, conference attendees have challenged meetings that feature straight, white, able-bodied men on panel after panel. As leaders plan conferences, they should be sure to invite a diverse array of speakers for each event. Make sure that there is equity in representation for plenary speakers versus those who are asked to facilitate breakout sessions or play other small roles. (Affinity groups will likely have good recommendations.)

Finally, leaders should consider the composition of their conference attendees. A conference that is overwhelmingly attended by white males may unintentionally reinforce the message that the industry does not value diversity. However, leaders can easily diversify their conferences. For example, industries that skew white or male can make a special effort to invite women or people of color to their conferences. They can include panels or networking events that are tailored to underserved groups. Leaders can invite early career people to serve as interns at the event in exchange for free or reduced attendance. By thinking creatively and relying on the networks they’ve developed, leaders can include a variety of groups in industry events.

When it comes to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, change seems to happen too gradually. When efforts are directed at an entire industry, progress will be even slower. Nevertheless, leaders should not abandon hope, because each step in the right direction is progress. One tool specifically designed to help you and your industry take those steps is The Equity Toolkit. This progressive course will give industry leaders and others the tools they need to help their companies and industries move toward diversity.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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