Building an Inclusive Corporate Culture

A critical part of any organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) performance is how well it fosters a corporate culture that welcomes people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Watch this webinar to hear Jason Wright, President of the Washington Football Team, describe how he is championing an inclusive culture within his organization. Dr. Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University, contributes his thoughts on the needs of young people entering the workforce. The conversation was moderated by Bryan Hancock, Partner at McKinsey & Company.

• Bryan Hancock, Partner, McKinsey & Company

• Jason Wright, President, Washington Football Team
• Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President, Howard University

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The business case for culture change

If your company is not diverse and inclusive, its performance is likely sub-optimal, according to Jason Wright. When advocating for change, Mr. Wright suggests reinforcing the business case because people will not always be motivated to do the right thing on purely moral grounds and the business case is solid.

As Mr. Wright put it, “Business performance is not sustainable if you don’t have the healthy culture to fuel it over time.” He explained that when he took the helm of Washington Football Team, the company was not headed toward greater profitability, despite the team’s dedicated fan base. They did not have the internal capabilities in place to bring the organization to the next level.

Employing the next generation

Dr. Frederick described the students on his campus. He said they tend to be aware of the systemic barriers that have held back people of color, women, and other marginalized groups from success in this country—but they are determined to succeed regardless. He says that as a community, we owe it to these young people to help dismantle those barriers.

One way the business community can help is to forge close partnerships with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). HBCUs are a reliable pathway to the middle class for Black people. Mr. Wright pointed out that an HBCU degree is the most strongly correlated factor with Black people’s economic wellbeing.

How to lead culture change

Mr. Wright oversaw a 90% turnover on his executive team, which he says was driven by new expectations on supporting diversity and inclusion. The new executive team is one of the most diverse in the NFL and in sports.

Mr. Wright faced pushback and emotional reactions because change is hard, even if the organization was not performing optimally before. He overcame this resistance in three ways. First, he had frequent, open, and honest communication with staff, including weekly meetings where staff could ask questions and voice concerns. Second, he gave parts of the organization that were struggling with change more care, time, and attention. Lastly, he reinforced his long-term vision for the business, so that changes along the way had context and purpose.

Policies and procedures

Both Dr. Frederick and Mr. Wright established new policies in their organization and sometimes faced resistance. At Howard, Dr. Frederick required all hiring managers to undergo an unconscious bias training. Some initially believed that they did not need this training, but Dr. Frederick says that everyone who has done it says they learned about biases they did not know they had. He also requires that every round of finalists includes at least one woman.

Similarly, Mr. Wright mandates that hiring teams start with a diverse slate of candidates for any position (but he does not dictate who they hire). He defines diverse as representative of the community in which Washington Football Team is operating.

Mr. Wright also described the importance of skills-based hiring, which means prioritizing an applicant’s skills over their educational credentials or professional experience. He offered a compelling example: First time managers need to be able to think creatively and work well with other mangers and leaders. Many people of color develop these skills through community organizations, such as churches, when working on fundraising campaigns or other community projects. A hiring manager would miss out on that talent if they are too focused on college degrees or a degree from a prestigious school.

Mr. Wright also stressed the importance of offering a best-in-class benefits package, because things like a 401k match or good health insurance are very important to people of color who are dealing with legacy causes of the racial wealth gap.

Fighting your own hidden bias

Dr. Frederick and Mr. Wright both described ways in which our personal biases can unfairly influence who we hire, promote, or partner with. For example, Dr. Frederick described the common but dated practice of evaluating professionals based on how well they socialize at a cocktail party. This is biased in favor of certain cultures and personalities. Mr. Wright agreed and added that any time we evaluate a candidate or professional based on something that is not directly relevant to the job, we are doing a disservice to that individual and our own organizations.