Surprisingly, Merriam-Webster Dictionary's 2014 Word of the Year wasn't "selfie" or "twerking." Rather, it was something with a little more gravitas: "culture." And the choice speaks, in part, to a growing understanding among businesses that creating a strong, inclusive company culture will be a priority in 2015.
But making a "Best Places to Work" list is only part of the equation. Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and academic who has researched and written extensively about diversity in Silicon Valley, cautions that a company's leadership and HR policies send strong messages to prospective and current employees — and those messages may not match the company's intent.
Here are three signs your company’s culture isn’t as inclusive as it can be:
1) Your Board Members All Look Alike.
Take a look at your top ranks and ask yourself if that group reflects the kind of talent you want to attract. If your company claims to value diversity and different ways of thinking, but the board and executive team is homogeneous — whether it's all middle-aged businessmen or five engineers in plaid shirts and identical hoodies— it sends the message that diversity isn’t actually a top priority, argues Wadhwa.
Wadhwa points specifically to the lack of women on many tech company boards. "They say that there’s not enough women graduating with the right background to be on these boards," Wadhwa says. "But if you look at the boards, you see guys with English degrees, French literature degrees — they’re clearly not all programmers. There’s plenty of room for women."
2) Your Paid Leave and Flextime Policies Are Lackluster.
Today's jobseekers are actively looking for companies that meet them halfway when it comes to achieving a healthy work-life balance. It’s easy to play up fun perks like free lunches and dog-friendly offices, but harder — and more important — to create truly flexible and family-friendly policies. Failing to do so is a not-so-subtle way of saying that the company’s needs trump those of its employees.
Currently, 12 percent of employees in the U.S. have access to paid family leave, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. But offering a generous paid leave for parents benefits everyone: Women who take advantage of paid leave are more likely to return to work and work more hours, according to a recent New York Times report.
Offering paid paternity leave — an even rarer perk for U.S. workers — also gives your company a competitive edge when attracting strong talent. "Gen Y men rated day-to-day flexibility even higher than Gen Y women," Karyn Twaronyte, a partner at professional services firm Ernst & Young, told NPR. "They would be more likely to leave a company if day-to-day flexibility was not offered. I don't know that we would have seen that 10 years ago in the workplace."
3) You're More Focused on a Skills Gap than Internal Culture.
An inclusive workplace starts from within, says Wadhwa, pointing to the tech industry's myopic focus on teaching more women and minorities to code. "Anyone can learn how to code," he says, "but the real question is do they want to? Many don’t, because the environment is such a boy’s club. It’s not welcoming to anyone else."
Instead of focusing exclusively on jobseekers, Wadhwa says companies should consistently make women and minorities visible examples of success. (If most of your company's administrative or support roles are filled by women, for example, it subtly sends the message that there's a glass ceiling.) Wadhwa points to Y Combinator, a start-up accelerator based in Mountain View, as an organization that’s "gone out of [its] way to try and fundamentally fix the diversity problem." The company regularly invites female founders to speak at events and encourages startups to establish progressive HR infrastructure from the onset, among other tactics.
"Companies need to stop blaming the talent pipeline and deflecting from their own lack of diversity," Wadhwa says. "The most proactive businesses are looking inside themselves and making changes internally."