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Business Viewpoint: Switchgear Search and Recruiting CEO Dixie Agostino

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Dixie Agostino

Dixie Agostino

There’s money to be made in diversity.

McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm, shows ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors. Catalyst, an organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women, show more women on the board leads to a long-term statistical performance advantage.

And Deloitte Australia’s 1,550-employee survey found inclusive teams outperforming others by 80 percent. And it leads to higher innovation as well as access to emerging markets and consumer bases.

But the strongest selling point to increased diversity and inclusion effort is in preparation for the coming war for talent. According to McKinsey, the most important company assets of the future will be human capital. As technology shifts exponentially, the scarcest resource will soon be talent.

You may think I say this because I own a recruiting firm, so I see talent scarcity because I want to see it. But according to Gallup studies, top tier talent has similar needs across industries and demographics. When those needs are met by companies willing to create a culture of inclusion, the results show:

• 39 percent gain in customer satisfaction

• 27 percent gain in profitability

• 22 percent gain in productivity

• 22 percent decrease in turnover

So what is it that these superstars are looking for? It’s not the Ping Pong tables, Kegerators and freebies you may think. The best and the brightest are looking for environments with these positive attributes:

• The opportunity to learn, grow and do what they do best

• Clear expectations and adequate resources to get the job done

• Trust, respect and positive interactions from managers and coworkers who care

• Fair (i.e. competitive) pay, benefits and recognition

As someone who has talked to people for over a decade about why they would want to look for a new career opportunity, I agree with Gallup’s research on the “dissatisfiers” that walk key performers into the arms of the competition. The list of what drives great employees away is pretty simple:

• Prejudice, discrimination, unfairness and arbitrary decision-making

• Lack of career development, training or growth opportunity

• Poor work climate and lack of “emotional IQ” from management

So what’s a company to do? Studies confirm that culture comes from the top, so the fastest, most effective way to create a great place to work is through the CEO/COO/CHRO. With the “top brass” on board, then accountability can be created for managers to get results.

Diversity can be measured through scorecards for recruiting, promotion rates, compensation levels and turnover. Goals towards diversity and inclusion can be set and met from recruiting along to performance management and leadership assessment. What can be measured can be improved. W. Edwards Deming said something like that. And we haven’t even scratched supplier diversity yet.

But how does one measure a feeling like inclusion? One of the easiest tools is confidentially conducting a Gallup 12 survey. Those 12 questions will set a baseline as well as show the areas where the most improvements are possible.

There are resources in Tulsa like the biannual Return on Inclusion Summit on Tuesday (register at Not only is this an opportunity to learn from nationally recognized D&I speaker Verna Myers(her TedTalk is amazing), it’s a place to get great ideas from others here locally on the same mission to create great, high-performing places to work. And groups like MOSAIC, TYPros Diversity Crew, Oklahomans for Equality and so many, many others are available to keep the momentum moving.

So diversity and inclusion for profits, productivity and to attract the best talent on the market. It’s well worth the work.

Sometimes, diversity and inclusion sounds soft and intangible or just some training class we have every year. The thinking goes, “I have to hit my monthly, quarterly and yearly goals. And while it sounds good, what has diversity and inclusion done for me lately?” Diversity and inclusion can make your company money, save you and others’ time and help stop misunderstandings before they start. But it doesn’t happen immediately, like any improvement, it’s a process. These two concepts, diversity and inclusion, are often spoken as if they are interchangeable, but each bring their own profitable benefits. Let’s start with diversity.

Early in my career, I was taught to find out what the top people in the industry are doing and model that. The statistics are that diverse companies outperform nondiverse ones by 35 percent, according to consulting firm McKinsey. That’s a pretty nice chunk added to the bottom line for stakeholders. UK studies found even small improvements make a difference, finding on average a 3.5 percent increase in EBITA for every 10 percent increase in gender diversity. And well-known companies such as BASF, Ford Motor Company, Sodexo, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer have racked-up D&I awards for decades.

Diversity isn’t just race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or disability. It is also generational diversity, country of origin, personality type and thinking style. It’s having people from outside your industry. And it works.

It gives us dissimilar points of view to create more opportunities for customer rapport, more insight into clients’ needs and a broader base of tools and ideas to problem solve. It helps us avoid expensive mistakes.

But diversity alone doesn’t give the full upgrade. Having more and higher quality ideas is not enough. Bringing these ideas together takes a collaborative mindset, to take “Idea A” and “Idea B” and create “Idea C,” especially when A and B seem counterintuitive. And that takes some “creative abrasion,” which is the ability to have debate and conflict. Win-win solutions come much easier in an environment of inclusion, where people feel safe to bring their ideas to the table. So, let’s talk about inclusion.

How much does your company spend in payroll every month? That dollar amount is the monthly rent the business pays on the “machine” that is its employees. Usually payroll is the highest cost a business has and the only way the business gets the outcomes it needs to generate cash to stay alive. Basically, no payroll, no product/service, right? And this expensive and incredible valuable mechanism that is our people must be well-maintained.

Friction in any machine is the enemy. It creates heat, wastes energy, erodes the performance of the machine and breaks it down over time. Inclusion is the opposite of friction in groups of people. It is not simply the decrease of frictional emotions associated with bias like fear, anger and contempt. It is the lubricating qualities of positive emotions and the profitable outcomes that come with acceptance like enhanced communication, teamwork, mentoring, innovation and creativity.

And people are not machines. We all have emotions. When our teams don’t feel and believe that they are accepted and that their ideas are worth hearing, that’s when we run up costs and miss opportunities. Imagine if your company rolled out a product with a safety flaw because the employee who saw the problem was too afraid of being mocked to speak up. What is the cost for the loss of efficiency in the person who won’t be cross trained or receive mentorship because of bias? Better communication saves money from mistakes made, gives customers a better experience and reduces time wasted from misunderstandings. And better communication requires trust, acceptance and inclusion.

The business case for diversity and inclusion comes from changing our mindset from “us versus them” to “us plus them”. “Them” could be our customer, vendors, new markets or unconventional top tier talent.

By finding ways to maximize our diversity and inclusion, we gain collaboration and efficiency.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily the Tulsa World. To inquire about writing a Business Viewpoint column, email a short outline to Business Editor Colleen Almeida Smith at The column should focus on a business trend; the outlook for the city, state or an industry.

Dixie Agostino is CEO of Switchgear Search and Recruiting.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily the Tulsa World. To inquire about writing a Business Viewpoint column, email a short outline to Business Editor Colleen Almeida Smith at The column should focus on a business trend; the outlook for the city, state or an industry.


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