I’d like to believe that most businesses understand the advantages of having a diverse workplace. Organizations that have diversity realize new ideas and find different ways to solve problems. They benefit from exposure to different cultures and ways of life. And they gain a global perspective that is absolutely necessary in today’s business environment.
At this year’s Great Place to Work Conference, Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine, talked about how they have embraced diversity. If you’re not familiar with WP Engine, they are the leading web hosting site for WordPress. They have approximately 400 employees – 30 percent do not have a formal degree qualification, 30 percent are women, and 30 percent of employees are non-white. Brunner shared three key principles that guide their organization and its diversity.
- Agree to disagree. First and foremost, WP Engine believes in treating employees as equals. That means equal pay for equal work. Brunner says, “We don’t haggle with customers and we don’t haggle with employees on base pay.”
Once employees are hired, they have the freedom to do the right thing for customers and be proud of it. The company encourages employees to express differences and do different things. In fact, one of the different things that I found interesting was, at WP Engine, they allow employees to represent the organization at events. Brunner encouraged all of us to think: Why does it always have to be a member of the management team?
- Open doors wider. Some organizations only hire candidates with degrees. Brunner says a real game changer for the WP culture was hiring non-degreed applicants. WP Engine focuses on hiring individuals with work ethic, servant leadership qualities, and self-learning abilities. To help them find candidates, the company partnered with their local workforce development board to host coding academies.
WP Engine also makes investments inside the organization. They offer internships for all jobs, not just tech jobs. Brunner shared that 60 percent of interns become employees.
- Practice open book management. I know this might be a controversial point, but Brunner says that if organizations want transparency, they need to consider pay transparency. I’m still pondering this point, and would suggest that organizations give it some thought. I can see both sides.
At least, WP Engine walks the talk. Every employee is financially literate. They learn how to read the company’s profit and loss statement during orientation. Employees are told the organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs). (Side note: The company also offers a Finance 201 class for employees).
The goal here isn’t to do the same activities that Brunner described. Every organization should create processes and philosophies that align with their culture. But the goal is to do something. Organizations cannot simply say diversity is important and then do nothing to create it. And whatever the organization says is their stand on diversity, their actions need to support their words.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the Learning and Development League 2016 Annual Conference in Delhi, India5