Establishing Institutional Accountability (Case Study 1)

One of the Most Effective Ways to Achieve Organizational Diversity

Company ABC — with 30,000 employees in 100 offices worldwide — develops information infrastructure technology and solutions for information management and storage. Five years ago, the company began the process of establishing formal accountability for diversity because company leaders saw it as necessary to retain employees, foster better business practices, compete nationally and internationally, and better respond to client needs.

To establish accountability, the company established a diversity committee that oversees nine business-specific diversity councils — one for each major business unit within the company. Several key features of this structure were important:

  • Top management support and accountability

    Each council included executive VPs who were responsible for bi-annually reviewing statistics on workforce diversity to help focus recruitment, employee development, and diversity council priorities. These VPs prioritized and directly assigned the council’s work. Importantly, the CEO publicly supported diversity efforts by attending occasional council meetings and acting as an advisor for the different councils’ efforts.

  • Local focus and control

    Each council was encouraged to create programs for increasing diversity in ways that improved upon their unit’s existing local demographics and fit their specialized programs. This local control also helped each council tie diversity goals to that specific unit’s business goals. As one diversity director noted, “We have [to make sure] that our executive team…understands the business impact of diversity on their own business.”

  • Internal responsibility and oversight

    Diversity councils evaluated each other’s programs. Conducting and reporting the statistical analysis of diversity goals was the responsibility of the diversity committee. Statistics were reported to Executive VPs but also made available to all staff members.

Implementing this structure served several important functions. It helped to “keep diversity on the radar” in each unit as people became “busy with so…many initiatives.” It also helped ensure that diversity goals and efforts would be varied but targeted enough to meet each unit’s unique needs and be tied to each unit’s specific business goals.


After analyzing unit demographics, one of the Diversity Councils recognized that its most urgent need was to recruit and advance under-represented minorities. At the time, a company-wide mentoring program existed but it had not been successful in increasing diversity. The council decided it needed to refine and narrow the focus of the company-wide program. To do so, it established specific business-unit mentoring programs that targeted certain under-represented groups. High performing and well-respected individuals who were members of the targeted under-represented groups were identified as leaders and worked to develop mentoring programs for that population’s needs.

This resulted in significantly more success than the company-wide program as measured both by upward internal assignments and employee satisfaction around the programs. For example, in the African-American mentoring program, 14 black managers were identified and mentored for one year by a senior VP or above. Several of these managers have since received promotions. In addition, this program partnered with an internal organization to recruit a diverse group of interns who rotate around the company for three summers. Each year, between 60-80% of these interns return as employed staff for the company.


  • Case Study Contributors: Alexandra Kalev and Marta Filipski
  • Source: In-person interviews from larger study conducted by Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, Erin Kelly, Marta Filipski and their research team.

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Author: Catherine Ashcraft