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4 ways companies like IBM became the best at hiring diverse women

On Tuesday, Working Mother released its annual list of the “best companies for multicultural women.”

Since 2003, the publication has compiled a list of the top American companies for women of color. It started with a very small list of three companies in 2003—American Express, Fannie Mae, and IBM—to grow to the current batch of 25.

The top five companies this year were Accenture, Deloitte, IBM, Procter & Gamble and KPMG. The full list can be seen here.

For the 2017 list, the companies had to have at least 500 employees and demonstrate “best practices in hiring, retaining and promoting women of color to ensure that a variety of perspectives are represented at every level of management and decision-making.” In these companies, women of color were 22% of the total workforce and 17% of the top percentile of earners.

Glass ceilings remain

But there are still many glass ceilings in this list, proving that this definition of “best” still needs to be improved. None of the 2017 Best Companies had a woman of color as their CEO, for instance, and only 5% of women of color were executives in leadership roles that reported directly to CEOs.

How companies become welcoming for women of color

There are a few common bonds among the companies that proved themselves welcoming to multicultural women.

  • Keep track of diversity

All of the companies listed were committed to reporting diversity to their boards, which kept them accountable. If companies don’t see the needle moving, they can keep changing their strategies to help boost the numbers.

  • Support affinity groups for employees

Another common bond: they provided networking affinity groups for employees. This networking resource was particularly needed because minority women were found to be using these groups at higher rates than men but they were still less likely to participate in mentoring than any other demographic — possibly because potential mentors tend to favor people who look like themselves.

  • Actively recruit and retain diverse employees

People of color are not always in the usual pipelines for jobs, such as employee referrals or the infamous ‘old boys’ club.’ Companies have to actively search. Something else the best companies did: They worked hard to attract diverse women, and they learned how to keep them. About 92% of the best companies had special retention and recruitment initiatives for minority women.

  • Create diverse panels for interviews

Seven of the best companies, including Intel, required a panel of diverse managers to interview new hires, which is an easy way to incorporate different perspectives on what makes a successful workplace.

Since requiring this, Intel has seen its diverse representation of people of color increase from 31.9% in 2014 to 45.1% in 2016. One of these hires was Karenga Ross, who was inspired after being interviewed by a panel of people who looked like her and could share personal struggles. She ended up taking the job and says the people she met in the hiring process have remained her mentors.

“It’s nice to be able to look across that table and see someone whom I can aspire to be,” she said.