First, Utah businesses pledged to interview more women for top-level positions. Now, they’re extending that promise to people of color.

Companies across the country have worked to diversify their leadership in recent years. There are just five Black CEOs and 37 female CEOs, which is actually a new high, in the Fortune 500, according to the magazine Fortune. In Utah, the number of women in top positions at companies dropped from 11.6% in 2014 to 6.4% four years later.

When ParityPledge launched in 2017 in an effort to address the gender imbalance, 28 businesses based in the Beehive State signed on, vowing to interview at least one qualified woman for all openings at the vice president level and higher, including the board of directors.

This month, ParityPledge expanded the initiative for companies to promise to interview at least one person of color for these positions. Like the original pledge, there are no reporting requirements, quotas or deadlines companies must follow.

Women and people of color “experience more microaggressions, lower pay, discrimination, and fewer opportunities for advancement than their white counterparts,” Cathrin Stickney, founder and CEO of Parity.org, said in a statement.

“Yet, when a leadership team and a board are diverse,” she added, “it’s been shown that a company is more profitable, more innovative, and more socially responsible.”

As of Tuesday, 72 businesses had signed on, with 15 of those from Utah.

Utah businesses that have signed the new Parity Pledge:
Jack & Winn Apparel Co. • Domo • Ancestry • Davinci Virtual Office Solutions • JumpSearch • RevRoad • Verisage Custom Software • Sorenson Capital • Medici Ventures • Overstock • Envision Utah • ExpertVoice • Method Communications • Facet • Nav

Michelle Kuo is the founder and managing partner of JumpSearch, a recruiting and consulting company in Park City that helps startups build their teams. She took both pledges because it’s something she feels “really strongly about.”

“I’m a double minority,” said Kuo, who described herself as Asian and female.

Directly and indirectly, she said, she’s had managers and colleagues over the years tell her, “You’re never going to be a leader. You’re never going to move up and start your own company.”

“I also have two daughters, and so I want to make sure that they’re raised in an environment where they have equal opportunity. Because I struggled with it,” she said.

Kuo brings that experience not only to her own company, but to the businesses that work with JumpSearch.

“We will present them a diverse pool of candidates. So, it’s not just ethnically or gender, but it’s also ... diversity in experience. There’s thought. There’s age. There’s accomplishments, projects, schools,” she said.

Sometimes companies focus too much on a quota or numbers, Kuo said, when what they really need is to be “open-minded” to new ideas and perspectives, to actually create a diverse working environment.

A 2016 Harvard Business Review study found there’s statistically no chance a woman will be hired if she’s the only female in a large hiring pool. The same applies to race.

“But when we created a new status quo among the finalist candidates by adding just one more woman or minority candidate, the decision makers actually considered hiring a woman or minority candidate,” according to Harvard Business Review.

(Photo courtesy of James Jackson III) James Jackson III is the Founder and Executive Director of Utah Black Chamber.

Efforts like the ParityPledge are a start, but business leaders need to go deeper, said James Jackson III, founder and executive director of Utah Black Chamber. Companies have to revise policies and make adjustments to their culture, going “beyond that good ole boys club” to attract a wide range of candidates.

“It’s a long-term commitment. It’s not something that’s going to happen in a year or two years,” he said.

The Utah Black Chamber gets questions all the time, he said, from companies who say they want to hire diverse talent, but add, “there’s not a lot of diversity here.” Jackson said he responds by asking, “Where are you looking?”

Utah’s population is 78% white, but that’s changing. Asians have become the state’s fastest-growing minority population by percentage during the past decade, up 50%. And the growth rate for minorities overall was 32.5% compared with 12% for whites.

Jackson co-founded the Utah Diversity Career Fair four years ago to connect companies with these candidates, teaming up with the local Black, Asian, Hispanic and LGBTQ+ chambers and the Pacific Island Business Alliance. He encourages businesses to reach out to these organizations to learn how to not only hire, but retain diverse employees.

Greg Ott said he feels fortunate to have worked for leaders who were women and people of color in his career. They showed him how important it is to have different voices at the table, he said.

Ott is now the CEO of Nav, a company of 110 employees primarily based in Salt Lake City that helps small businesses find financing.

“About a third of my executive team is female, and we’re continuing to work on increasing our diversity in terms of people of color,” he said.

To help create a more inclusive environment, he recently encouraged his employees to watch “13th,” a documentary about the prison system and history of racial inequality in the U.S., and then held a companywide discussion about it.

“Change starts at the top,” he said, adding that he knows he needs to work beyond the promises he made through the ParityPledge. “I’m happy to take that personal accountability on.”

(Photo courtesy of Nav) Greg Ott, CEO of Nav, said his company has taken the ParityPledge, vowing to interview at least one qualified woman and person of color for all openings at the vice president level and higher, including the board of directors.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.