Pharmaceutical companies and financial services companies took up the most spots among the top 20 companies on the DiversityInc list: four big pharma and six financial services companies. Visconti cited sectors that rely on human capital and talent knowledge for success, and companies that need to gain community trust for their products.
"In pharma it is all about patents and getting the best scientists in the room and then making sure products are marketed and communicated in ways that communities trust," Visconti said. Take Novartis, No. 1 on this year's list. There is a huge gap in the U.S. between health care for the upper and lower classes. "That distrust has big implications for pharma," he said. Ultimately, it's a level of mistrust that can make or break incremental profits: the pharmaceutical giants spend the majority of money on a drug bringing it to market, and once it is out, if they can't extend its reach across social classes and ethnic groups, they miss out on a profit opportunity.
Or, as Goodridge put it, "Pharma and financial services are the biggest sectors with the broadest reach. It's not necessarily that they are the most diverse, but they see diversity as enough of an issue that they need to respond to surveys and stakeholders. They have attached their brand to this concept." She added, "They realize their business goes beyond white men, and for business reasons they have products that will be sold across cultural lines and gender lines and sexual-orientation lines."
Goodridge's view of MasterCard, No. 6 on this year's DiversityInc Top 50 list, raises the issue of whether acknowledging community issues is enough. Visconti sees a company with a multicultural marketing platform that is a pillar of why diversity succeeds on the bottom line. "MasterCard is an amazing company using diversity for sales. Their programs are multicultural, multi-ethnic and singularly successful," Visconti said.
"With MasterCard, the first thing I am thinking about is the impact of debt on low-income people," Goodridge said. "That's what I'm concerned about—economic inequality. I won't invest in them, no matter how much someone tells me they are diverse. No matter how much they are marketed as diverse, their product is essentially bad for many. ... Companies can be diverse but also need to be creating products helpful, not harmful, to the diverse population they serve," she said.
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Many of the top companies on the list have also faced high-profile discrimination lawsuits in the past, including Novartis and this year's No. 2 company, Sodexo—a factor that Visconti acknowledged but said was not the primary motivating factor for companies that opt to submit data for the DiversityInc survey.
"It is a big factor, and CEOs look in the mirror and say, 'We don't want to be this way,'" Visconti said, but he does not think financial damages from cases are the meaningful analysis. "It's more about reputational damage," Visconti said. "After verdicts, these companies felt a psychological impact, and a financial impact would follow if they didn't do anything. It's the inability to recruit after that counts."