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How this large multi-platform company figured out diversity

Combs Enterprises has a diverse staff and a leadership team full of women of color. Here, their president lays out how they did it.

How this large multi-platform company figured out diversity
Left to right: Erin Harris, SVP Blue Flame; Dia Simms, President Combs Enterprises; and Ericka Pittman, CMO AQUAhydrate. [Photo: courtesy of Combs Enterprises]

Networking among the powerful has long been an exclusive experience. But the group that gathers for the CÎROC Empowerment Brunch are members of one of the rarest clubs: They are among the 3.8% of women of color who hold leadership positions in the U.S. The brunch is the brainchild of Erin Harris, senior vice president at Combs Enterprises. Harris started the event last year as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of women of color in the face of the many obstacles they face. Harris has led the initiative in several U.S. cities along with Dia Simms, president of Combs Enterprises (which includes Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean John, Combs Wine & Spirits that owns CÎROC, Revolt TV, and more), and a team of other women of color who hold senior leadership roles at Combs Enterprises.

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“We’re in this first generation of minority women who are figuring out how to run the PTA, run a multimillion-dollar budget, and be great partners and daughters,” says Simms.

Simms holds a rare position as a woman of color that the helm of a large company. With many women of color facing obstacles early in their careers, only 13% make it to vice president or higher on the corporate ladder, according to McKinsey & Company.


Related: Investing in black women founders because “it’s about damn time”


A large company with such diversity (especially  at the top) is something companies like Google and Spotify admit to continually struggling with. Simms says that creating a diverse staff isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. Here are some lessons other companies can learn from Combs Enterprises’s leadership team on how betting on women of color is better for business whether your company is owned by a minority or not.

Diversity in leadership is great for profits

In her almost 13 years with Combs Enterprises, Simms noticed early on the company’s ability to see trends, such as having diverse gender and ethnic representation makes people happier and creates higher levels of retention. “[Sean Combs] is connecting with the consumer in a better way. He’s making more money and able to actually empower the people he’s trying to support,” she says. Reports including McKinsey’s most recent data show that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. Industries including media and technology, in which Combs Enterprises’s businesses have a stake, are considered to be in the low percentile in terms of gender and ethnic diversity. “We as an organization have a track record of enormous business success, because when you have real diversity, it leads to better bottom lines. It’s just good for business,” Simms says.

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Your employee and leadership should mirror your consumers

Although Combs Enterprises was created by a black man, its products and entertainment entities weren’t created for only a black consumer group. Simms and Combs identified young diverse consumers who wanted to be spoken to “in a respectful, continuous, consistent way with advertising that spoke to their aspiration, inspiration of what global, glamorous diversity looks like.” With the intent to produce brands for a culturally diverse consumer, Combs Enterprises matches its consumer base with the makeup of their leadership and staff. “Revolt TV is 67% diverse, and over 50% of anybody at SVP level are women. Only 3.9% of senior leadership positions in this country are led by women of color, but with our numbers, you can see how solvable it is, and people feel like it’s some mysterious thing to achieve, but it’s not,” she says.


Related: Black women are founding way more startups. So where’s the funding?


Companies should prioritize the communities they serve

Simms believes diversity in the workplace goes beyond recruitment programs and hiring. It starts at a community level that helps equip generations with the knowledge and tools to be hireable in industries that have a hard time finding diverse talent. “Any anchor institutions have to take on a disproportionate role to the community they serve. If you’re an organization, the community you serve, whether it’s as local as your zip code or as large as the globe, you have to take on a level of responsibility that starts much earlier,” she says.

Simms believes companies like Google have to approach their diversity problem by investing at a federal educational level. This is something that Combs Enterprises does with Capital Prep Schools, a Harlem-based charter school founded by Combs in 2016. “At the end of the day, if you have underserved communities with terrible textbooks and Wi-Fi that is too slow, they don’t have a chance when they’re 22 years old to compete. If you really want to take this seriously, it starts at an infrastructure level. It starts at a regulatory level, and how we are making this difference for legacies going forward,” she explains.


Related: Millennial conferences’ missing market: black women


Stop seeing diversity as a favor

[Photo: courtesy of Combs Enterprises]
Simms believes that the biggest hurdle to overcome is the belief that hiring women of color is a favor or a box to tick. Data continues to demonstrate that hiring women of color is good for business. “To this day, in the predominance of being in a real high-level room, I am typically the youngest, the only female, and the only reason I’m not the only minority is that Sean is there. That has not changed in my almost 13th year with this company,” she says. Simms has found herself surrounded by people who question her authority and credibility. “If I look back at my career of 21 years, and I added up the amount of time that I had to overcome everyone’s bias and establish my credibility and why I belong in that room, we wasted your time and mine. How much money could we have made with all that time?” she says.

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Simms believes companies should focus more on their bottom line, and if the bottom line is their concern, they should want women of color in the room. “You particularly want me in that room. As we continue to all embrace the ‘browning of America’ and serve consumers, aren’t you interested in somebody who at least has some point of view about what your consumers are looking for?”

Companies looking to replicate what Combs and Simms have done with hiring women of color need to keep in mind that if revenue is top priority with all bias aside, then they’ll be doing themselves a favor by hiring minority women.

Correction: A previous version of this article identified Simms as the first women of color president of Combs Enterprises, she is the first president of the company ever. It also misstated that this is the first year for the brunch, it is the second.

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