Why TTOs Should Be Optimistic About EDI in 2024 

Lisa Mueller 
Chair, AUTM EDI Committee


Let’s face it, 2023 was a tough year for US academic institutions when it came to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Within technology transfer offices (TTOs), staff may be asking themselves whether there is any reason to be optimistic about EDI in 2024. The answer is an unequivocal yes. 

Last year’s many setbacks started with the US Supreme Court’s ban on affirmative action. Five states passed laws restricting EDI efforts at public colleges and universities. These included banning diversity offices, prohibiting consideration of identity-based preferences in hiring or admissions, ending mandatory diversity training, and/or prohibiting the use of diversity statements. Additionally, some Title IX complaints alleged reverse discrimination by colleges and universities that received private funding from the Clare Boothe Luce program to award grants to women in STEM.

But the news is not all bad—really. A big reason for optimism is a recent report by McKinsey & Company (McKinsey) entitled Diversity Matters Even More – The Case for Holistic Impact (November 2023), which includes powerful data indicating that ethnic and gender diversity is very good for business—in terms of both making money and broader impacts like company image.

For almost a decade, McKinsey has issued periodic reports (2015, 2018 and 2020), on the relationship between leadership diversity and company performance. McKinsey’s current report examined diversity data from 1,265 companies in 23 economies and six global regions. Moreover, for the first time, McKinsey extended its research beyond financial performance to the holistic impact of diversity on communities, workforces and the environment.

According to McKinsey’s findings, the business case for gender diversity on executive teams has more than doubled since the project began. They found companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 39% more likely to financially outperform their peers than those in the bottom quartile, up from 15% in 2015. This trend has coincided with a steady increase in the representation of women on leadership teams. In fact, according to the latest report, some top-quartile companies have reached gender parity in that regard. 

The report’s findings with respect to ethnic diversity were similar, reporting a 39% greater likelihood of outperformance for companies in the top quartile for ethnic representation versus the bottom quartile.  Moreover, companies in the top quartile for both gender and ethnic diversity on executive teams were, on average, 9% more likely to outperform their peers. Finally, McKinsey found that diverse leadership teams helped bolster community involvement, positively impacting ethical disposition, community orientation and the general image of a company.

These findings demonstrate that the business case for diversity—particularly on leadership teams—is clear and growing stronger.

What can TTOs do to follow the example of the most successful companies in the McKinsey reports and strengthen their EDI efforts in 2024? The report suggests:

  • First, commit to a systematic, purpose-led approach to EDI that benefits all employees. TTOs should frame EDI objectives as core to their mission and incorporate them into strategic goals. 
  • Second, work toward integration. EDI needs to become part of how a TTO lives, breathes and functions – from attracting talent to managing performance and more.   
  • Third, prioritize belonging and inclusive practices. Diverse representation within a TTO will have the most impact within a culture that fosters inclusion and belonging for all employees. 
  • Fourth, encourage and support EDI champions and allies. TTOs need to recognize the efforts of EDI champions and allies and provide them with resources and support.
  • Fifth, provide a culture that allows for feedback on EDI strategy from all employees, including critics and dissenters. Receiving feedback can provide valuable insights and areas for growth and opportunities for change and optimization of a TTO’s EDI strategy.