Say what you will about the value of lists like Fortune magazine’s Best Companies To Work For. The ranking of 100 top companies has been an annual tradition for two decades. It’s also the showpiece product of the magazine’s longtime research partner, Great Place to Work, a consulting and research firm.
But there’s something different about this year’s list, which was based on responses from more than 300,000 employees at large companies that opted into the survey. A change in methodology this year put greater emphasis on feedback from survey respondents who self-identified as women, minorities, or LGBTQ. It is the first time, says Michael Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, that the list reflects what he has dubbed a “Great Places to Work For All” mindset.
That may sound like a no-brainer in today’s corporate culture. Diversity recruiting and inclusion efforts have become so critical to big companies that IBM is suing its former chief diversity officer for taking the same job at Microsoft, on the concern that she might spill secrets about her former employer’s approach to cultivating a more diverse workforce. But a few years ago, when Bush started talking about the need for a new approach, it was a much tougher sell.
Human resources executives were aware that minority groups were not having a great experience at some of the top-rated companies—something Bush, too, had detected in the data when he took over as Great Place to Work’s CEO in 2015. But when he explained his proposal to other CEOs for changing up the methodology, they were frightened by it.
For the first time in its history, the company wanted to add new categories to its audit that would measure how consistently different groups found the company a great place to work, and whether they felt the company lived up to its stated values.
“I said, ‘We’re looking at the disparity between one group and another,’ and that hit every alarm bell they have. All of them knew they had a problem, because that’s America,” Bush says. He says he could see the executives felt caught, thinking to themselves, “If I don’t apply [to be included on the list], it will look like I’m afraid. If I do apply, I don’t think we’ll do well.” Some multinational firms said they weren’t sure they’d continue.
Worried he had made “the record-setting mistake of my career,” Bush, who served on former US president Barack Obama’s White House Business Council, says he wondered how he had not factored fear of exposure into his roll-out. He thought he may have destroyed his firm.
But stumbling through those conversations, he says, he was able to reframe his project in ways that made sense to CEOs. The wording needed tweaking, essentially.
His clients could see that a “for all” commitment would mean the firm was “maximizing the potential of all employees.” Business leaders were also excited to talk about innovation, and the well-established connection between including diverse voices within a company and being a more dynamic, more profitable company. In an article outlining the methodological change, Bush reports that organizations scoring highest under the new “For All” methodology “grew their revenue about 10 percent faster over the same period than the companies that scored best according to [Great Place to Work’s] old methodology.”
What really sealed the deal though, Bush says, was the election of Donald Trump. The new president’s rhetoric was polarizing on so many issues—immigration and diversity, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights—that many CEOs felt compelled to take a stand. They saw that their employees, and especially millennials, would not accept indifference from their workplace representatives. One head of a multinational firm that initially told Bush he might not participate in the modified survey eventually came back to say that it’s the only list he wanted to be on.
This year’s list includes several new names at the front of the pack, indicating, says Bush, that they are purpose-driven, inclusive firms. They include Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Hyatt, and Workday. At the very top of the list is the software company Salesforce, replacing multi-year champion Google.
A Google spokesperson told Quartz that, “Many months ago, Google made the conscious decision not to participate in this year’s rankings,” adding that the company initially joined in 2006 to build its brand as an employer, but no longer feels the same impetus.
Here’s a look at the top 10 Best Companies champions for 2018:
2. Wegmans Food Markets
3. Ultimate Software
4. The Boston Consulting Group
5. Edward Jones
6. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
Update: This sorry has been updated to include a response from Google about why it did not appear on this year’s Best Companies list.