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How one CEO saved a brand and set the tone for the sports industry—in just 100 days

October 1, 2020
iCIMS Staff
4 min read

In 2018 the Mavs hit a low–and not in their basketball rankings. They found themselves in a media frenzy for what was happening in the corporate office. Fast forward to 2020 and they have set the NBA standard for diversity and inclusion (which is now also being considered by the NFL) and have earned the NBA Inclusion Award.

How’d they do it? Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, recruited formerly retired diversity and inclusion expert Cynthia Marshall to “save” their culture and ultimately their brand. Marshall created a 100-day plan to turn the organization around. 100 days, that’s it.

Marshall got right down to work and spent her quickly dissipating time interviewing staff and learning the issues at the organization. For Marshall, inclusion is not simply about satisfaction, productivity, retention, or company commitment (which skyrocket when inclusion efforts are made); instead Marshall says, “This is about their lives; this is to make sure they get to have a career that they chose.”

Because one third of your life is spent at work. You would want that time to be a positive experience. Marshall’s work with the Mavs is so vital because she helped set the foundation for inclusivity to prevent toxicity and create a culture where folks sense that they have a right to be their authentic selves at work.

But inclusion is not the same thing as diversity. As Al Smith, iCIMS’ chief technology officer says, “What we need to remember is that diversity is a result of inclusion.” Diversity in hiring means ensuring that you attract and hire unique people who bring fresh perspectives and innovation to your organization regardless of their skin color, age, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Inclusion is making certain that once you have that stellar staff onboarded, that they feel safe and welcome past the 90-day mark. (Learn more about how to decode diversity in your hiring here).

Follow Marshall’s Lead: Your 5 Step Inclusion Game Plan

Here is what was included in that 100-day plan:

  1. A strict code of conduct:
    A foundational policy, it defines what the organization considers unacceptable behavior and how leadership will enforce the policy. For the Mavs, this meant implementing a zero-tolerance policy for public and internal unwanted behaviors.
  2. A women’s playbook so women are represented and safe:
    In 2020, women hit the record high of female CEOs on the Fortune-500 list with 37 women. While this is positive momentum, it’s really a tiny step. To help push this number to a fairer number of women in leadership (we’re talking 250), women need to feel like they can achieve leadership status. A women’s playbook outlines career paths, mentor opportunities, and numerous Employee Resource Groups.
  3. Core values enforced at every level:
    Successful organizations have core values or competencies that all employees, including leadership, live by. And they influence all decisions. At iCIMS, we embody eight core competencies including empathy, adaptability, drive, customer commitment, and our newest, accountability. Every employee is responsible for these values and are ranked against them at yearly reviews.
  4. Operational effectiveness, i.e. close the pay gap:
    True inclusion is equity. Being equal to your counterparts is what makes a culture welcoming and exciting. When two people do the same job, and each do the job well, they should earn equal pay. It’s that simple. Marshall made sure her staff understood this and closed the gender pay gap for the Mav’s organization.
  5. Leading by example:
    To make any plan stick, you must bring in strong leaders. These leaders need to make sure they know the game plan and follow the plays. Marshall says she managed to achieve her 100-day plan because she led with intention, insight, inclusion, and inspiration.

(Learn more details on Marshall’s plan here.)


“Diversity is being invited to the party, so you can have representation. You can have all the right people at the table. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” Marshall said, echoing the famous words of diversity leader Verna Myers. Inclusion is being invited, asked to dance, and feeling comfortable doing so. You want to create a work environment where everyone wants to dance.

You can find more of Marshall’s insight on how to bring together a collective group of voices to create a more inclusive culture at iCIMS INSPIRE 2020. The world needs more of what Marshall represents and we can all use some of that magic right now.

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