Subha Barry – “How Can I Be More Inclusive?” – Making a Business Case for Diversity.

The CEO of Seramount, Subha Barry here presents the business case of diversity, offering tips and insights into how to bring greater diversity into the workplace, in a way that is beneficial to all.

Barry begins by contrasting the situation in 2021 with how it was ten years ago, when she was a senior executive at investment bank Merrill Lynch.  Then, diversity was a governmentally mandated program, with EEOC Requirements forming a basis for a lot of the DE&I work.  Much of the focus was on the market side – targeting more diverse groups of customers and clients.

In 2021 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a much more far-reaching project.  Following the disparities thrown up by the pandemic and by the deaths of George Floyd and other victims of violence, there has been a much greater focus on systemic racism and bias, both within organizations and processes.

An example she gives is the bias that may be exhibited by an all-male, all-white panel when interviewing employment candidates, even when there’s an explicit instruction to engage in more diverse hiring.

FIVE WAYS TO MAKE A BUSINESS CASE FOR DIVERSITY

Barry has five key tips for helping make the business case for more entrenched DE&I work:

  1. Speak the language of business leaders. Helping leaders see that the ethnic stereotypes they may have grown up with are wrong and there are valuable untapped resources in diverse communities.
  2. Utilize big data. There’s more evidence than ever before that diverse working groups, for example, beat homogenous ones hands down in problem solving, because they bring different insights and assumptions to the table.  Diversity drives innovation, and this can be backed up with data.
  3. Minimize Staff turnover. A recent study showed that more than 50% of women of color in large organizations are waiting out the pandemic to leave their organizations for better opportunities.  This shocking degree of turnover can be mitigated by building workplaces that respect differences and build a more tolerant culture.
  4. Diversity of Perspective Drives Innovation. Building on point two above, it can be shown that the different backgrounds and experiences that diverse employees have can increase creativity and innovation.  To leverage this, employers must recognize that employees from different backgrounds may have to take time out from busy lives to make a special effort to fit into a homogenous organization.  Draining energy resources by expecting everyone to “fit in” is unwise and alienating.
  5. Diverse employees have different expectations. Appreciating this builds a more flexible workplace.  Stakeholder capitalism is the term to bear in mind, replacing a shareholder-focused approach with a more all-encompassing on, where staff, vendors, customers and even the wider environment are considered when key decisions are taken.  The largest drivers of this new culture are Gen Z / Millennial employees, who now make up 75% of the workplace.  It would be foolish to overlook their expectations.

Younger workers may multitask in a way that older managers don’t appreciate, and you should apply a principle of trust when making assumptions about what working methodologies are effective and what aren’t.

Building a Social Contract

This is a great way to allow for employees with very different backgrounds and lives, so that none are unfairly disadvantaged (i.e. single people “picking up the slack” for parents or carers).  In such a contract, each team member brings both their special requirements and willing offerings of enhanced service to the table.  This quid pro quo means that nobody feels unfairly penalized or exempted.

Remote Working

Although remote working can make diversity easier, by increasing flexibility, avoiding expensive business dinners et cetera, this should not be assumed – some may find it harder to work from home.  Also, when meetings are conducted over Zoom, egalitarian etiquette should be applied, ensuring everyone has a voice and is heard.

Allyship

Finding white and other allies is a vital component of promoting workplace equity.  True allyship requires two qualities:

  • A sense of fairness and justice.
  • The courage to speak up.

Active advocacy is particularly important when the affected minority staff are not present.

Employee Resource Groups

There are three key factors to ensuring such structures within an organization work:

  1. They must have a clear sense of purpose,
  2. Comprehensive governance – good leadership, committees, financing, sponsors, term limits, mission statements et cetera.
  3. The group’s work must be well-integrated into the greater goals of the company.

The Added Value of Diverse Staffing

To help support and promote more diverse hiring and retention, it is important to:

  1. Stress beneficial difference, such as the more collaborative and empathic leadership women can bring. Organizations that leverage both empathic and “command and control” modes of leadership tend to be more successful.
  2. Emphasize that bringing “the whole person” into work is also beneficial – allowing for diverse religious and cultural practices can create a more inviting workplace, improving staff retention and fostering a culture that values difference.
  3. Recognize that differences in background can also require steeper learning curves in certain areas. Nurturing talent helps create inclusive workplaces and staff development is an intrinsic benefit.
  4. Consider outreach and Internship. These are just two examples of how you might encourage applications from employees from diverse backgrounds if you are having difficulty building a diverse candidate pool.

Finally, although diversity of thought is beneficial in any workplace, staff must fully buy into the process of championing DE&I.

Barry ends by stressing two things – the importance of finding allies as an essential component of success, as well as supporting and advocating for diverse staff on an individual level.

 

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