Last week, we hosted two events to kick off the 5th Annual Re:Imagine Leadership Summit. Our team worried that the experience just wouldn’t be the same as our annual in-person Summits. And we were right. It wasn’t the same. It was better. Not limiting ourselves to one room in one city for one day opened up a world of possibilities. We offered more options, had more registrants, and yielded even more powerful results.
Our panel discussion on The Bottom Line On Bias in the Workplace last Wednesday, was just one example. I gave a brief introductory talk to lay the foundation of how our brains are hardwired for bias and how social conditioning can reinforce that wiring. I then turned the discussion over to a panel of thought leaders and practitioners of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The panel was moderated by Arthur Benjamin, the Global Director of Diversity Inclusion and Belonging for Varian Medical Systems a cancer care solutions provider headquartered in Palo Alto, CA. Rudy Johnson, President and CEO of Neighborhood House Association, Pamela Gabriel, Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Bank of America’s Local Market team in San Diego, MyMy Lu, the Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Sempra Energy, Mitch Mitchell, VP External and Legislative Affairs for SDGE and Southern California Gas, and Glenn Williams, who is a Director at Qualcomm, joined the panel. Collectively, the panel is responsible for defining and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion practices that impacting over 100,000 employees and millions of customers.
Here’s a recap of some of the powerful highlights from the panel:
Question 1. What are some key things leaders can do to navigate and manage their own biases and its impact on their team and the organization?
Pamela Gabriel: It’s important to realize that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s about not only reaching out to people who are not like you, but to accept the invitation to connect when others who are different reach out to you.
Rudy Johnson: We all have our individual journeys that got us where we are today. Those journeys come with individual biases that we carry with us to the job. Build a well-balanced team who will bring different perspectives, so that you get a broader perspective and arrive at the best decision.
Mitch Mitchell: Leaders are asked to lead a team of diverse people, but typically only hang out with people who are like themselves. If you don’t take the time to get to know the people who are working for you, you’ll continue to have unconscious bias show up in your decisions.
Glenn Williams: A lot of people “cover” if they don’t feel that they can bring their full selves to work. As a leader, you have to work to ensure that your people won’t be treated as an affront to the status quo.
Question 2. During an unprecedented time of racial inequities and injustices all over the world, what are some key strategies that organizations can do to limit biases in workforce development and advancement?
Glenn Williams: This question hits home, particularly today. It was just announced that the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor were not charged. Stories like this result in unequal impact on communities of color. They are also employees at places like Bank of America and Qualcomm. Unequal impact bleeds over into what we see happening in our work. Foster these conversations and be transparent about what steps you’re taking. Hold forums between communities of color and the CEO. Not all of the discussions will be comfortable, but we can start by listening, then creating solutions for current employees, and strategies for the next group of recruits.
Mitch Mitchell: We have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. We can’t just watch a video once a year or talk about the topic for a month, then move on. Just because you are a leader, doesn’t mean that you have the full toolbelt of things you need to be comprehensive in your decisions. Continuously improve your understanding of the world today, and be an example of what forward progress looks like.
Rudy Johnson: I’m a big fan of special projects. Give people who normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to build skills and develop experience by assigning them to special projects on a rotational basis for 6 to 12 months.
MyMy Lu: Mentoring is not enough. Sponsorships are needed where there are measurable gaps in career development. It isn’t about favoritism. It’s about leveling the playing field.
Glenn Williams: Picking up on what MyMy said, we have to make sure that we lay down the parameters of the relationships. A mentor should understand what the mentee expects to get from this relationship. What are the mentee’s short-term and mid-term goals? What’s the timeframe? A sponsor is a person who will stand up for you – someone who will go into the room that you’re currently not in and advocate for you to get opportunities that you wouldn’t be considered for under normal circumstances. I call on my senior executives to sponsor a person who is a different ethnicity or gender and take them under their wing. The sponsoree gets face time with a senior exec, and the senior exec gets experience with someone who is outside of their social circle. It’s a win/win for both parties.
Mitch Mitchell: Agreed. Ideally, a good mentor would become a sponsor. Make sure everyone knows how to mentor. Make sure that all of our leaders are investing in future leaders, particularly people of color. Build a template about how to mentor to get measurable, consistent results.
Question 3. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a more inclusive leader? Wants to create a more inclusive team?
MyMy Lu: Inclusive leadership shares three ideas: 1) Awareness – Leading requires you to know yourself. So, recognize that you gravitate to homogenous groups. Stretch yourself to ask if you’re a leader who is comfortable with being challenged. 2) Empathy – We’ve been holding a lot of conversations around this topic. One of the ground rules is, “Assume that what’s true for your colleague is true for them, even though it may not be true for you.” You may not have created the problem, but denying it does create a problem. 3) Courage – Are you willing to use your power to create a difference, invite challengers, hold constructive debate, call out gaps, and work on these issues?
Rudy Johnson: I came from a background that taught me that you need each other to survive. So, I organically accept everyone where they are and where they come from. You don’t know where hidden talent might come from, so expand your recruiting pool.
Mitch Mitchell: You can’t be more inclusive if you’re not talking about what’s missing. Let your people talk. Sometimes it has to get uncomfortable before it can get better. And on the topic of expanding your recruiting pool, if you keep recruiting out of the same schools, you’ll end up with homogenous, monolithic decisions.
Question 4. Why is the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging work important and why should organizations commit to launching a strategic plan?
MyMy Lu: If the idea itself doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, consider the business case. A Deloitte study shows that more inclusive organizations see a 42% increase in team collaboration, a 78% increase in capacity for innovation, 21% better financial returns. Lack of diversity also recreates a revolving door of talent who feel like they don’t belong. The recruitment and re-training costs for this loss are staggering.
Glenn Williams: MyMy’s stats are on point. Better diversification equals better returns. In the tech field, diversity, equity and inclusion help supply the talent pipeline. Women typically drop out of tech after eight years. When they try to come back, they’re punished, and the eight years that we invested in them is gone. Getting a better return on our talent investment is a key business strategy.
Pamela Gabriel: At Bank of America, if we don’t treasure inclusion, we can’t relate to our clients who do. We have to model our values.
Just two days before this panel discussion, the President issued an executive order that alleges that a “malign ideology” threatens to “infect” government institutions. While the executive order contains some elements that are universally agreed upon, it also exhibits a misunderstanding of most diversity and inclusion training programs and will only further divide an already fragmented nation.
We’re proud to use our platform to hold important discussions such as these, and we will continue our trajectory of pursuing, and even increasing, our efforts. Watch this space.
Watch the entire keynote and panel discussion here.
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