They say before you break the glass ceiling, fix the broken rung, the point for women to level up after entering the workforce. Applying the same concept of the first point of interface, shouldn’t we also ensure that the individuals who are given the responsibility to strategize, execute, implement, scale and diversify diversity and inclusion initiatives, are in fact prepared to do so?
What’s the first step to becoming diverse and inclusive? It is to ensure you entrust capable hands with the responsibility of converting this vision into a living, breathing culture. To ensure you hire right and hire those who are motivated to do justice to the role, to the under-represented minorities, and to the community at large.
Essential traits of a D&I professional
Deloitte has identified six signature traits of an inclusive leadership - courage, cognizance, cultural intelligence, curiosity, collaboration and commitment. While these are critical to have an inclusive leadership, we explore some of these and more, that form signature traits of a diversity and inclusion team. As crucial as it is to have an inclusive leadership, it is as crucial to have the right skill set in your D&I team. So, what are the traits that make one a strong and potentially successful candidate to drive diversity and inclusion? Let’s find out.
- Courage: The bias against minorities often stems from years of a fixed social construct, mindset and accepted societal norms, and the fight to provide them equal access and opportunities is widespread across geographies, each at different levels of acceptance, understanding and progress. A D&I leader or professional who strives to build a cultural fabric of inclusivity in the organization, must be courageous enough to be able to question the status-quo, identify the roadblocks, execute strategies that may/may not comply with existing practices of a conservative organizational setup or mindset, have uncomfortable conversations that might trigger bigger disagreements and call for discussions that could be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. Therefore, courage, accompanied by conviction and grit are crucial for a D&I leader and professional.
In conversation with People Matters on essential D&I skills, Neeru Mehta, VP - People Development & Learning, Head-HR, GlobalLogic India shared, “Some of the best D&I professions exude humility, are able to challenge status quo and don’t shy away from challenging the mainstream opinion on some deep-rooted aspects of culture. Good D&I professionals very successfully express the value of diversity to leaders by bringing in arguments that help them embrace diversity initiatives.”
She further added that they would also be apt in bringing in and sustaining creative initiatives at the workplace. “An example of that would be establishing D&I councils, gender networks, workshops on eliminating unconscious biases etc.”
- Recognizing bias: You can only fight bias when you accept it exists, however uncomfortable, and however ugly. It is already a sad state of affairs that people across the globe are discriminated against at their workplace as a result of thought processes and beliefs, rather than being assessed on their skills, competencies and performance. To be able to build an inclusive organization, it is required to shake up what exists, push through the difficult conversations, acknowledge differences of opinion, and then strategize on how to bridge the gap. There is no right or wrong, there are perspectives at the end of the day. However, what is definitely wrong is the ill-treatment of anyone based on another individual’s thought process.
A courageous voice that is willing to acknowledge the existing unspoken bias, both conscious and unconscious, is who you need on your D&I team.
- Cultural intelligence: Diversity is multidimensional and multi-cultural. If you are aiming for cultural diversity in your organization, you need someone on the team who understands what that essentially means, who has the knowledge, expertise and drive to build cultural diversity, and who knows whether the organization is ready to be culturally inclusive. There needs to be adequate ground-work before we begin hiring for diversity. You need to know if the organization is ready to welcome diversity, or is there work that needs to be done to bring them up to the level of readiness. Only a culturally intelligent leader with a knack for understanding people's pulse would be able to tell that difference. Sharing her thoughts on the same, Neeru Mehta added, “Thinking of D&I professionals, what comes to my mind are people who are rich in global perspectives, have experience of working with diverse cultures and most importantly have a good understanding and appreciation of the existing diversity gaps. Being authentic is another aspect that helps people connect better to lead the D&I programs.”
- Emotional intelligence: Where there are people, there are emotions. Especially, when one is trying to break the pattern and free those who have been subject to years of discrimination for either belonging to a community that the rest don’t favour, or for having it in them to make their personal choices in life or for circumstances, natural and man-made that put them at a physical or mental disadvantage. Why you also need an emotionally intelligent professional is to be able to talk those voices who continue to be anti-diversity and anti-inclusion. Sometimes, all you need is a conversation to open closed minds or to widen an individual’s scope of thinking. D&I isn’t something that needs to be enforced, it is something that needs to be embraced. Only then, will you have done justice to the ultimate objective of being diverse and inclusive.
Sharing his thoughts with People Matters on the same, Rahul Guha, BCG India Recruiting Chair and Managing Director & Partner, BCG said, “Hiring or nominating a leader to drive our inclusiveness initiatives is a critical role - we look for someone who can carry the inclusiveness dialogue meaningfully and convincingly, has the ability to review and structure data and analytics to spot patterns and address bias and is able to confidently suggest and implement meaningful solutions to address gaps in our aspiration.”
- Lifelong learner: The definition and scope of diversity is one that continuously evolves. It is in fact an umbrella term that covers a wide scope including gender diversity, LGBTQ inclusion, generational diversity, opportunities for PwD, religious diversity, caregivers, cognitive diversity and much more that remains to be discovered, as well as resolved in the minds of those who might be of an opinion that opposes embracing the unique abilities of one and all. Which is why you want people in the D&I team to be open to learning, be a continuous learner, or in other words a lifelong learner to stay updated with the latest in the segment of diversity and inclusion. Only when the team is aware of what is needed, can they enable and empower the organization to be onboard.
- Entrepreneurial mindset: Diversity and inclusion needs to be run like an independent unit with identified goals, motivated team members and a determined leader. Also one run by a leader who has it in him/her/them to work on D&I not as a project but like a company that works towards quantitative as well as qualitative outcomes. One who recognizes that quantity here doesn’t just refer to meeting targets, but is proof of growth and evolution into what one might call a diverse and inclusive organization. Only with such a mindset and an end goal in mind to ensure inclusion thrives in the long run, can one lead impactful programs to bring a large-scale, organization-wide, geographically scalable cultural change, a change that embraces the differences in human traits and characteristics.
No one is perfect, but everyone has it in them to be better. With skill sets like the above one can aim to be a better D&I leader or professional. At the same time, it is crucial to look for these traits or the potential to develop them, among individuals at the time of hiring. For a good beginning to build diversity and inclusion, hire right. As they say,
“Well begun, is half done” - Aristotle